Developers of new wired communities might actually steal some cable customers Cable World | September 19, 2002 | Andrea Figler First it was the satellite guys. Then came the overbuilders. Now real-estate developers? Developers of new communities laced with fiber are a tiny but growing thorn in the cable industry's side, attempting to steal away subscribers one community at a time. The Broadband Group, a firm that represents developers seeking to bring voice, data and video to their communities, counts 600,000 homes under its guidance, says Tom Reiman, president. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) installations rose over 200% throughout 16 states in the past 12 months ending July, according to the FTTH Council. Almost half of these installations are in developments. Reiman says developers are finding innovative ways to save the expense of laying fiber. They are courting phone companies to do so, skirting cable franchise agreements and tapping content aggregators such as DirecTV. They have the ultimate home-field advantage, making the voice, data and video package available to a resident the minute they move in. At Brambleton, a development in Loudon County, Virg., developer the Brambleton Group convinced Verizon to lay fiber to its 6,000-plus households. In exchange, the telephone provider gets the residents as phone subscribers and a fee for transporting Internet services and video. Brambleton then turns to its partnership with GateHouse Networks to access Internet and video services. This partnership, in turn, draws its video programming from content aggregator WSNet. Also, Brambleton shirks the regulatory handcuffs of a local franchise authority. "Verizon is the actual provider, and they are just leasing the space to GateHouse," says Lorie Flading, Loudon County's cable TV specialist. Adelphia refused to participate in this project two years ago, Reiman says, adding that cable operators are resistant to losing control of the distribution pipe. Brambleton's high-speed Internet and video service costs $125 per month, tacked onto the homeowner association's fee. Minnesota-based Contractor Property Developers builds its own fiber systems. The group launched FTTH Communications, which has begun to lay fiber and applied for cable franchises in three communities. It also plans to overbuild the larger franchise areas, says GM John Schultz. This gives residents a choice between FTTH or incumbent cable and/or phone operators. Schultz says a majority of the 200 units sold in one development chose FTTH's voice and Internet service. Video service should be available by year's end. THE NEXT QUESTION: What would it take for cable operators to give up control over distribution and play ball with these fiber-wired developments? Will the bundled packages in these developments be cheaper than cable?
The Tracy Press | May 9, 2002 | Ben van der Meer Pay your water bill, order a pizza, check little Tommy's grades, all through the remote control. That's the scenario planners envision for Mountain House, and the miles of wires to make it happen are going in the ground as you read this. "Anytime they open up a trench, we're there," said Warren Mitchell, general manager for Charter Communications, the cable company installing the town's cyberspace wiring. "When all of this is in the hand of a remote control, that's power." What's being envisioned is a hard-wired town aimed at the sensibilities of those who consider fast modems, big bandwidth and minimal download times vital parts of everyday living. Every home in Mountain House will be ready for cable and Internet connections as soon as someone steps in the door. Beyond that, Charter is also entrusted to create a town "intranet" that connects homes, businesses and public services. Tom Reiman, president of a consulting firm assisting planners and Charter on the project, said the idea is to create a community through a keyboard. "People definitely want access to regional and even international information from home," said Reiman, president of Sacramento-based The Broadband Group. "What drives this is the local information they can access." The creation of a Mountain House intranet would allow a mother to check her son's grades at school, an office manager to order catering for a company party and city officials to send residents a notice about upcoming community events. Reiman said they could also access information resources for nearby cities and even San Joaquin County. Other functions would allowing residents to use the city's Web site to vote in city elections or check bank statements from a local branch. Tuesday, San Joaquin County's Board of Supervisors approved giving Charter a space for the small building housing the high-tech heart of the intranet. The roughly 2,500-square-foot building will be north of Mountain House, near the under-construction water treatment plants. "It's going to be as state-of-the-art as it can possibly be," said Paul Sensibaugh, general manager for Mountain House's community services district. But Sensibaugh said he's got bad news for someone living near the town who wants in on doughnuts by e-mail; the network is exclusively for Mountain House residents. Charter's contract with the county requires the company to pay 5 percent of its revenues to Mountain House as a franchise fee. Both Reiman and Mitchell said the prospect of a town so hard-wired is unusual, although not unique. Planned communities in Orlando and Southern California, Reiman said, have similar features, although not to the extent Mountain House will. Given the propensity of network technology to make huge advances quickly, planners recognize that they run the risk of a town with obsolete wiring in a decade, Reiman said. "There's no question that a network being built today will need to be updated in 10 years," he said. "That's something we'll address." But even homes with the wiring to do wondrous things won't be prohibitively more expensive than conventional homes, he said. "These homes aren't just for the technologically elite," he said. "We'll be bridging the digital divide." To reach reporter Ben van der Meer, call 830-4223 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
As local telcos, utilities and municipalities continue to breathe light into their FTTx systems, the specter of mainstream deep-fiber deployments is becoming more real. For true believers, it is just a matter of time. CED-FTTx | March, 2002 | By MICHEAL LAFFERTY | Senior Editor Just as the unsettling but always fascinating "X Files" television series comes to an undoubtedly eerie end, a previously unimaginable reality may be taking shape in broadband telecommunications. Fiber-to-the-curb (FTTC), fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), even fiber-to-the-user (FTTU) systems are gaining renewed attention from local telcos, utilities and municipalities across North America and around the world. This unrelenting activity seems to have created a weird trickle-up theory of deep-fiber deployment. Apparently, as more local entities deploy deep fiber solutions, the service provider behemoths are taking notes, making plans and launching trials. It's alive! "The most important factor that's giving life to such approaches as fiber-to-the-home is the Internet," says Geoff Wilbur, an analyst with industry researcher KMI Corporation. "Like any new or advanced method, fiber-to-the-home started out as a 'something we (service providers) can do, but it's really expensive' approach. But, they've been chipping down the price ever since. "In the meantime, there's this other revenue stream that's popped up that could potentially pay for the investment–high-speed data. That's because when they first started doing this, there wasn't any Internet. There was only voice and video, and those don't add up to pay off the costs. If it weren't for the Internet, fiber-to-the-home would be pushed back at least another 20 years." This past fall, KMI's report, "Residential Broadband Access in the United States: Fiber-to-the-Curb and Fiber-to-the-Home," predicted FTTH systems in the United States will reach 2.65 million homes by 2006 (see Figure 1), after starting from just 89,000 homes in 2001. As a result, says the report, the FTTH equipment market will grow from just $100 million in 2001 to nearly $1 billion in 2006. The KMI report also states that in the next four to five years, increased market demand and decreasing cost factors are expected "to drive most or all of the RBOCs (Regional Bell Operating Companies) to begin FTTH deployment in new housing developments, then in network rebuilds." Factors that may accelerate this thirst for all things fiber, says the report, would be faster-than-expected cost reductions or applications that drive bandwidth demand beyond what non-fiber-based technologies can provide. However, the report cautions, factors that may hinder the rollout of deep fiber solutions include slower cost reductions or improvements in non-fiber-based technologies that keep pace with future bandwidth demands. While the cost of big time deployments is still up in the air, some groundwork is being laid. "Right now, you have the small town guys–a few competing carriers, local governments and real estate developers–doing it," says Wilbur. "It can say the payback is a little longer than if it were a public company. But, they're government. So, if it throws in the 'good of the community,' then suddenly it makes more sense, and their payback horizon can be a little farther off. But, if you're an RBOC, you're not going to do one small town in your territory. They have to make decisions for their whole regions, and suddenly that's a lot of investment there." A year to remember Darryl Ponder, chairman and CEO for Optical Solutions Inc., an FTTH platform manufacturer, believes 2001 was a watershed year for the future of deep-fiber deployments. "2001 was a historic year in the fiber-to-the-home business," says Ponder. "That's because, for the first time in history, FTTH is less expensive than deploying copper, twisted pair or coax. "However, there are two caveats. It needs to be in a converged services environment with two or more services of voice, video or data. In fact, most of our deployments have all three (see Figure 2). And it needs to be in a greenfield application. "In those environments, our numbers show that on a typical 5,000-home deployment, fiber beats coax by about $300 a home. The cost for a system, depending on a variety of factors, can range from $1,800 to $2,100 per home. That's a total installed cost of the infrastructure, the labor and the electronics. That includes voice, video and data, multiple phone lines, 100 BaseT and analog video. If you use roughly $2,000 as the cost of a fiber install, you can compare that to roughly $2,300 for an HFC equivalent." Ponder explains that the breakthrough for FTTH was the result of two factors–cheaper equipment costs and better technology. "The cost of fiber came down a good 15 percent," he says, "or maybe even 25 percent. Splitters and couplers are down very significantly. Today, you can get glass splitter/couplers that two years ago would have cost $100 to $150 a port, for $35 a port now. Labor is down a bit because of the