FOA Guide

FTTH Case Studies - Building A "Terabit City" And "Do-It-Yourself" FTTH  

Building A "Terabit City

Why Stop At Gigabits? Design Fiber Networks For Terabits - It's The Future!

When discussing fiber infrastructure for cities, we mostly talk about "Gigabit Cities," which are certainly the state of the art today. GPON or 10GPON are the way to provide gigabit FTTH, and DOCSIS-3 or RFOG can provide similar bandwidth for CATV systems. 5G and WiFi 6 wireless promise almost as much bandwidth, although they are still unproven.

But fiber optic networks are good for 20-40 years at least, so what happens as time moves on? Is Gigabit good enough? Based on past history of the communications networks and the Internet, the answer is obvious, of course not. So doesn't it make sense to design fiber optic networks today that will be good in the future - the Terabit future?

Graph of Internet speeds from Netly Fiber.

Another issue that makes sense is "open access." If the owners of the fiber optic cable plant are not service providers, they can provide the connections to the users and allow multiple ISPs, CATV companies, telcos, etc. to colocate in their head end. If a customer wants to add or change service providers, only a simple patchcord change is needed. Open access networks are preferable for cities because it can allow more flexibility in offering services to citizens and for the city's own uses.

Can networks like this be built today? That's what a company called Netly Fiber has done in Solana Beach, CA. In June 2022, Netly completed their 2-year project of building a fiber network in Solana Beach that shows that with some forethought, you can build "Terabit" fiber optic networks today that should be good for the lifetime of the fiber.

(An aside: When Jack Demers, an entrepreneur in wireless, got interested in fiber over 5 years ago, he called FOA asking questions. He came to our office and spent most of a day discussing the work we had done with FTTH, starting with helping Verizon with FiOS and our recent work in the DIY projects like Southern Fiberworx and Connect Anza. We discussed a lot of topics that day and since then we have continued our conversations as Netly has gotten started and begun operations. And, for full disclosure, your editor, JH, was a minor shareholder in Netly.)

What exactly is Netly doing that is different? The multi-million dollar project took two years to complete and includes ultra-high speed dark fiber access for every residence, business, traffic light, and institution in the city. To achieve terabit speeds the Netly team took a bold approach and built multiple dedicated strands of fiber to each address located on city streets. Over 30,000 fibers are available for Solana Beach's 6,000 households.

Yes, every user in the city can have dedicated fiber back to Netly's head end. And the fiber network is open access; Netly is not an ISP, telecom or CATV company, they just provide the dark fibers and colocation space for service providers. Service providers locate their equipment at Netly's head end, patch into their customers' fibers and provide their services using whatever protocols they choose.

Netly Haed edn

Service providers' equipment (including splitters for PON networks) are placed in the Netly Edge Fiber Center (headend)

Does a centralized fiber infrastructure make sense? Most networks today are based on PONs, passive optical networks that use splitters to serve multiple users from a single network GPON OLT port over one fiber, with splitters placed along the network route. But will that architecture still work in a decade or two? Possible, as 10G is already here and 100G PONs using coherent transmission in R&D. And, then again, maybe not. In the future we may need direct connection to every user.

The centralized fiber network Netly uses is really cheap insurance for the future. If you are using GPON on Netly's cable plant today, you put your OLT in their head end along with the PON splitters and connect to every user on their dedicated fiber. If the architecture changes to direct connection to the user in the future, a simple change of equipment is all that is needed.

Is centralized fiber affordable today? Netly thinks so. But they are utilizing state-of-the-art products and technologies.

Based on his analysis of the market and new developments in technology, Jack developed a unique business plan for Netly. The notion of centralized fiber with a connection to every user makes sense today because fiber is inexpensive and this architecture reduces the need for numerous fiber distribution hubs and pedestals for splitters or other equipment scattered around the service areas. And centralized fiber architecture is ready for terabit applications.

For the cities on the Southern California coast Netly was interested in, all were somewhat urban but mostly suburban in geography. Underground installation would be required in areas where aerial cables were not permitted, so using microtrenching made sense for the installation method.  Working with Corning, Netly chose a microcable that could be blown into microducts. Each trench route has a microduct with six ducts in a row. When only one duct was used, 288 fibers in the microcable were available, but each route could be expanded to 6 of the 288 fiber microcables for 1728 fibers total.

Netly installation

Netly microtrenches then installs 6 microducts.

