Tennessee Utility Plans Fiber-to-the-Home Push


The Jackson Energy Authority in Jackson, Tenn., is getting ready to take on local providers Charter Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. with a $15 million, fiber-to-the-home construction project that will deliver advanced video, voice and data services to customers beginning early next year.

It's one of the larger contracts for Wave7 Optics, the authority's FTTH-equipment supplier, and signifies the technology's further encroachment into the broadband space.

"We've had a longstanding desire to get into the cable business," said Kim Kersey, the JEA's senior vice president of telecommunications. "With the advent of FTTH and the way the technology has developed, we felt this was the best time to enter the business.

"We shopped around for a network provider, and Wave 7 was clearly the best, in our view."

The ability to offer three services — and generate three revenue streams — also strengthened the business case, Kersey said.

"We plan to have a robust cable lineup, with analog and digital networks and premium channels," he said.

JEA also is looking to provide VOD and HDTV, he said. "We'll be able to use 870 MHz for video, and not have to break some of that out and reserve that for data or telephony," he said.

JEA plans to outsource phone and data services, while supplying the underlying pipe. "We will be in the role of a carrier's carrier for data and phone," Kersey said. But the fiber pipe will allow JEA to offer symmetrical service at speeds of 500 Megabits per second — upstream and downstream — far surpassing local cable and telco offerings.

The cable portion of JEA's network largely mirrors what cable operators deploy, with headend and set-top box equipment from Motorola Inc., Kersey said. But the cable video feeds will travel through the passive optical network Wave 7 Optics is supplying the JEA, along with data and phone traffic.

Wave 7 is supplying the utility with a last-mile gateway, which has a standard F connector for RF video, said Emmanuel Vella, chief marketing officer for Wave 7, plus four plain-old telephone service (POTS) interfaces for voice and two 10-100 Ethernet ports for data services.

The two Ethernet ports are connected directly to a network interface card inside a subscriber's PC, eliminating the need for a cable modem. The gateway costs about $700, Vella said.

Internet-service providers and phone companies — whether local or regional — will run their service through JEA's plant, Kersey said. "They can co-locate equipment in our headend or they can residence in a remote location and have a fiber interface."

Said Vella: "On the data side, they'll have a 500-Megabit pipeline. We support open access. We can prioritize each bit in the network.

"We can individually support multiple ISPs. On the network, we can pull up to four Gigabits across 96 customer end points. We can allocate bandwidth dynamically."

For telephony, Vella said the Wave 7 equipment can interface with circuit or voice-over-IP soft switches, whatever JEA needs to integrate with an affiliated telephone company. Wave 7 has a quad version of its last mile gateway that can be shared across four customers, he said, saving JEA even more.

"We can individualize the provisioning video, voice and data," Vella said. "With churn, we can shut them off without a truck roll."

Lest anyone think JEA and Wave7 are rookies to the cable business, Kersey worked for Charter Communications Inc. in the area, and Vella held positions at both Antec and Harmonic Inc., which makes JEA's initiative more credible.

Although some cable operators would look at symmetrical service at 500 Mbps as overkill, Vella said that with increased broadband penetration, home-based Web servers and the file-sharing phenomenon, high-speed symmetrical services make sense.

JEA, which offers electric, gas, water and wastewater services to 31,000 homes and businesses in its area, can also market to an embedded base of subscribers. Kersey estimates it will take 600 miles of fiber to build out the system, which is halfway between Memphis and Nashville. He's looking for a 40% penetration level.

The utility is fashioning three service packages and intends to compete both on price and service.