recession as well. "The optics costs have come down as well. In fact, today we pay 25 percent of what we did for optics two years ago. And then, we also get to enjoy all the normal Moore’s Law-type associations with higher integration of the new generation of network processors that are out there." I'd rather PON, than switch Optical Solutions' fourth-generation platform, the FiberPath 400, like its predecessors, is based on a passive optical network (PON) configuration. And for good reason, says Ponder. Late last year, in a November keynote address at the IEEE Globecom Conference, SBC Communications Inc.'s Chief Technical Officer and Senior Vice President for Services Ross Ireland said the cost and difficulty of managing active electronics in remote loop-carrier pedestals was a factor in the company’s pullback from expanding DSL service. "When we were done with the rollout of Project Pronto," Ireland told the conference, "we had some 40,000 'huts,' or neighborhood gateways, all requiring remote power management." He went on to say that long-term, "the end game is passive fiber pushed very far into the network. PON is for new build-outs only right now. Still, the day will come when the passive combiner will beat out active electronics in delivering broadband services." The PON approach, with its lack of active devices along the fiber route, means that power is needed only at the fiber's termination to run the resident's network interface unit (NIU). Up to now, Ponder says the company has used external batteries. With the new generation 400 family, it is now offering an internal battery solution for its NIU. Ponder credits American Power Conversion for helping take some of the complexity and hassle out of the battery maintenance program. APC has a battery rotation program where residents get a new battery every five years. They take the old one out, put the new one in, and put the old one in the shipping box and send it back to a recycling center. The system also has the ability to detect premature battery failure so that a new battery can be sent or a person can be dispatched to replace the unit before it fails completely. I'd rather switch, than PON Chris Bonang, Harmonic Inc.'s senior director of marketing and development for the company's Broadband Access Networks Division, believes the PON approach for deep fiber deployments is geared more toward telcos who’ve traditionally not had power in the field. For people like cable operators and utility companies that already have power in the field, says Bonang, it's not a big issue. "Ethernet has definitely become the ubiquitous standard for delivering data services," says Bonang. "We think Ethernet to the home or business is the next wave in communication services. So, we've put Ethernet switches (i.e., the Harmonic CURBswitch Ethernet Switch module–see photo at right) out in our node platforms. You can put an Ethernet switch anywhere you want–outdoors on a pole, in a cabinet, on a pedestal, in the basement, on the side of a building." Ethernet, says Bonang, is something all of broadband is eventually going to, especially for businesses that are already quite familiar with it in their day-to-day operations. That, in turn, will dictate how deep-fiber approaches will progress. "It's started, and it's not going to stop," says Bonang. "In the short term, people are more focused on going to businesses, because they can obviously get more revenue from them. Cable operators want to do that. Overbuilders want to do that. Everybody wants to do that. "It's a pretty easy business case, because they're trying to compete with telcos that have been charging $1,000 a month for a T-1 line. That means it's nice, low-hanging fruit. The next thing is fiber to the MDU-type of application. Again, you're sharing a fiber you’ve pulled to a building amongst many subscribers, which makes it very cost-effective." Small town, big impact For an increasing number of small communities, telcos and utilities, deep-fiber networks are not only a matter of comparative costs, but economic survival as well. "Fiber-to-the-home," says Mark McDonald, vice president of the FTTH/FTTC Business Unit at Marconi Corp., "has been going into rural areas and small cities predominantly because it’s less expensive. There are fewer roads, fewer driveways to cross and the installation costs can be lower. "A lot of cities are also quite intrigued by the possibility of putting in their own infrastructure and having better service than they get from their incumbent providers. It can really be a win-win because the big phone and cable companies don’t want to go into a smaller city or town and put in a whole bunch of capital." At the same time, these smaller communities are very cognizant of the fact that they're faced with a pretty bleak future without a viable broadband strategy. Like many other communities, the Borough of Kutztown, Pa. (pop. 4,500) recently announced it was deploying an Optical Solutions' FTTH system to serve its residents, a local university (enrollment: 8,200), and its current and future business residents. "This community-owned fiber-optic network," says Keith Hill, Kutztown Borough manager/treasurer, "is a catalyst to building economic development and enhancing our existing services. We believe broadband capability is critical to our future." The Grant County Public Utility District (GCPUD) in Ephrata, Wash. is conducting one of the most high-profile, small-community fiber build-outs in the country. When completed in 2005, the fiber network, known as Zipp, will consist of nearly 50,000 miles of fiber reaching 40,000 homes, businesses and farms throughout Grant County. Currently, the network passes approximately 7,000 homes with nearly 2,000 customers already receiving services. The video portion of the GCPUD's broadband triple play is being supplied by Minerva Networks, a provider of video-over-IP services. The company will connect 40 of its Video Network Platform (VNP) MPEG-2 IP encoders and 60 of its MediaGateway DVB-to-IP demultiplexers to the Zipp network. Additional equipment in the IP video network includes IP video servers, Ethernet-based set-top boxes, IP multicast-enabled network equipment and dedicated bandwidths of more than 5 Mbps to each home. The HTML and IP-based infrastructure, says Reed Majors, Minerva's vice president of marketing and business development, will provide a host of capabilities and interactive services including unlimited TV channels, VOD, NVOD, PPV, network-based PVR, TV-based Web portal and e-mail access, bill preview, on-screen messaging, self provisioning, multiple user accounts and parental control. Big telco, big trial All of this deep-fiber activity on the local level has caught the attention of the big boys. Brambleton Group LLC recently announced the development of a master planned community in Loudoun County, Va. that will feature an FTTH system backed by Verizon Communications. The development will eventually consist of roughly 6,200 homes/residences and businesses that will be built over a number of years. The FTTH trial, which is expected to run at least a year, will focus on the first phase of the development that will include approximately 700 residences. Built on Marconi's Deep Fiber FTH-1000 system, the deep-fiber network will be centered around a comprehensive Technology Master Plan developed by The Broadband Group, a Sacramento, Calif.-based technology consulting firm that serves the land development industry. "I think Brambleton is a very important step," says Tom Reiman, president and founder of The Broadband Group. "That's because we took a step back and suggested that before they run any numbers, before they analyze FTTH, FTTC, coax or whatever, we wanted to try and define the appetite for bandwidth, information services and video transport in the community. If we could do that, then we could give them a better opportunity to look beyond what they know works." Brambleton's bandwidth appetite may be a perfect match for the FTTH network's planned capabilities. Located just 45 minutes west of Washington, D.C., the 2,010-acre development is also within shouting distance of telecom giants AOL Time Warner's and WorldCom's facilities. For Verizo's part, the FTTH trial has both technical and marketing implications. "The trial looks to address both of them," says Joe Serowatka, distinguished member of Verizon's technical staff. "Fiber-to-the-home hasn't been done in quite awhile. So, it needs another look. On the technology side, we want to take a look at the outside plant hardware and techniques we have today, as well as the electronics on the end of the network. From the marketing perspective, we've got the triple play to deal with and how all that will work." According to Reiman, the Brambleton trial could be the first step on the road to acceptance of pure fiber solutions for other incumbent service providers. "If I can start in a community where we begin to support the economics and bandwidth needs (of deep-fiber systems)," says Reiman, "then the biggest challenge I have is that when we connect that first home on a pure fiber network, we don't just analyze the cost to connect that single living unit. "In a way, that's not fair economics. That's because you can't build a plane solely for the first passenger that happens to get on. What we're hoping is that Brambleton is nothing more than the first of many other similar communities." Let the battle be joined The Brambleton trial, with its RBOC connection, holds a great deal of promise for the future of deep-fiber solutions. It may also have some far-ranging implications for other big-time broadband service providers in the not-too-distant future at a price point that piques their interest, says Optical Solutions' Ponder. "Let me say, (it has to get) below $1,500," says Ponder. "But really, in mass deployment, we're already there. We're only talking about a matter of scale." He believes there will probably be one or two RBOCs trialing deep-fiber PON systems this year. In 2003, he expects FTTH and PON deployments "on a significant scale," primarily in greenfield scenarios. "Then, what I think you'll see in 2004," predicts Ponder, "is deployment of fiber-to-the-home probably first from a telephony side, in a massive way, overbuilding existing plant because they won’t take competition from a combined Comcast/AT&T Broadband lying down. I think as the MSOs do converged services, you'll see telephone companies in those competitive areas probably go in and put in fiber to compete. "The RBOCs are worried about cable now. Comcast and AT&T Broadband, with their telephony rollouts, have finally tipped the balance. Plus, they're killing the telcos with their high-speed access service. "Personally, I think that the MSOs will be forced to go into a fiber architecture because as they start competing against telcos and overbuilders that have put in fiber, they will find that they'll be losing customers. Coax simply can't compete with fiber. "I do think the timing for that is probably in the 2004 timeframe. That's because, right now, cable operators are winning the battle for high-speed Internet access. Cable modems beat DSL. It's that simple. But...cable modems do not beat fiber-to-the-home."