Netly's microtrenching technique deserves a mention also. Where possible, that is there are no conflicts with other buried utilities, they trench at the joint between the road pavement and the curb, minimizing damage to either. Drops are done in small handholes near the curb, leaving an installation that is almost undetectable. And installation is quick, making for minimal disruption in a neighborhood.

Besides a unique model for the FTTH cable plant, Netly has used a different model for their financing. Netly is funded by private investors who believe this is the best model for FTTH networks and offers the greatest potential for future growth.

Do It Yourself FTTH

Do you think that creating a FTTH network is only possible if you have the resources of a Verizon or Google? That you need a contractor with lots of experience in designing and installing the fiber network? Or an IT department who can install and operate the equipment? Well, think again...AND IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN DIY FTTH, DO NOT MISS THE INFORMATION AT THE END OF THESE STORIES!

With most people agreeing that broadband Internet is an essential utility, the problem becomes how to get it to places that incumbent service providers don't have any interest in serving because of the cost? More and more groups are deciding to do it themselves. DIY FTTH is completely feasible and hundreds of organizations are doing it already. These DIY FTTH projects are being done by cities and towns, utility coops, especially electrical coops who need fiber for their grid management anyway, as well as private groups like homeowners' associations, real estate developers and even private companies with venture capital funding.

Perhaps the best known is the Electricity Power Board of Chattanooga, TN, EPB has shown that gigabit broadband can transform a sleepy city into a booming manufacturing (VW factory) and tech city. But you don't need to be as big as EPB to bring broadband to your area as these two examples show.

Southern Fiberworx, Cordelle, GA

Southern Fiberworx

About 2014, FOA was contacted by Greg Turton of Cordele, GA. who was curious about what was involved in creating a FTTH network. Greg is a real estate developer who also owns several local hotels. Where he lives and builds homes is way outside of a service area that anybody wants to build good broadband, forget FTTH. Cordele itself has a population of only about 15,000 and is one of those small cities along the Interstate highway that are everywhere in the US.

We answered Greg's questions and led him to some of the FOA Guide web pages and YouTube videos about FTTH to get him started. More conversations discussed how to get connections as an ISP, types of components and suppliers, etc. Fortunately the local electrical utility has lots of fiber but they were restricted from building their own FTTH network because Georgia was one of 19 states where lobbyists for the incumbent providers got laws passed restricting their ability to operate a FTTH system themselves. But they were more than willing to lease dark fiber to Greg at really good rates. And there were good choices on getting an Internet connection. As he got more serious about the project, we introduced him to two FOA Master Instructors, Eric Pearson and Dominick Tambone, in Atlanta, just two hours away.

Greg hired Eric to come to Cordele and train him and several more of his people. Eric taught them how to work with cable, prepare the cable and splice it, dress cables in splice closures, pedestals, manholes, etc. Eric, Dominick and the FOA had many conversations with Greg about his project and the potential suppliers to it. As construction began, Dominick came down to Cordele to help with the early installations.

Now that you know where we're going with this story, let's talk about Greg. He is not your usual fiber optic project manager. First he is a second generation developer, following in his father's footsteps. He is accustomed to getting into the depths of a project, understanding the risks and making investments. He's also a "tinkerer" - he likes projects and challenges. He's a private pilot who has invented and manufactures two types of air conditioners for small airplanes which he built in his shop and tested in his own airplane. He makes electrical hardware he invented for his own hotel to make using tech devices more convenient for his guests. He also has a great crew of people working for him and lots of local connections.

To Greg, FTTH was another challenge, and after he became educated himself, he knew he and his crew could build it themselves.

And they did!

FOA visited Greg and his crew recently (they now are known as "Southern Fiberworx")  and saw what they have done. It's amazing - simply amazing - and should be an inspiration to any other group wanting to build their own system. Here's some photos and descriptions of their project.

Greg Turton

Meet Greg Turton. Greg and his crew had a lot to learn and accomplish before the project even started, as we mentioned above. They also had to figure out how to document the system as they designed and built it, something they accomplished using Google Earth.

SF design

As they started buying equipment for splicing and testing, the needed a splice trailer. No problem, they built one.


Based on their training, they knew they needed a splicing trailer for work in the chageable South Georgia weather. A small converted travel trailer provided the base for their splicing trailer and they furnished the inside with a work counter and racks and cabinets for storage. Air conditioning was furnished by a local company that wants a fiber connection themselves. The white rectangle on the right is the entry for the fiber optic cables being spliced - a converted home doggy-door!

