MCTV Pushes Fiber-to-the-Premises Overlay with ‘Excellerate’ Initiative

Following a deep analysis of its next-generation network options, MCTV has opted to go with an ambitious fiber-to-the-premises deployment that will result in a GPON network that will overlay its existing hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) plant.

The initiative, branded by MCTV as “Excellerate,” will initially focus on speedy broadband services and will essentially sidestep a move to DOCSIS 3.1, the new gigabit-class technology for HFC networks. Altice USA is plowing ahead with a similar strategy in its Optimum footprint (the systems acquired from Cablevision Systems) and the bulk of the systems it acquired from Suddenlink Communications.

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MCTV’s plan is to overlay its entire network with a GPON-based fiber-to-the-premises network over the next two to three years. The Massillon, Ohio-based operator, which serves more than 47,000 homes and businesses, announced Monday that its Excellerate-powered network is currently available to residential customers in “select areas” in Stark and Wayne counties in the northeastern part of the state. MCTV said it will notify customers when the new offering is available in their neighborhoods.

MCTV presented its plans earlier today at a conference featuring MCTV president Robert Gessner; Jonathan McGee, president of the Ohio Cable Telecommunication Association; Matt Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association (ACA); and U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH).

MCTV estimates that the Excellerate project encompasses a $20 million investment that will factor in 1,400 miles of fiber, 79,920 miles of “glass,” 220,000 hours of manpower, 120,000 splices, 14,000 drop enclosures, and 14 communities.

“The crux of this is to build our next-generation network,” Gessner said.  

“Our plan is over next couple of years to overlay the entire system with PON…We’re betting on the ten-year plan rather than the three-to-five plan,” he added, noting that MCTV isn’t yet faced with a “pressing need” for the new PON overlay.

Though many cable operators, including Comcast, WideOpenWest, RCN and Mediacom Communications, are betting heavily on DOCSIS 3.1, MCTV’s analysis, Gessner said, showed that moving to FTTP made the most sense for the operator.

RELATED: Mediacom Launches 1-Gig Across Iowa Footprint

Gessner said MCTV, which has already been deploying a GPON FTTP in select rural greenfield scenarios, has some fairly large nodes on its HFC network, including some portions that had four to five amplifiers running between the last fiber-fed node and customer homes.

“To do DOCSIS 3.1 well, we’re going to have to run a lot of fiber,” Gessner explained. “It just seemed like that was the better option for us, given our situation.”

MCTV found that it would be no more expensive, or maybe just a little more expensive, to go with GPON and FTTP than it was to get to a node-plus-one HFC architecture.

Update: In an email, Gessner noted that the $20 million investment is the estimated cost to complete the network, including elements such as fiber construction, cabinets, splice enclosures and splicing, and does not include the cost of fiber drops and the customer premises equipment.  

Regarding which parts of the footprint are being targeted first, he added that the plan is to reach a variety of areas, including rural greenfields, suburban brownfields, city centers and overbuild scenarios. MCTV is also selecting areas based on how quickly the operator can design the area and where it wants to eliminate the bandwidth load on the HFC plant.

MCTV also has lots of fiber expertise to draw from.

In addition to its recent PON-based activity, MCTV has also been running some FTTP networks in some rural areas using RF-over-Glass an SCTE-standardized technology and platform that allows MSOs to run fiber to the premises while retaining it backoffice systems and use of DOCSIS modems for high-speed data and legacy set-top boxes for video.

“Internally, our staff is very familiar and comfortable with the idea of running and deploying fiber drops all the way to the home,” Kelly Rehm, the company’s tech ops manager, said, noting that MCTV has been actively cross-training its workforce to handle FTTP deployments.

MCTV, which is working with Adtran on the Excellerate initiative, also reasons that it will be able to keep many costs in check because it will keep the bulk of that work in-house, requiring only a small portion of the network construction to outside contractors.

Gessner said MCTV also has the benefit of deploying the new FTTP network at its own pace, as the company has already converted many employees over to handle elements such as mapping, splicing, construction and field engineering.

"It's really gratifying to see everyone accept the inventible change that is coming and to adopt new roles at the company,”  he said. “I’m really proud of our folks for putting their shoulder to the wheel and really accepting this huge project." 

And using an overlay network will also ensure that MCTV will be able to transition customers to the PON-based offering without disrupting service. “It’s an attractive reason for building a network like this,” Rehm said.

Additionally, in neighborhoods with heavy residential or business users, MSTV has the ability to transition them more rapidly to the PON network and relieve pressure on the legacy HFC plant, noted Nick Provost, MCTV’s outside plant manager.

Though MCTV’s FTTP network will be capable of delivering gigabit speeds, it will initially focus on a high-end offering that delivers symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps while also matching its pricing for its DOCSIS-based high-speed internet services. Today, for example, MCTV sells a 100 Mbps down/5 Mbps up service for $89.95 per month when it’s purchased as a stand-alone.

MCTV will continue to deliver QAM-based video services on its HFC legacy network, even as it starts to consider a migration to IPTV much further down the road.  

“At this point, we are proceeding along a path that says the [HFC] system is working great for delivering television, so let’s keeping using it,” Gessner said.

For its limited FTTP deployments in greenfield scenarios, MCTV has been using an IPTV platform.