NewWave Sets Stage For 1-Gig

NewWave Communications is gearing up to bring 1 Gbps speeds to a handful of rural markets next year, and said it will use the emerging DOCSIS 3.1 platform to deliver them.

NewWave announced Wednesday that it will start the deployment in the fourth quarter of this year and intends to boot up Gigabit-class services to residential and business customers in a handful of markets – Poplar Bluff, Mo., where it competes with AT&T, and in Monroe, Rayville, Delhi and Tallulah, La., where it tangles with a mix of municipal and local service providers.

Although scaled deployments of DOCSIS 3.1 aren’t expected for a couple of years and CableLabs has yet to certify or qualify any modems or cable modem termination systems (CMTSs) based on the specs, NewWave said it will deliver 1-Gig with the budding platform.

Arris is NewWave’s primary DOCSIS technology vendor, according to Phil Spencer, the CEO of NewWave and Rural Broadband Investments. NewWave, he said, has already been deploying the Arris E6000, a high-density that that will be software-upgradable to D3.1.

NewWave hasn’t set a price for its coming 1-Gig offering, but Spencer expects that it will likely sell for less than $100 month. The operator’s current high-end tier offers 50 Mbps down and sells for $69 to $79 per month.

Spencer said it made sense to focus on those initial markets first because the infrastructure there is well-prepared to take on the upgrade. The Poplar Bluffs system, for example, is relatively new, having been built from scratch in the early 2000s and is serving as the master headend for the region. Meanwhile, the Louisiana systems being targeted early on are coming off a network rebuild that’s being served by new headends.

That combination “gives us a great opportunity to offer the 1-Gig service,” he said.

NewWave hasn’t committed to deploy 1-Gig everywhere yet, but “if we get strong customer feedback and demand continues to grow, it’s something we’d look at continuing to do,” Spencer said.

He acknowledged that broadband adoption in rural markets tends to lag more urban areas, but said he’s been “surprised” by the number of customers who use over-the-top video services.

NewWave serves more than 150,000 residential and business customers in parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.

NewWave is part of Rural Broadband Investments, a company that acquires and invests in rural-focused cable systems and was formed by private equity firm GTCR last year.  RBI closed its acquisition of the Poplar Bluff system earlier this year. Its first acquisition was its purchase of NewWave Communications in February 2013, followed by Cable Management Associates and McDonald Cable/Cablevison systems.

“Our $25 million dollar investment in recently acquired rural systems is allowing us to deliver faster Internet speeds, more HD channels, phone service, money-saving bundles and advanced commercial services,” Spencer said in the NewWave 1-gig announcement. “The upgrade gives us an exceptional opportunity to serve our customers. We can’t wait to bring gigabit service to several rural markets early next year."

NewWave isn’t the only mid-sized operator that’s preparing to bring 1-Gig speeds to some of the nation’s smaller markets. Earlier this month, Suddenlink Communications announced  “Operation GigaSpeed,” an initiative that aims to offer downstream speeds of 1 Gbps in 90% of its footprint by 2017, alongside significant speed boosts for other high-speed Internet tiers. Suddenlink hasn’t revealed its tech roadmap for the effort, but acknowledged that it won’t hinge on DOCSIS 3.1.