xchangemag.com | March 5, 2002 | By Fred Dawson Fiber in the loop is making a quiet comeback among strategic planners at ILECs and other entities who are looking for ways to enter the "triple play" residential services market with some measure of advantage over incumbent cable operators. BellSouth has gone further with FITL than anyone with an upgrade of narrowband fiber loop systems to broadband fiber to the curb (FTTC) in networks now passing close to 300,000 households, more than 50,000 of which are taking video services, according to company sources. Verizon Communications, in what officials say is a trial that could lead to wider deployments, is working with a developer in Brambleton, Va., a planned community near Leesburg, to deploy a fiber to the home system (FTTH). And Sprint's ILEC division is planning to test FTTH at an undisclosed location this year, according to informed sources. Adding to the impact of these activities, several new broadband service providers are building large scale FTTC or FTTH systems in California, Tennessee and Texas, and more than a dozen municipalities or other public authorities have launched FTTH projects in various towns around the country. It all adds up to a much improved market opportunity for suppliers of broadband fiber access systems, notes Peter Hayman, senior marketing manager for the advanced systems group at Alcatel. "The ILECs are very cautious and will be conducting a lot of field trials before we see major deployments (of FTTH)," Hayman says. "But, with success of the trials, we anticipate they'll make 100 percent use of all fiber networks in greenfield buildouts." Much faster expansion of the market for FTTH will be driven by municipally owned projects and big housing project developers, Hayman adds. "There's a high tech draw that cities and developers want to exploit, and they don't have the rapid return on investment requirements that the ILECs have." The new market conditions have prompted Alcatel to introduce what it calls a "fiber to the user" broadband system, to designate the fact it is for businesses as well as households, which Hayman says is the first all-fiber access system to conform to the ITU's new Broadband PON (passive optical network) standard. By employing multiple wavelengths for different services, along with passive splitters and very low cost optoelectronic devices at subscriber premises, Alcatel can offer its system at close to cost parity with a state of the art hybrid fiber/coaxial system and at costs that are about equal to the costs of installing a digital loop carrier-based network extension with ADSL into a newbuild area, Hayman says. The Alcatel 7340 FTTU system puts services onto three wavelengths delivered from the central office at a distance of up to 20 km. from the user, with one wavelength used for voice and data in the downstream, one for video on a point-to-multipoint HFC-like basis and one for the return. The video feed, delivered as a QAM signal in traditional cable fiber mode at the 1550 nanometer wavelength, can be split to feed eight fibers, each of which can be split again into strands serving 32 homes each, Hayman says. The ATM-based voice and data wavelength, operating at the 1310 nm, can be split to serve up to 1,152 households from the single strand out of the central office, he adds. Alcatel has its work cut out for it if it hopes to make inroads into the fast moving FITL market, where the dominant player in the U.S. is Marconi. BellSouth is using Marconi's technology, and Marconi has been working closely with Verizon since early 2000 to develop the FTTH system that's being deployed in Brambleton. Marconi is also the supplier of FTTC systems being deployed in Austin, San Antonio and points in between by Grande Communications and an FTTC system deployed in Knoxville, Tenn. by Knology Inc., along with other smaller projects around the country. By all appearances, Verizon's interest in use of FTTH technology goes well beyond the Brambleton project, a planned community near Leesburg that envisions construction of hundreds of single and multiple dwelling units over the next decade. "Usually, when an RBOC does a trial like this they deploy a traditional network as a backup, but this is something they've been working on for a long time, and there is no backup," notes Mark McDonald, vice president of Marconi's broadband fiber access unit. "Verizon believes that developers are key to expanding the reach of advanced services," says Mary Yarbrough, vice president of affiliate integration at Verizon. "By collaborating with developers, we can deliver unparalleled high tech services, attractive prices and streamlined billing." Verizon is the first RBOC to show a willingness to work with third parties in this fashion, says Tom Reiman, president of The Broadband Group, a consulting firm that represented the Brambleton Community in drafting the technology master plan for the project. "Cable operators are also starting to be motivated in this direction, although it's definitely not a groundswell yet among incumbents," Reiman says. With about 40 planned community projects in play around the country, his firm would like to see more incumbents willing to do business with developers, because there are fewer competitive carriers out there to do business with, he adds. The Marconi system developed for Verizon marks a departure from past designs, even in the case of Marconi's commercial products, McDonald notes. "They've brought new thinking into this by calling for a low split ratio of only four or eight homes per splitter on the PON," he says. This approach allows technicians to more easily view and test the connections when they install the links, which leads to fewer truck rolls for follow up repairs. The low split ratio also opens the opportunity to eventually deliver a single wavelength over the coarse WDM system to each end user, although, at this point, the separate wavelengths in the Marconi system are used to segment voice, video and data, much as is the case with the Alcatel system. One measure of the validity of the claim that FITL has reached cost parity with HFC is Knology's decision to shift to the Marconi FTTC platform for its new build in Knoxville. All of the other nine markets Knology has under construction in the Southeast are HFC, but the firm, with about half a million homes passed and 1.5 million targeted by 2005, has made to the move to FTTC "because it costs the same as HFC," says Rodger Johnson, CEO. "Ultimately, all of us who are building these new networks will take the position that we want to do fiber as deep as we can," he says.