SF rent backhoe

Rather than investing in heavy equipment, they rent from local companies. They converted a large utility trailer to carry cables and conduit.

SF Backhoe

Most cables were installed by trenching. In an area that has lots of underground utilities, they had to be very careful. They started by calling utilities before they started and manually digging holes before using the backhoe. Finding after a few near-misses that wasn't sufficient, they bought a top quality underground locator and learned how to use that to double-check before digging.

SF directional boring

To avoid digging up paved roads or driveways, they used directional boring. It also worked well for several bridges crossing small streams.

SF Pedestal

Splice closures were put into hand holes or pedestals like this one. The cable was laid along two lane roads along with other utilities.

SF cabinet

Here's Greg with one of the equipment pedestals needed to get connections into a remote area.


Neat splice trays - they learned well from Eric Pearson's training.

SF Greg and david

Here's Greg and David Herlovich, his assistant, with the equipment for their head end. They chose ADTRAN equipment for their system because of their reputation, knowledge and support, plus they are nearby in Huntsville, AL so Greg can fly his plane over to visit the factory when necessary.


The proof is in the performance, of course. This is a computer at Greg's house connected to his network doing a speedtest.


And there you see the results of the speedtest on a "do it yourself" gigabit FTTH network.

When we visited Greg in November, 2015, Southern Fiberworx had just started installation. They had already connected 30 homes and had over 100 scheduled for installation. His original goal was to pass about 800 houses in his development and sign up 30-40%. Southern Fiberworx works like Google Fiber; get your neighbors together and sign up and they build that neighborhood next.

While we were in Cordele, we talked to some local businesses and discovered that what Greg had been telling us was true - the local enthusiasm for what he was doing was amazing and people want to get connected ASAP. Because Greg knows practically everybody in town and has talked to many as he got permits and help building the system so far, they know what he's doing and want him to expand beyond his development to cover the entire town. As the word spread, the county expressed similar interest in his expanding the Southern Fiberworx footprint to cover the county. Then the next county approached him with the same idea.

While we were in Cordele, Greg asked us to visit his bankers who wanted to know more about building a FTTH network - you know, from the investment point of view. To date, no kidding, Greg has funded Southern Fiberworx out of his pocket! Yes, it does not cost that much to get something like this started. But if he expands to the city of Cordele and the two local counties, he may need to get financial backers. We pointed out to the bankers that FTTH provides high income with little overhead making good cash flow. In addition, recently two CATV systems had been sold for $5-6000 per subscriber - a whole lot more than it cost to connect each of Southern Fiberworx subscribers on gigabit FTTH. If that's not a good return on investment, what is?

Southern Fiberworx is not the only independent FTTH network FOA has been working with. We get calls often asking how to get started and this is the best example we have seen yet!

Connect Anza

Connect Anza Logo

In late 2014, Kevin Short, General Manager of the Anza Electrical Cooperative called FOA to ask questions about building a fiber optic network. FOA visited Kevin and subsequently met with the Board of Directors of the Coop to discuss ideas about building a fiber network over their electrical network. Their electricity supplier was pushing them to build fiber for grid management (Smart Grid) and it seemed reasonable to assume that once the backbone was built, expanding to provide Internet to their customers was possible.

Anza - Kevin
Kevin Short, GM, Anza Electrical Cooperative

There was certainly a desire for better Internet because they did not have any. It's easy to understand why. Anza is really, really rural - located in the Southern California high desert at the southern end of Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Anza gets their electricity from an electric cooperative. With the help of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who established the Rural Electrification Administration in 1936, friends and families banded together to create a new kind of electric utility, where the voice of every person made a difference. Electric cooperatives brought electric power to the countryside when no one else would. Electric cooperatives are owned by their members and focus on their member needs and local priorities.

Anza Electric Cooperative, Inc. (AEC), energized in 1955, is a member of Touchstone Energy® - the national brand of electric cooperatives - providing power to the communities of Anza, Garner Valley, Pinyon Pines and parts of Aguanga. AEC provides power to 3900 homes, schools and businesses.

AEC's service area is nearly 700 square miles of high desert with an elevation at roughly 4,000 feet where winter weather can sometimes be a challenge. Anza is located at an almost equal distance from Palm Desert, Hemet and Temecula in Riverside County in Southern California.

