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 DO NOT MISS THE END OF THIS STORY!
About a year ago, 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.
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.
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!
Rather than investing in heavy equipment, they rent from local companies. They converted a large utility trailer to carry cables and conduit.
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.
To avoid digging up paved roads or driveways, they used directional boring. It also worked well for several bridges crossing small streams.
Splice closures were put into hand holes or pedestals like this one. The cable was laid along two lane roads along with other utilities.
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.
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!
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 electrical 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.
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.
AEC's fiber backbone run along their electrical lines.
While Anza is quite rural, it was only an hour's travel from FOA HQ 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.
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. "
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.
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."
The bucket truck advertises Connect Anza.Continued belowHere is a Google Map of worldwide FTTH Projects.
- Technical Information on FTTX From The FOA Online Reference Guide:
Testing FTTH Networks
- FTTH Architectures, MDUs (Multiple Dwelling Units)
- FTTH PON Protocols
- FTTH Installation
- Customer Premises Installation
- FTTx Online Tutorial
- Here's links for more information on FTTx
Fiber U Online FTTx Self Study Program (free)
- Training & Certification
- FOA Certification Overview
FOA FTTx Certification Requirements
FOA-Approved Training Programs
Table of Contents: The FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optics