TecHome Builder Magazine | March/April 2002 print edition | By Donna Englander * Developers and builders team with The Broadband Group to help realize the goal of building Brambleton, a 6,240-home tech community in Loudoun County, Va.ROI * Thirty-five homes have already been sold via advanced marketing of the technology. * Seven builders are installing extensive technology, including required structured wiring. * The project is the first time Verizon has brought fiber to every home. Jack of all trades, master of none" is one phrase that doesn't apply to the builders of Brambleton, a soon-to-be tech community in northern Virginia. When the creators of this development were first envisioning how it would come about, they knew what they could do—build communities and roads. But they also knew what they couldn't do—create a technology plan that would provide high-speed Internet access and structured wiring to suit its residents' needs well into the future. Located in Loudoun County, Virginia—literally in the backyard of the heart of northern Virginia's high-tech industry-the developers understood that technology must be a vital component of the community. That's why they formed a partnership with The Broadband Group (TBG), a technology consulting company based in Sacramento, Calif. The working relationship created between the builders of Brambleton and TBG led not only to a Technology Master Plan and stringent wiring guidelines, but also to partnerships with vendors that will bring extensive technology into the homes and offices of the community. Why Technology Is Important With the headquarters of both MCI/WorldCom and AOL just a few miles from Brambleton, and other technology companies, including Orbital Sciences Corporation, Alcatel Data Networks, Science Applications International Corporation, Oracle, Cable and Wireless, ComSatRSI and Star Technologies, in the immediate area, the developers knew they had to include technology in the community. "We know technology is on top of everyone's mind in this area. We knew we had to do something about that when planning Brambleton. Our research shows that about 60 percent of our buyers will do some work from home-from full-time telecommuting to occasionally bringing work home," explains Kim Adams, marketing director for the community. "But we aren't experienced with technology, so we looked for a vendor that was." In fact, technology is so important to the community that it is included in the community vision statement. According to company documents, that vision reads: "Northern Virginia's newest planned community, designed to enrich the quality of life of its residents by taking full advantage of new technology in a small-town setting that promotes a sense of community. Brambleton will set a new, higher level of quality in design of its parks, Village Center and other community amenities, as well as the architectural design and materials found in its homes and community buildings." Brambleton will eventually include 6,240 homes over its 2,010 acres, including 2,829 single-family detached homes, 2,061 single-family attached homes, 1,050 multifamily residences and 300 units designated for the elderly. It will also include a golf/conference center, 450,000 square feet of retail space, 220,000 square feet of office space and 1,760,000 square feet of light industrial space. There will also be amenities such as pools, tennis courts, parks and open spaces, ball fields, public school sites and places of worship. Brambleton Group LLC received preliminary plan approval for the first 683 residential units in June 2000, and construction of these first homes is currently underway in its Phase One 15-acre Legacy Park. Single-family homes will be priced in the mid-$300,000 to $500,000-plus range and should be finished by early to mid-summer. Townhomes will be offered in the $200,000 range and will be available in approximately the next six months. Apartments will also be available in about a year. The builders include The Christopher Companies, The Gulick Group, Centex Homes, Miller & Smith, Stanley Martin Companies, Winchester Homes and Beazer Homes. Even though no finished homes or model homes are currently available for potential residents to explore, the community's marketing emphasis on technology seems to be working. To date, there have already been 35 sales solidified. The tech focus of the community is evident on its Web site, where the tag line is "Brambleton: Connect with Life." TBG Creates Technology Master Plan "When the developers for Brambleton came to us, they said basically the same thing other developers say: 'We're not sure what we need or want, but we know we have to address technology,'" explains Tom Reiman, president of TBG. "Generally, we find that builders don't have a firm grasp on technology objectives. Few builders have the size and scale to do these types of technology-intensive projects." Reiman believes Brambleton is one of the most significant announcements in the past 15 years. "It is significant because it is a company of the size and scale to complete the vision, its voice/data/video package is unique, and it is in the right demographic area to test these technologies," he says. When working on these types of development projects, TBG first creates a Technology Master Plan. It includes business planning, regulatory and entitlement assistance, and the development of multi-industry partnerships. "When formulating this plan, we try not to use the word 'technology,'" Reiman explains. "We evaluate the geographic and demographic makeup of the community. We determine what is important to the residents, be it entertainment, school, e-commerce, etc., and then translate that into bandwidth. We then determine who is out there in terms of vendors, networks, points of interconnection, etc., and analyze them." From this base, TBG brought its objectives to vendors and had them figure out how to meet them. "Building and telecom are very different businesses. Those involved in the different industries speak different languages. We write the plan in a way technology companies will understand." Various factors were evaluated when choosing vendors. "They had to be geographically close enough to the community, they needed to be financially secure and they had to be experienced. We were prepared to work with vendors that had less experience if they could prove they were prepared to face and understand the regulatory hurdles they would encounter. We also weren't looking for a unique product. Unique products make me nervous. The key to technology is wide-scale adoption, and that usually doesn't happen with a totally unique product," he admits. The vendor chosen to provide the fiber-optic service to the homes is Verizon. "It's very exciting to see Verizon so actively supporting fiber to the homes," says Brian Hills, vice president of technical services for TBG. "We have the fiber-to-copper converter placed inside the home rather than outside. This is truly a correction of last-mile problems." Reiman adds, "This project is a risk for both Verizon and Brambleton. For Verizon, it is an economic risk because it has never done this before. But, if the project fails, the company can just move on to the next project. For Brambleton, it is a risk because this is its only project and it can't afford even one technology failure." Every Structure Fully Wired After the Technology Master Plan was complete and the vendors in place, TBG set about creating a set of structured wiring guidelines for all the builders to adhere to. Structured wiring will be required in every building, both residential and commercial, in the community. "We relied on standards currently in the marketplace and other areas when writing the structured wiring guidelines. Every structure in Brambleton has to adopt this prewiring plan. It is vendor non-specific and includes stringent low-voltage requirements. It also includes easement issues and facilities decisions," explains Reiman. Hills adds, "We didn't specify any individual systems, such as security, automation, etc., in the guidelines. What we did do was create a base that would easily accommodate these goodies down the road. The residential prewire guidelines provide for a minimum level of broadband and other services throughout the home. We also paid more attention to forward compatibility by incorporating conduits with pull strings, etc." * Some of the standard requirements include Category 5e, RG-6 cabling and an Ethernet hub. The number of drops will be dependent on the square footage of the homes. The outlet types will include: Media outlets—These provide for voice or high-speed data services (including LAN) via a single Cat5e cable, and video or high-speed data services via a single RG-6 coax. * Data/voice outlets—These provide voice and high-speed data services (including LAN) via dual Cat5e cables. * Universal outlets—These provide voice and high-speed data services (including LAN) via dual Cat5e cables, and video services and high-speed data services or the redistribution of video via dual RG-6 cables. These will be placed in a star topology, require the use of 568a parameters and be interconnected at an enclosure that not only provides for active capabilities today, but also promotes forward compatibility. "In the guidelines, we augmented certain wiring aspects. For instance, we changed what is considered a cable TV drop. In our plan, a cable TV drop includes a minimum of one RG-6 and one Cat5e outlet to accommodate interactive applications. We also included drops in proximity to a 110V outlet source for ease of other applications," explains Hills. While all residences will be required to adhere to these guidelines, the extent to which they must do so will be determined by different factors. Single-family homes will have the most technology…the larger the square footage, the more that will be required. Lease and rental properties will have structured wiring, but to a lesser degree than the single-family houses. "The protocols we are requiring for the commercial structures are not unlike those being designed for other commercial buildings," explains Hills. "The goal is to get closer and closer to the desktop. All of the technology must be able to be configured and reconfigured for greater flexibility." While the development is still in its early stages, the builders are currently ironing out exactly what they will be offering. With this base of technology, the options are virtually endless. "Each builder has different structured wiring partners. We are leaving it up to the builder to decide what types of packages to offer, but we are definitely encouraging them in this area. The builders will be putting these packages together in the next few weeks," says Adams. Hills believes a full spectrum of offerings will be provided by the builders—everything from networking, whole-house audio and home theater to security, automation and home controls. Creating an Intranet to Create a Community One of the other goals presented to TBG was creating a community intranet. "We are working on that now. We have three or four favored vendors we are looking at. One key to the service is it must link with the Internet provider," says Reiman. Adams hopes the intranet will grow with the community. "I think it will really pull the community together. A lot of people will be relocating and not have any family nearby. It will become a great place for people to meet each other, find playmates for their children or a running partner for themselves. It will be a great tool for residents to use," she admits. Ultimately, she would like to see the builders put their warranty information and manuals on the intranet. Eventually, the intranet will probably also include e-commerce. Another service that will be available to residents is a basic television video package. "We shopped that out and will offer it as part of the homeowners' association fees. This isn't a service the residents can opt out of. There will be at least 70 channels of basic service. They will be able to upgrade to the movie channels if they desire. It will be an easy installation for them since the fiber is already there; it eliminates the need for a technician to enter their home," Adams adds. What People Want "The bandwidth availability at Brambleton will attract a much more savvy clientele," predicts Hills. Adams adds, "People automatically expect high-speed Internet access. They absolutely want it. But the intranet and home networking are new to this area. We will have to show our residents the advantages of these services." Hills believes the number-one item today's homeowners are most interested in is networking. "That's the real hot ticket. After that, control and management and whole-house audio and entertainment are neck and neck. The term 'home automation' is getting a bad rap. We're now calling it control and management. One example of this is when you open your garage door, a light path is automatically triggered to turn on," he says. Reiman adds, "Access to high-speed custom information is what people are interested in. They are trying to squeeze more bandwidth out of the current technology. In the next five to 10 years, that will only continue to grow. There will be more entertainment coming over on the Internet side of the home. People will increasingly need more bandwidth and much greater flexibility. "Currently, subsystems don’t relate to each other. In the future that will change. For instance, when the security system is armed or disarmed, it should affect the HVAC system. This type of relationship will be key to the future." Staying Involved As Brambleton moves along in the building process, TBG is working to stay involved and ensure the original goals of the Technology Master Plan are realized. "We want to ensure that the spirit of the project stays with it. We are working to create a way to evaluate the work of the wiring subcontractors. Typically on this type of project, we are on the board of directors. We want to force all parties involved to continue to focus on their similarities and differences. We do this through meetings and forums," Reiman adds. THB Donna Englander is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts and California. You can email her at email@example.com.