 Anza backbone
AEC's fiber backbone run along their electrical lines.

While Anza is quite rural, it was only an hour's travel from FOA HQ (then in Fallbrook, CA), so FOA President Jim Hayes volunteered to do a series of half-day training session for AEC personnel on fiber optics and installation practices to familiarize them with what they would be doing in the future to learn from the project so we could share it with our readers.

AEC applied for and got a grant from the California Public Utility Commission for $2.6 million, about $700 per household, to help pay for the project. One thing is important to understand about rural projects - they cost a lot more than urban or suburban FTTH networks, and the CPUC grant would cover only about half the total cost.

Since AEC is a coop, a bylaw change was voted on by Anza Electric Cooperative members with an overwhelming 91.3% of members approving the bylaw change to include fiber optic, high speed internet service to our members along with our traditional electric service.

Anza map
Anza - mostly ranches and mountains

We dubbed the AEC project "FTTR" for "fiber to the ranch" because of the typical customers in the service area!

To do the design of the network, AEC used a unique solution. They enlisted Jeffery Willis, a local resident who was a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program, to do the design as expansion of a pre-existing Master's Capstone project that AEC assisted him with.  This was a brilliant idea due the success of this college feasibility study. Before getting started, Jeff performed a plethora of research and development on all aspects of the design, including a survey of design software which he shared with FOA for our readers. FOA (JH) helped him with some fiber issues but he had relatively little trouble doing a very good design for the project.  "

Anza backbone
AEC's fiber backbone plan

Much of the backbone ran along roads in the mountains that connect the various population areas of the AEC service area. Some areas had restrictions on where cables could be run because the roads were designated "scenic routes."

One thing to consider in a project like this - you need LOTS of cables! Anza had to store over a dozen spools of cable  - 20kft (about 4 miles or 6km) each, weighing about 1600 pounds (726kg) each! Another thing they learned was the length of the backbone was not the length of the cable. They had to order 10-12% extra cable to accommodate service loops, drops for splice closures, etc.

Cables in storage
More than 50 miles (80km) of cable stored in a AEC building.

They also needed more equipment, including this bucket truck purchased used, cleaned up and made into a rolling advertisement for "Connect Anza."

Anza Bucket Truck
The bucket truck advertises Connect Anza.

Installation of the cable plant for ConnectAnza was somewhat out of the ordinary. The area covered by the coop included some areas without telephone service and poles and/or messenger wires needed to be installed in many areas. One section had to be bridged with wireless because the rod was a "scenic highway" and poles and aerial cable were not allowed!

ANZA installation
Installing messenger wires on the coops electrical poles.

ANZA installation
Splicing was done on the ground, often in the desert.

ANZA installation
This closure has provision for a PON splitter and several drop cables.

The head end for ConnectAnza is installed at their main office in the town of Anza. This rack includes the router for their Internet service and the ADTRAN OLT equipment. In the bottom of the rack is the backup batteries, an important part of the equipment for an ISP.

ANZA installation

ConnectAnza is now a fully functional ISP, one of the most rural systems we know. They are proof that rural FTTH can be built and it is certainly welcomed by their subscribers. From no service, coop subscribers can get 100/100Mb/s service for $49/month, 300/300 for $79/month. Low income residents have a basic service of 20/20Mb/s for $20/month.

2021 Update
Since FOA began working with AEC in 2014, they have built out a large part of the FTTH PON network, now connecting about 2,900 subscribers including every business in their area. They also have gotten a RDOF grant that will allow expansion of the network toward other small towns nearby.

Besides the FTTH network, Anza has also made a significant commitment to renewable energy, adding two solar farms of 3.5 megawatts and 1 megawatts. In additin, they have 2 megawatts of batteries online and 2.5 megawatts coming to allow providing 24/7 electricity from the solar farms.


Satellite view of the 3.5 MW solar farm next to AEC offices under construction

AEC is a good example of how a small rural coop can successfully provide state-of-the-art communications and power together in an area that larger, for-profit companies would never consider possible.


LCS FiberCom

Three years ago, right after the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns , FOA received an inquiry from Jamie Groskopf, asking about getting a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) FTTH project started for a small town North of Houston, Texas. After a half-dozen or so long and comprehensive emails, we heard no more until December of 2022. I introduced him to Greg Turton of Southern Fiberworx, one of the first to do a DIY FTTH project.