Sacramento Business Journal | March 1, 2002 print edition | Mark Larson In what seems like a huge gamble, some companies are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into providing fiber-optic service to area homes -- with no assurance that they'll attract enough customers to stay alive. Fiber-optic cable to the home. It sounds like a telecom solution everybody would want to have. After all, it offers much wider data bandwidth than cable modems or digital-subscriber-line connections over phone lines. It can handle video entertainment and phone traffic. And eventually it will carry phone calls over the Internet. But there's a big question mark still looming. Will residents clamor for it, bringing on a boom to move it ahead of other telecom services via cable or satellites? Or will it go bust, the way the superior Betamax video format lost out to VHS years ago? Fiber-optic companies, such as Denver-based WINfirst in Sacramento, Wide Open West in Denver and Grande Communications in San Antonio and Houston, have received a lot of attention, said Tom Reiman, a broadband consultant based in Sacramento. "But they've had very little financial success." Obstacles to their success abound, he said. They face regulatory hurdles, tight capital markets and tenacious competition from incumbents. The biggest question is cost. If the monthly charge for fiber connections is too high, the entrenched cable and satellite service providers could convince the masses to stay with them and keep fiber service from getting off the ground. The companies investing hundreds of millions to install fiber-to-the-home systems would then be left holding a lot of unused fiber and electronics equipment, with a small and unprofitable base of customers. Hitting the brakes: In Sacramento city and county, WINfirst had planned to spend $500 million "overbuilding" the AT&T Broadband cable system -- stringing fiber-optic cables in neighborhoods already served by AT&T. WINfirst's system uses fiber for high-speed data and phone service, and a separate coaxial cable line for pay-TV programs. It charges customers $100 a month. AT&T currently offers only TV fare and Internet services on its cable. This week, WINfirst general manager Winston Ashizawa said the company was reducing its local construction plans because of depressed capital markets. He said the financial troubles of Global Crossings and Williams Communications had damaged capital markets in the telecom sector. Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco, a minority equity partner of WINfirst, was hired to manage the construction of the cable company's infrastructure here and in other markets. Bechtel has cut off its role with the company, said Ashizawa, because there is no construction going on as had been planned for Los Angeles and Dallas. The company also had plans in San Diego, Seattle, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. WINfirst is now focusing on construction only in Sacramento, and at a much less ambitious pace than before. It will continue to build out neighborhoods it is in, says Ashizawa, but will delay building in neighborhoods next on its agenda, such as Land Park. The company wouldn't say how many subscribers it has. "Our objective is not to overextend ourselves with regard to deployment," he says. While the complete build-out of Sacramento County was initially pegged for 2004, Ashizawa says it still could happen if capital markets recover. If not, it will take an unknown longer period of time. Ashizawa says the company now employs 220 in McClellan Business Park, but will evaluate whether any layoffs will be necessary. One neighborhood at a time: Fiber-optic lines are the fastest connections on the market. They can shoot information up to 10 megabytes per second for either an upload or a download. Compare that to DSL upload speeds of 128 kilobytes per second, and 384 kilobytes per second of download speed. Cable modems have upload speeds of 128 kb per second, with downloads at 1.5 megabytes per second, or about one-seventh the speed of a fiber line. So far, WINfirst has offered service in neighborhoods in North and South Natomas, Arden Arcade, and parts of Carmichael and Sierra Oaks. But it has put on hold plans to install service in Land Park. In Roseville, SureWest Communications is installing fiber to the home to customers who can't get high-speed Internet service via phone lines, or digital subscriber lines, because they live too far from DSL hubs. Areas targeted for service include about 3,600 homes in Del Webb's Sun City Roseville, and parts of Highland Reserve and Diamond Oaks. Those areas are part of the territory served by the SureWest subsidiary, Roseville Telephone. The company will offer its flat rate for phone service of $18.90 a month and $50 a month for high-speed data service. TV fare will not be offered, at least initially, says company president and chief executive Brian Strom. And in other areas around the country, fiber to the home is being built into new communities as the telecom medium of choice. Those projects are essentially experiments by big phone companies, communities and developers to see if they can expand the service from those communities into surrounding regions, Reiman said. One of Reiman's projects is in Brambleton, Va. -- a new housing development in which Verizon Communications is selling phone, TV and Internet as part of the community-services charge of $187.10 per month. Different models: Reiman says installing fiber connections as a feature of a newly built development -- dubbed a "greenfield" approach -- is much less expensive than installing fiber as an overbuild of a cable system. His numbers crunch to four to 10 times less cost. The higher cost in overbuilds, he says, is in the electronics needed to plug in the services offered. WINfirst's Ashizawa says his system will initially use coaxial cable to provide pay-TV services. After a critical mass of subscribers is garnered, he said, the system will eliminate the cable and be able to financially support an all-fiber service. WINfirst intends to build service for all of Sacramento County, and will likely need to convince about half of AT&T Broadband's subscriber base of 270,000 -- or 135,000 conversions -- to be profitable here. The company has reported it needed 50 percent of cable subscribers in Los Angeles to be profitable. WINfirst has decided to build out the entire county area instead of developing small pockets and growing outward from them. Whether it can make it with that strategy remains to be seen. "It's still too early to tell," says Rich Esposto, newly appointed executive director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Cable Television Commission. "The technology is awesome. But the economics are not yet proven." Consultant Reiman agrees. "WINfirst is in the challenging position of having no customers," he said. Other competitors, such as cable companies, have an incumbent customer base to draw upon. "Overbuilders historically have not been successful. It's a model that has not proven itself." He and Esposto agree that a fiber-to-the-home business model has a better chance of success in lining up customers in new residential developments. That enables slow but profitable progress for the providing companies, who need subscribers to survive. WINfirst's Ashizawa defends the regional overbuild approach to setting up fiber to the home, over a smaller-scale incremental approach. "Our original game plan was for a regional build as a basic deployment for a metropolitan area, and it's still our game plan," says Ashizawa. But because of the tight capital markets, "We will fully implement, but at a slower rate." Ashizawa is confident that his company will offer a choice to locals that will sharpen competition by making competitors pay more attention to customer service. And convince competitors' subscribers to switch over to WINfirst's offering for $100 or so a month. So far, he says, there is interest among local subscribers in all three services -- TV programming, phone and video -- not just one among the three, and that he's encouraged by positive responses from customers. "I get feedback everyday from customers through letters and messages saying they are thrilled with the service," he says. The biggest competitors Esposto sees, beyond cable providers, are the satellite-TV companies. They continue to gain market share from the cable-TV market. And he notes that the proposed merger of satellite programming providers EchoStar and DirecTV, a deal that is hotly opposed by the cable industry, may work to fuel much more video and broadband services competition from that sector. On the other hand, AT&T Broadband, hasn't made any visible counter moves in Sacramento with the incoming WINfirst, he added. As for SureWest's local fiber-to-the-home project, Reiman applauds it as the telecom company's acknowledgment of the value of deploying the technology, which he says is ultimately superior to cable modems or DSL phone lines for Internet connections. He expects SureWest will eventually add services to its fiber-optics subscribers. Demand unexplored: While there has been a lot of emphasis on building fiber to the home with infrastructure, Reiman contends the masses haven't been educated enough about what it can do. With more awareness, he says, would come more market demand from those seeing the payback of signing up for such services. "We've hyped ourselves that consumers want all this, but no one has tapped on their door and asked them," he said. Now, the big sellers are high-speed data and entertainment. But there are many more applications, he notes. Some of the services a fiber-equipped home can have, he says, include energy meter reading that can shut off the pool pump, for example, when power rates are highest, security systems, and in another five years, he figures phone calls will be placed over the Internet on fiber connections. For now, however, Reiman sees fiber's high-speed data services as the technical trump card which an overbuilder like WINfirst should tout over TV programming or phone service. But until fiber to the home begins to attract subscribers in big numbers, Reiman figures the big phone companies such as SBC/Pacific Bell, Verizon and others, won't jump in with their own fiber-to-the-home offerings. Their main broadband product is DSL -- phone lines that are beefed up to provide high-speed Internet connections. But that technology has long-term limitations that a fiber system doesn't have, and at some point the big telecommunications companies will likely move to fiber systems. Or, if they keep competition at bay, they can stay with their copper-based systems. For now, Reiman predicts the progress of fiber-to-the-home systems, "is going to be stop-and-go. I don't see a consensus approach." But he sees the greenfield approach of fiber systems put in new developments as a way to get the big players watching. "My practice is to make everybody (in telecommunications) a little bit nervous," he says. "That's what fuels growth."
A fiber-optic backbone throughout the Plymouth, Mass., 2,877-home community of single-family homes and townhouses allows residents to receive digital satellite, phone and other broadband services. TecHome Builder Magazine | February 2002 | by Bob McCullough The Broadband Group consulting company designed the technology and arranged the service providers. There are three homebuilders on the site, including one of the primary builders, The Green Company. Pine Hills is the largest housing development in New England. For the Native Americans who hosted the first Thanksgiving meal, instant communication consisted of sending smoke signals to and from Telegraph Hill, one of the highest points on the land that later became Plymouth, Mass. To reach Telegraph Hill, both the Native Americans and our colonial forebears used Old Sandwich Road, one of the oldest working dirt roads in the country, a path that can trace its history as a thoroughfare back to 1632. Fast-forward a few hundred years, and things have changed a bit. Old Sandwich Road now functions as a technology highway, carrying a fiber-optic backbone that connects residents of the new Pine Hills development that now occupies the 3,000-acre property at the southern end of Plymouth. At the moment, the initial residents of the development (which opened in October 2001) are enjoying the benefits of a fiber-optic capability that makes Pine Hills the only planned community in the country where a DirecTV signal is transmitted across the development without a single dish on any residence in the property. That same fiber-optic cable also allows Verizon to supply a complete package of broadband services to help those residents stay in touch with the modern world. The company that selected the providers and put together the specification for that package is The Broadband Group, a Sacramento, Calif.-based technology consulting company that has similarly connected developments across the country. As for Telegraph Hill, it is now surrounded by most of the 2,877 homes that will eventually be built at Pine Hills, which is located 45 minutes from downtown Boston and is less than 10 miles from the seasonal pleasures of Cape Cod. Many of those homes are situated on adjacent hills that dot the property to take advantage of the spectacular ocean views, and those views are augmented by a design that left 70 percent of the land in its original pristine condition. Finding Service Providers WasnÕt Easy The builder that implemented the development's design, The Green Company, added nature trails throughout the property, along with a pair of world-class golf courses, one designed by Rees Jones, the other by Jack Nicklaus Design. One of the reasons they were able to build on such a small percentage of the land was their success in convincing the town fathers of Plymouth to forgo the normal three-acre zoning requirement. To implement the technology that connects the residents, the two companies joined forces to make sure they would get the best possible package of services. Given the unique features of Pine Hills and the lack of developments in New England to use as a model, the process required plenty of creative thinking. "What we did was create a master plan for the technology," says Tom Reiman, president of The Broadband Group. "We defined the network requirements, the structured wiring needs, the physical network, and the demand for voice, video and data capability, along with the local content." But finding a provider for that content was easier said than done. Pine Hills is the largest planned community in Massachusetts, an area where the combination of scarce buildable land and high real estate prices makes developments a rarity. Even though the requirements for the infrastructure were relatively modest, there were few prospective providers in the area, forcing The Broadband Group to take an innovative approach to the process. "We tried to look at the bandwidth to be consumed and match up the technology with the personality of the project," Reiman explains. "In the case of Pine Hills, it was a private community that was not in a major metropolitan area, and there was no high-bandwidth infrastructure. So we had to create a template for the service." That template had to incorporate the plans of three different builders who were about to construct a modern, cosmopolitan update of an old New England village. Plans had been approved for a 178-acre "neighborhood center" called "Village-on-the-Green" that would include a 220-room Marriott resort hotel with conference room facilities, as well as a 220,000-square-foot retail space with a bank, stores and other facilities. To meet the diverse needs of that community, one of the goals of the service template was to create a competitive environment in which to audition potential telecommunications providers. The Broadband Group's strategy was to evaluate the existing services, which included Adelphia, the local cable company, as well as Bell Atlantic, which provided phone service in the area. The competition came primarily from a company called RCN, which began to make inroads into the region when the demand for broadband services picked up momentum. "We wanted to be able to deliver every kind of service that was available in a clear and easy manner, but there was no high-speed data capability of any kind in that market," says Reiman. "When we went into the market and analyzed the competition, we knew that we were not going to allow everybody to do anything they wanted. We wanted a fiber backbone that could continue to grow with the technology. It was that sort of thinking that allowed us to eliminate the satellite dishes on the property. "A lot of the technology we were talking about hasnÕt matured yet, so we never say 'give me everything today,'" Reiman adds. "Telecommunications companies are good at installing wires and providing services, but they're not good at educating consumers on the benefits of connectivity. If you just market the services available with only door hangers and overbuild, what you'll end up with is a package of services that maybe 10 percent of the residents in the community will end up using. "We wanted to blend services in terms of voice, data and video while offering some price incentives, and we wanted a company that would step up and outperform the competition," he concludes. "We wanted to reverse the normal situation where a provider dictates the offerings, and put pressure on the provider to deliver a comprehensive package of every kind of service available." The provider that stepped up to the plate was Bell Atlantic, which has since become Verizon. Today, it's common for providers to be willing to offer a full package of broadband services, but back in 1999 when the Pine Hills auditions were taking place, it was unique for a single provider to be willing and able to deliver a combination of voice, high-speed data and video capability. Builder Implements Tech Design Reiman is quick to add that the package couldn't have been installed and implemented without the efforts of the builder, The Green Company. The plans of the two firms intersected in the education process, with The Green Company paying extra attention to the individual needs of the customers. "What we like to do is go out and educate consumers about the benefits of connectivity, and The Green Company has a unique approach to meeting the needs of the consumer," says Reiman when speaking about his partners on the project. "They assign a coordinator to every buyer at Pine Hills, and that person protects the consumer all the way through the buying process, from helping them select the services they want to getting an email address to moving in. What they do at Pine Hills LLC is to basically wrap themselves around the consumer." According to Tony Green, managing partner of The Green Company, that process starts well before the buyers begin to get serious about their purchase. When the company started to build the combination of attached townhouses and free-standing homes, it had a pretty good idea of the telecommunication features customers would want in the package. "It began with market research and focus groups," says Green. "One of our biggest goals was to preserve the feel of an old New England village, and the desire for connectedness starts with knowing other people. We wanted to make that whole process easier." The foundation of that connectivity was a robust structured-wiring package, along with a well designed specification that would make sure all the products would work together as planned. Plenty of structured-wiring companies got to trot out their wares for the project, but as the evaluation process evolved, the focus narrowed to one specific feature that didn't necessarily have anything to do with their products. "The key was to have a state-of-the-art specification so that we were able to make sure Verizon could provide the bandwidth to ensure a full array of services," Green explains. "Our specification was designed for both commercial and residential, so we were able to create competition among vendors. We looked at four or five structured- wiring providers, and the two that we chose for Pine Hills were USTec and FutureSmart." The on-site expert from The Green Company at Pine Hills who worked with the Broadband Group, the structured-wiring companies and Verizon was John Judge, the project manager. According to Judge, part of the reason that FutureSmart and USTec were chosen for Pine Hills is that they offered the best combination of market presence and a reliable and robust product line. But it was their ability to provide service and support for those products that made a difference at Pine Hills. "The good news at this point is that all of the structured wiring companies seem to be migrating toward the same basic platform," says Judge. "What differentiated FutureSmart and USTec was that they were both working with a network of certified low-voltage installers who had the expertise to service and support the products. They were also able to work with the builders to be compliant with the Pine Hills spec, which we put together with the Broadband Group to give builders flexibility to go the standard if they wanted to." When