"I just wanted to reach out and give you a little update on the project I started a couple years ago after reaching out to you for advice in the Huntsville, Texas area north of Houston. We didn’t get construction started until summer of 2021 and had 7 miles of cable to run to bring fiber into the community. Inside the community we had another 78,000 feet of cable to install, mostly bored in and installed in conduit. We have about 12,000 feet left to complete the main line installation past every house and have made some progress in getting houses connected. We just got our 100th subscriber connected and have another 200 signed up and waiting in the community. "

"I took your advice and made friends with Grey Turton (Southern FiberWorx) in Georgia. I made a couple trips out to spend time with him and his team before making final decisions on which way to go."

Here's more about Jamie's project, LCS FiberCom, in his own words.

How did this project come about?
Waterwood is a large community in a rural area north of Houston, Texas. The Property Owner’s Association approached several large providers to build a modern alternative to the aging DSL system the local phone company offers but the build costs didn’t meet their payback requirements, even with incentives. There are over 28 miles of roads, a golf course, and waterfront peninsulas with 2000 lots but only around 400 residences, which makes for a lot of additional build costs to cross those undeveloped areas to reach the potential customers. The ground is also particularly treacherous for this part of the state with very hard sand/clay mixtures and random boulder sized rock formations. I proposed a private project to build a modern fiber network that could remain sustainable.

What background do you have?
I got my technical background started in the Air Force where I worked on F-15 avionics systems. Later I got into security, automation, and wireless systems as a hobby at first and then as a business. Fiber optics intrigued me so I ordered a splicer and spent a lot of hours in books and on YouTube learning what I could.

LCS FiberCom Jamie
If you are building a DIY FTTH network, it helps to be a "Jack of All Trades" because you may need to fix hydraulic hoses on your equipment like Jamie can.

What type of system did you choose?
I looked at several topography methods and distribution systems. In the end I chose the GPON system with a field split topography for price and performance reasons. I looked at the 3 main GPON equipment providers but when it was time to make the decision they all told me they could not guarantee customer- end equipment (ONU/ONTs) and orders were as much as 6 months or more out with limits of 50 pieces. There were stories of ISP’s not being able to add customers for lack of equipment. I wasn’t sure if this was a legitimate shortage or a sales ploy to lock in early orders but I couldn’t take that chance. I widened my search and finally decided to contract manufacture my own GPON system from a large provider overseas. I had to buy in bulk but they promised to have the entire project worth of equipment manufactured and at my door in 30 days and they came through as promised. I now have enough equipment to build another community after this one as well as OLT spares. As an added benefit this allowed me to tailor the specs to my needs and have the items factory branded with LCS logos. I also offer VoIP telephone services for those reluctant to abandon the telephone company and their long-time home telephone numbers, which has been about 10% of our base so far.

LCS Branded Equipment LCS Hardware
When suppliers couldn't provide products, LCS created their own. Jamie had the electronics experience to do this but not every company could. And it takes truckloads of equipment to build a FTTH network.

Have you been happy with the results?
I currently offer symmetrical 100Mbps and Gigabit plans. I’ve considered offering a middle range plan as well as a 2-gig download option in select areas but haven’t decided if I want to deal with the headache of upgrading customers to multi-gig networking hardware yet. The network handled the additional test demand well. We are too far out to have redundant fiber ring options so we connect to our data center on a single transport path. We had an outage on that path in May when the main cable was severed in an adjacent city that took the provider half the day to repair. Our local system has been working at a 100% rate.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of construction?
I enjoy most of the construction. I have become quite a good horizontal drill rig operator but I’m going to say using the large quad plow to muscle in conduit at 4 feet deep several thousand feet per day is always fun. My least favorite is probably just the Groundhog Day feeling of chipping away at such a large amount of work day after day. I’ve worked 7 days a week for 18 months, averaging about one day away per month. At some point I will be able to reduce my workload to something healthier and more sustainable. It’s funny though, the few days I have taken off I almost feel guilty about, thinking “I could have reached that goal point today”. This type project definitely becomes all-consuming, at least for me it has.

Jamie on the directional boring machine
Jamie, like his mentor Greg Turton, likes to do construction work himself.

LCS Water main damage
Not everything goes right - a water main for a golf course was damaged
while directional boring and repaired.