the two other builders began to enter the picture, Judge also wanted them to be aligned with structured wiring companies that could provide good service and support. But all three builders came into the project with different standards for installation, and reconciling those standards required getting everyone on the same page. "Like anything else, it began with education," says Judge. "We met with all the builders, and we had presentations from FutureSmart and USTec. In this area, we were looking for tech support and certified installers. Then we brought in Verizon, to see how the infrastructure would be best served by the specification. "The biggest issue we had was with the bandwidth for video," Judge adds. "The splits in the box in the home had to be done a certain way, and each of the different vendors had different ways of doing that. So we had to go back and make sure the signal quality and the bandwidth matched up against the specification." Installations Tested to Spec by Consultant The Broadband Group played a pivotal role in the verification process as well. According to Tom Reiman, the company's testing process involves coming in after the first production units have been built and letting the builder know that one unit will be tested against the specification. But the specific unit to be tested is never identified in advance, largely to keep different companies from overbuilding to make sure the specs will be met. "We make sure the builders install under strict guidelines, and we make sure everything that's installed is labeled and certified," says Reiman of the specs. "That's something that a lot of structured wiring specs don't do. We set up a minimum that builders have to meet, like the size of the can and the number of runs for connectivity, but we give the specification the room to grow so that the specification can be upgraded for custom homes." In fact, The Broadband Company set up three different levels for the specification, one for each different builder. While The Green Company continues to expand on the base of 16 homeowners who have purchased the firm's townhouses and homes that are priced in the low $200K range, the more upscale builders like Whitman Homes and Kistler & Knapp will have to adhere to a higher standard for the pricier homes. According to Reiman, the testing process produces a wide range of intriguing results when the production units are put under the microscope. "Most builders aren't on solid ground in their understanding," he says. "So we go on-site and work with the builders when we inspect the model and tell them what they did right and wrong. More often than not we find massive problemsÑwe've had credible builders come out of the inspection with an 80 percent failure rate. "At Pine Hills we set up three levels for each company, and what we saw was a much lower failure rate than what we usually see," he adds. "If you don't jump on that failure rate right away, the problem you have is that as the level of services continues to grow, you begin to see major problems. And once you terminate the wiring, you don't get performance back. It's really beyond most builders, and I don't mean that in a negative way." THB Bob McCullough is an author/journalist who lives in the Boston area. He's written a half-dozen books and freelanced for a wide variety of national publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. QUOTE In addition to writing the specs of the project, the consultant on the project, The Broadband Group, also tested one randomly selected unit against the specs.
Denver Turns an Air Force Ghost Town Into a High-Tech Mecca BY DAN CATERINICCHIA | February 7, 2000 The Lowry Air Force Base closed in 1994, leaving 1,800 desolate acres in the middle of downtown Denver. But despite the thousands of vacant buildings, the less-than-pristine environment and miles of abandoned runways, some officials saw potential rather than disaster. The cities of Denver and Aurora formed a nonprofit authority charged with bringing this empty lot back from the dead. But ordinary redevelopment wouldn't cut it. The vision was a supercharged technology mecca intended to lure the savviest of homeowners and businesses. Fast-forward to the present. The planned community called Lowry is winning awards. Planners consider it a national model. And perhaps most strikingly, it boasts the most high-tech telecommunications network in Colorado. "Most developments are out in the suburbs with clean, fresh lands, but when we started this we said, 'Let us paint you a picture,'" said Tom Markham, executive director of the Lowry Redevelopment Authority (LRA). "But getting from point A to point Z is always a challenge." Lowry's Challenge When bases close, they commonly are transformed into airports or trading posts. The infrastructure limits a redeveloper's options, but a good economy and the base's location open other doors, said Jeffrey Simon, president of the National Association of Installation Developers, a Washington, D.C., organization dedicated to redeveloping bases. Like the typical base, when Lowry was built more than 50 years ago it "was out in the middle of Timbuktu," Markham said. But when the noisy planes stopped flying in 1965, the metropolitan area that became modern-day Denver sprung up around the base, thriving in the absence of the air traffic. Because of Lowry's proximity to urban life, it wasn't feasible to use the vacant airstrips for any sort of new air facility. Starting from scratch was Lowry's only choice. "Sometimes, the basis for a military facility in the first place is still valid, but Lowry's airstrips were no longer needed, so they completely changed the way they looked at it and wiped the slate clean," Simon said. Because about 90 percent of the base fell within Denver city limits and the rest in Aurora, the two cities joined to form the LRA, which is an independent, quasi-public organization. The authority would plan and develop the site but would disband once Lowry could stand on its own. Taxes would be split between the two cities. The mission was a mixed-use community. Or as the LRA's mantra says, a place where people could "live, learn, work and play." But Lowry's twist was that unlike the average community, all of the working and playing would be done in structures designed to handle the latest technology. No one who moved in would have to worry about installations after the fact. Everything would be there, waiting. The technology, the LRA hoped, would lure people to Lowry. "Unlike business parks and other existing developments, we don't need to be retrofitted with [technology] because the infrastructure was put in place before the homes, businesses and schools moved in," Markham said. The master plan included: * About 4,000 new homes and apartments in a range of styles and prices, including single-family homes, town homes, apartments and custom homes. Existing homes would be renovated and resold. The residential component is scheduled to be finished by 2004. * A 156-acre Higher Education and Advanced Technology Center. The center would be a consortium of colleges and universities offering academic programs and training with an emphasis on high technology. The center is set to open in 2009 with as many as 20,000 students. * An 86-acre business park to house bioscience, telecommunications, computer services and financial firms. There would be no place for heavy industrial or large retail outlets. The corporate aspect is scheduled for completion by 2006. * Almost 800 acres of open space including urban trails, parks, playing fields, an ice arena, baseball diamonds and a public golf complex. The parks are to be finished by 2004. The $309 million redevelopment price tag would be paid for in a variety of ways. Most of the money would come from private sources such as revenue bonds, bank loans, real estate sales and leases. Federal, state and local grants would fill out the rest. The LRA additionally is seeking private donations to pay for amenities, such as public art and parks. The land itself was nearly free, however, thanks to federal legislation approved last year to spark economic development. That saved the LRA nearly $32 million. The Technology Foundation A Sacramento, Calif., -based technology consulting firm, The Broadband Group, designed Lowry's technology plan. The company let the image of modern community life guide their vision. "We try to understand the dynamics, demographics, and social needs of a community with focuses on education, health care and intracommunity communication," The Broadband Group's president Tom Reiman said. "We analyzed all aspects of Lowry to see how changes in the delivery of services would affect the quality of life there. Being able to work at home in a true Ôtelecommunity' was part of the definition of life at Lowry." Although Reiman said most developing communities allow the telecommunications industry to set up networks with low- to midlevel bandwidth that are virtually outdated the day they're installed, that wouldn't happen in Lowry. The future was on everyone's mind in this case -- as many as 10 years into the future, specifically. "We knew it had to [be] fiber-rich, and have bandwidth as close to the residents as possible," Reiman said. "Most networks are not engineered with a technology master plan in mind...and most [systems] aren't built with the [assumption] that every home will be online every day." It was key that potential residents understood what a network of Lowry's caliber could offer them, Reiman said. "Most people don't care about high-speed networks but about the services it can deliver," he said. "They don't want a high-speed pipe unless it delivers compelling local content." And Lowry's was indeed something to brag about. Its Very High Bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) broadband network -- the only one in Colorado -- carries voice, video and data via dedicated fiber-optic lines. The network has 98 fibers, each serving a different part of the community. Scientific American magazine determined that just one of those fibers theoretically could carry all the phone calls in the United States. US West installed the $10 million fiber-to-the-curb network. The company won a 