What skills do you rely on most for this project?
All of them! When you take on a project like this you become engineer, technician, politician, foreman, import specialist, customer relations, field mechanic, salesman, contract negotiator, legal expert, government liaison, plumber, electrician and more. You have to plan for some steep learning curves because most people may have two or three of those skills honed well, but you need all of them and more to keep moving forward and give you a chance at success. I am very thankful for the few people who have stepped in to help me where they can.

What would you do differently in hindsight?
Tough question, I don’t like to second guess past decisions. Looking back there are some minor things that could have been improved but overall, I was extremely fortunate that the decisions I made worked out so well. It could have easily gone south if some of the non-traditional choices didn’t work out well. Lots of research and asking questions helped. My fiber management skills have improved a lot with practice so at some point I will probably go back into the early splice points and pedestals to organize them better but they are all working fine as is so that is low on my to-do list.
Are your customers satisfied?
That is my main focus and I think I’ve done pretty well with that. I personally meet with each customer at installation time and try to follow up shortly after installation. The biggest issue I’ve had is the same across the entire industry, customer’s WiFi expectations. I try to assess each customer’s needs for WiFi at their home and educate them on how to meet their expectations on their budget. I provide a wifi router with the service but some customers with larger homes expect a one-size fits all solution that just isn’t realistic. I make it a point to explain the differences between extenders and mesh systems and why getting their full gigabit to a single device over wifi is a tall order even with their large 8 channel 5400 Mbps WiFi-6 gaming routers. It amazes me that larger providers do all this work to bring service into a customer’s home and then let their reputations suffer because the customers experience poor service with the last 50 feet of connection over underperforming wifi.

Did the pandemic cause problems?
Of course! I could write an entire article on those issues. It caused delays for parts to repair equipment, labor shortages, cost increases, and electronics equipment availability concerns. Our upstream provider delayed our primary connection for several months as their crews were constantly in some form of isolation or emergency coverage for most of 2021

How much has it cost, are you turning a profit yet?
A lot. I started doing initial budgeting and set my numbers in late 2019 which were used when the project started. The pandemic followed by the government throwing billions of dollars to large providers to upgrade their networks caused prices to increase substantially, as much as triple on some items, and sub-contractors to be in short supply with their prices increasing by 50-100%, and more recently the Fed’s interest rate hikes have made profitability that much harder to reach.
I initially decided to keep total costs manageable by doing the bulk of construction in-house so fortunately there was a degree of insulation from the chaos going on in the fiber world but all the major materials needed for construction have increased substantially since my initial budgeting. Despite those issues and Waterwood having low home density with so many miles of undeveloped lots to pass and 6 miles to bring initial service into the community, I managed to keep the total cost per passing at manageable levels by doing the bulk of the work with only myself and one or two guys.
Recently I have been able to bring on an operator for the boring rig with one or two of his guys because his machine is out for major repairs. This has allowed me to catch up with splicing and getting customers connected. To date we have 102 customers connected after installing 70,000 feet of conduit and 170,000 feet of fiber-optic cabling. We have 15,000 feet of conduit and 30,000 feet of cable left to install with 200 more customers waiting for service. I expect to have most connected by summer.

What is next for LCS Fibercom?
I’m looking for other areas to expand into and potential municipal or utility partners to work with in the future. I laid the groundwork for the network to expand into non-contiguous areas so I’d like to find another community that wants improved services and keep growing.

More about
LCS FiberCom

Additional Reading on Rural FTTH
The August 2021 issue of the FOA Newsletter compares rural broadband today with rural electrification almost a century ago. The situations are quite similar and the solutions, including assisting rural electrical or telco coops, are  quite the same.
rural netowrks
From the 1940 USDA yearbook article on rural electrification.

If You Are Considering DIY FTTH, Here Are Things To Remember

Legality: If you are in one of 18 US States, your state legislators have passed laws written by lobbyists for incumbent service providers that prevent municipalities, other governments or coops from becoming ISPs. Check the map here. See the map here.  By the time you read this, all this may have been negated by local or Federal laws.

:  Like most fiber optic networks, every FTTH installation is unique. It must be designed for the location it is to serve and choices on components and installation methods should be optimized for the system. Construction and installation methods may include every type of OSP installation. Suppliers familiar with FTTx can advise customers on what others  have done to make installations simpler, easier and less expensive. Most systems prefer to use as many factory-made components as possible as they are generally less expensive than doing the same work in the field. New installation methods should be considered as well to reduce costs.

Consultants:   Be wary of consultants. Consultants can be extremely valuable in designing a FTTH system, as long as they have relevant experience, are up to date on new components and techniques and are highly recommended by previous clients. Unfortunately we have seen problems with consultants, including over-designed networks with costs much higher than necessary, installation practices recommended that were unnecessary or ignore newer technology, systems designed around components that were higher performance (and price) than necessary, and in one case a consultant took the clients payment, went away for a year and came back with an admission that they could not design the network (but they kept the consulting fees.)

Contractors: As with any fiber optic project, the quality of the installation depends on the quality of the installer. Look for contractors with knowledge, experience and references. And preferably relevant certifications like the FOA CFOT. Be especially wary of subcontractors. Any subcontractors should have equal qualifications and be approved by the network owner. We have seen landscape contractors with no fiber training used as subcontractors for cable plant installation - one cut several cables to buildings that had been installed by a member of the FOA advisory board!

Call Before You Dig! Every day some major fiber optic cable is cut by a contractor.
The jurisdiction issuing permits should help you with locating other buried utilities.  There is a service that helps you locate underground utilities that may be in your construction path. See the FOA web page on Digging Safely.

What Fiber Do You Already Have?     Before you design or install a new fiber optic cable plant, inventory the fiber you have already and/or negotiate to lease fiber where others have cables with dark (unused) fibers. Also talk to other organizations who may need communications to see if they want to share costs or lease dark fibers or communications links from you. Cities, counties and states need fiber. Utilities need fiber. Fire and life safety organizations need fiber. Traffic departments need fiber. Cellular companies really need a lot of fiber.

What Other Services Can Share The Fiber?   Consider what other services than FTTH you can carry on your fiber optic cable plant - cellular backhaul, traffic systems, security/surveillance systems, leased fiber, etc. to generate additional revenue. A few years ago a large American city sent out a RFP (request for proposal) for an urban FTTH network. The document dealt strictly with FTTH to connect the city's citizens with fiber and ignored all the other services the city had that already used or needed fiber - city communications, security/video surveillance, intelligent traffic management, public transportation communications, wireless networks(small cells and 5G), utility communications, etc., etc., etc.

Dig Smart -Dig Once:    This same document also covered the difficulty of urban installation - digging up streets already filled with underground utilities, limited space for pedestals, few options for aerial cable and  other issues that are typical problems for urban fiber installation. No mention of "Dig Once" to make future installations easier. Share fibers. Use spare fibers. Use additional wavelengths in current fiber. Consider all the alternatives. Plan ahead - future proof is a myth, but one can make certain decisions that will make the future easier.     If you are considering using FTTH design software, ask to talk to customers who have used it. Determine what you need to know first in order to use it, e.g. GIS data on every utility pole, manhole or handhole, subscriber location, etc. and how much training it takes to become proficient. Will you use your personnel or hire outsiders, and how do you evaluate them.

Cost Savings:   Fiber optic cable and components are not expensive, but labor is. Saving money on components may look good in first analysis, but more savings will come from optimized designs and efficient installation practices. More experienced contractors are more efficient and may save costs by their speed and efficiency.  And design for the future - if you dig a trench for anything, not just fiber but any underground utility, bury a number of fiber ducts for future use, install cables with more fibers than you need - lots more - fiber is cheap, installation is expensive. The program is called "Dig Once."

Take Rates Are Important:   "Take rates" for new FTTH networks vary from low to high, depending on the satisfaction with the current ISP (Internet service provider.) When Google Fiber started in Kansas City, the take rate was high because the current service was bad, but in later cities when the local ISPs knew they were coming and improved their service and/or lowered their prices, the take rate was lower. Competition tends to drive take rates and take rates determine the economics of the system, Know your competition. Offering gigabit services are often the top selling point of FTTH. Every GPON network is a gigabit network, but subscribers can opt for slower speeds at lower costs.

What Makes A Successful Fiber Optic Project?

    People call FOA for advice all the time. Most of the calls deal with technical questions about products, installation and testing. But in one call; a manager who was starting to plan a fiber optic project wanted advice on how to proceed. It was a long call! His basic question was “What does it take to have a successful fiber optic project?” We responded with 4 words: financing, commitment, expertise and patience. (This section is repeated from the introductory section on FTTH because it's important for the designer and managers of a FTTH project.)