10-year deal with Lowry that allows community residents and businesses to buy all US West telecommunications services at market rate prices. Everyone must pay a monthly fee to participate in the network, a fee that is part of the Lowry Community Master Association dues. With all of the technology infrastructure in place, the next challenge was getting the word out and getting people to take a closer look at Lowry. It didn't take long. Moving In The Lowry technology master plan is designed to serve 10,000 residents, 10,000 business employees and 20,000 students, said Hilarie Portell, public relations and marketing manager for the LRA. Portell recently bought a house in Lowry and plans to tap into some of the technological benefits. Portell said that she and her husband recently finished choosing their home's wiring package. The couple added an additional office hook up to the standard wiring package of one office jack, three television outlets and three phone connections so they could hook up a laptop in the den. "My husband is a journalist, and rather than having to go back to the bureau to [file], he'll be able to plug in at home," she said, adding that she also hopes to do some telecommuting. An informal survey by the LRA of about 300 Lowry homes found that about 7 percent of the residents were working from home, telecommuting or operating a home-based business. The LRA expects that number to increase significantly. The private sector also is taking advantage of the community's telecommunications infrastructure. In fact, it's a key reason some businesses have moved there. Last year, five firms moved their corporate headquarters to the Lowry Business Park. Copic Cos., the Colorado Medical Society, Sevo Miller Inc., the American Legion and the Colorado Allergy and Asthma Centers will be up and running in the park this year. "The digital city exists now," Markham said. "Everybody with a house, building or office has access to a digital broadband network. It's already up and running and usable." The Next Step The next project in the works is the completion of the Lowry intranet, which will connect every home, business and recreational facility with local news and information. The intranet, which should be in place by the end of this year, will carry information ranging from a schedule of homeowners' association meetings to school lunch menus. Residents will be able to sign up for tee times at the two local golf courses and e-mail friends in the community. Reiman said he also expects that wireless technology will have a major impact on how Americans send and receive information. That also is being worked into the Lowry plan. "They're about two years away from being a true technology-based community," Reiman said. "It will be a year before the true impact of the online intranet for the community is felt and proven. And with the complete video strategy, [it will be] another 12 to 24 months for the complete technology story of Lowry to be told."
Sacramento Business Journal | January 25, 2002 print edition | Mark Larson Sometime in the not-too-distant future, we can expect most homes to be wired for high-speed Internet connections, phone service and video-on-demand TV programming all on one fiber-optic line. And Tom Reiman, CEO of The Broadband Group consultancy in Sacramento, is right in the middle of designing projects in which entire communities are connected to fiber-optic cables -- bundles of glass strands that can replace coaxial cable and phone lines. His company just finished contract negotiations representing Brambleton, Va., a newly developed housing community, for the launch of a fiber-to-the-home system by Verizon Communications. The project is a trial run for Verizon, which plans to make a cost assessment of its future-looking service in a year. Reiman's company drafted a technology master plan defining the voice, video and data services to be provided to new residents from the day they move in. In addition to providing services such as street maintenance and trash removal, first-phase residents in Brambleton will get phone service, TV programming and high-speed Internet access for their monthly $187.10 homeowner fee. Reiman's company represents more than 40 communities nationally in several similar initiatives. WINfirst, a Denver-based company is currently laying in a $500 million fiber-to-the-home system in Sacramento County. Costs are high, however, and initially WINfirst is using a mix of fiber and co-axial cable until it can pull down costs with a critical mass of subscribers. It has begun the service in South Natomas and will offer its services to one neighborhood at a time as it builds out. It is charging $100 a month. Cost is the major obstacle to fiber in the home. Another is whether consumers will want to sign up for it when they might not need or use all the massive bandwidth provided by fiber. But if costs come down, fiber-to-the-home has big potential to become the home telecom connection of choice, over copper or cable.
Washington Post Online | Thursday, January 17, 2002; Page LZ01 | By Mike Musgrove A new housing development near Leesburg will be a testing ground for a new fiber-optic network by Verizon Communications Inc. In addition to such routine services as street maintenance and trash removal, residents in the first phase of the Brambleton planned community will receive television service and high-speed Internet access as part of their monthly $187.10 homeowners fee. Brambleton President Bill Fox said the high-tech offering is a way for the community to differentiate itself as it is marketed to technology workers shopping for homes in the area. "Our potential customers are young, well-paid and much more tech-literate than a lot of customers," he said. Thomas Reiman, president of The Broadband Group, a Sacramento-based consulting firm that negotiated with Verizon on Brambleton's behalf and helped to design the community's technology plan, said he sees potential residents everywhere. "Look at what surrounds Brambleton," he said. "AOL's world headquarters, WorldCom, UUNet, XO Communications. The workforce, and therefore the family, supports technology acceptance." In addition to fast Web connections, residents will also have access to a community-wide intranet, a private slice of online space where residents eventually can connect with each other to find babysitters and jogging partners and to meet other real-world needs. The same fiber-optic network will also carry residents' telephone conversations and television signals from a cable provider that has not been announced. Verizon is optimistic but cautious about the trial run. "This really is a first for us," said Paul Miller, a spokesman for Verizon. "We're not sure how the economics will work out, so we'll see after a year." Although Verizon has tried other "technical trials" of the technology, this is the first time the company will be billing for use of a residential, all fiber-optic connection. Most of Verizon's Internet customers receive data over mixed sections of fiber-optic cable and copper wire. Usually, however, the fiber-optic cable network forms only the skeleton of Verizon's network, and data are carried inside the home by coaxial cable or copper wire. Fiber-optic networks have advantages over cable systems or copper wire telephone networks. The main advantage is that fiber-optic networks, which transmit laser signals through strands of glass, have a higher bandwidth -- more capacity -- than DSL lines or cable modem access, the usual residential connections made over telephone lines. "There's really no limit to the bandwidth" of fiber optics, said Stephen Montgomery, an analyst for ElectroniCast Corp., which is a market research firm for the fiber-optic industry and is based in San Mateo, Calif. "You can always make it go faster." Fiber-optic networks also have fewer technical limitations than other options. DSL connections, for example, have become available slowly, if at all, in non-urban and rural areas because users must be near phone company switching offices. The main obstacle for fiber-optic networks has been cost. Although fiber-optic lines can be less expensive by the foot than copper wire, the supporting electronics for fiber optics is more costly. Only the first 680 homes in the community will be wired. If the trial run is successful, the fiber-optic network may be expanded to other neighborhoods as the community is developed. The entire 2,000-acre Brambleton development eventually will have more than 6,000 units and its own golf course. The first phase, with home prices ranging from about $350,000 to more than $500,000, should have its first residents by mid-August, Fox said. Each Brambleton home in the first phase will come with a laptop-size appliance called an OEC, or optical-to-electric converter, used to change light signals transmitted through the cable into signals understood by computers or telephones. Verizon would not disclose how much it is paying for the converters, but the component typically costs in the low thousands of dollars. Verizon said it eventually hopes to recoup its investment through monthly fees. "Brambleton is the largest trial we're involved in," said Jim Blew, a spokesman for Marconi Corp. plc, the company that manufactures the converters. Blew said Marconi converters will also be used in residential fiber-optic network trials in Palo Alto, Calif., and Chelan County, Wash. Fiber-optic networks are much more common in office buildings in such financial centers as San Francisco or New York, Montgomery said, partly because the networks are considered secure. Brambleton, and other similar trials, aren't the first attempts to connect fiber-optic networks in the home, however. Reiman, of The Broadband Group, helped to install a residential fiber-optic network in a 250-home community in Orlando 16 years ago. The network is still there, though use of fiber optics to the home didn't catch on in the sunny state. Reiman said that experiment was an example of "technology getting too far ahead of the consumer's ability to use it." Reiman said he hopes that the second time will be a charm. "It's a much more logical investment today," he said. © 2002 The Washington Post Company