Financing:     The story goes that someone asked Neil Armstrong what he was thinking about while sitting on top of the rocket ready to launch Apollo 11 to the moon. “Every part was made by the lowest bidder,” was supposedly his reply. (The same quote has been attributed to most early astronauts!)

    Fiber optics are not necessarily expensive; in fact, fiber has been used so widely because it is the least expensive communications medium in virtually all projects. But fiber optic projects may require a lot of construction which makes the project expensive. Like all other projects, it never pays to cut corners. Planning and running the project properly is what saves money, trying to cheapen the project. Not all jobs should go to the lowest bidder, unless they meet all the criteria for a qualified bidder. Likewise, one needs to ensure that when a project starts, there are funds available to complete the job properly, including some extra for unplanned changes or modifications.

Commitment:    Just like having sufficient finances to compete the project, one needs a commitment to finish the job once it is started. Changes of management or changes in governments often lead to confusion or even modifying a project in midstream. There is nothing wrong with making changes based on what learns as the project progresses; it may even involve greater efficiency or cost savings, but arbitrary changes may jeopardize the project's timetable, completion or even its usefulness.

    If the project is under the auspices of a government entity, changes in administration or management that causes changes in a project will invariably make it more expensive and may jeopardize the success of the entire project. Ideally, the personnel who propose, design and plan the network should see it to completion.

Expertise:     Fiber requires expertise and experience. It's obvious the installers need to know what they are doing, but in reality, so must the managers who work for the organization that is contracting for the work. There are many instances of projects where the managers signed off on the project when it was incomplete or improperly installed. The only way to properly manage a project is to understand every aspect of it well enough to know if it is being done properly and when it is actually complete.

    Planners, designers, contractors and installers should all be trained and certified as well as being experienced with good references. That holds doubly so for consultants. In many places, to be a consultant or cabling contractor means little other than registering as a business and advertising your services. Some of the problems we've seen with outside services, include consultants who took contracts, spent time on a project, then told the customer they could not help them with the project, but kept the money.

    We have seen contractors doing shoddy installations, ruining expensive fiber optic cable during pulling and leaving jobs half done but getting paid because the customer knew no better. One of the biggest problems is subcontractors. A contractor with good credentials gets the job but subcontracts some of the work to a contractor who will do the work at a lower price, but does not have the training or experience (or motivation) to do it right. In your contract with an installer, we recommend a clause giving the project manager responsibility for evaluating and approving all subcontractors.

    The manager must know better to prevent problems. FOA also has pages on what the manager needs to know.

Patience:     From concept to acceptance, a typical OSP fiber project can take 2-5 years and a premises project 1-2 years. It depends on the size of the project, the time to properly design it, create project paperwork, get permits, buy components, hire contractors and properly install it.  Proper workmanship takes time and is not easily rushed. Saving time generally means cutting corners and that is often the cause of the problems encountered. Take your time, plan, design, select, install, test and document your network properly.

    And by the way, "future proofing" is a myth! Who would have known in 1990 how ubiquitous the Internet would be today? How reliant we could be on smartphones other mobile devices? How many workers would be working remotely or using videoconferencing for meetings? Technology moves too fast and is too disruptive for anyone to make reliable predictions. The IBMer who developed MRP - the original company organizational software - used to tell everyone, "A forecast is wrong from the moment it is made." Plan for the future, but assume you will upgrade, change directions, etc. driven by new tech and changes in the world around us.

Technical Information on FTTX  From The FOA Online Guide
FTTH Introduction  
FTTH Architectures
FTTH in MDUs (Multiple Dwelling Units)  
FTTH PON Standards, Specifications and Protocols  
FTTH Design    
FTTH Installation 
FTTH Customer Premises Installation  
FTTH Network Testing  
FTTH Case Studies: Do-It-Yourself FTTH  
FTTH Project Management
Migration from GPON to 10GPON  

The Fiber Optic Association Fiber To The Home Handbook: For Planners, Managers, Designers, Installers And Operators Of FTTH - Fiber To The Home - Networks
FOA FTTH Handbook
The Fiber Optic Association Fiber To The Home Handbook
Available in paperback or as an eBook on the Amazon Kindle  Available direct from, local booksellers and other distributors.

Training & Certification
Fiber U Online FTTx Self Study Program (free)

FOA Certification Overview
FOA FTTx Certification Requirements
FOA-Approved Training Programs

 Table of Contents: The FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optics


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