What You’ll Learn

The number of people who need (or even understand) multiple gigs’ worth of broadband speed might be small now, but Matt Daniel at Mountain Telephone lays out the case for why offering such top-end packages makes sense.

Guest Speaker

Matt Daniel

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

 

Intro: A production of Pioneer Utility Resources. StoryConnect, helping communicators discover ideas to shape their stories and connect with their customers.

Andy Johns: What is multi-gig internet, and why do you want it? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, your host with Pioneer, and I’m joined on this episode by Matt Daniel, who is the central office supervisor for Mountain Telephone in Kentucky. Thanks for joining me, Matt.

Matt Daniel

Matt Daniel: Thank you, Andy. Appreciate your time and asking me to join you.

Andy Johns: Yeah, so Matt just hopped off the stage here at the Calix ConneXions conference. That’s why you may hear a little bit of background noise or smooth jazz over the overhead from the hotel. And we’re recording on a portable microphone, so the sound quality may not be what it is other times. But I liked the session that Matt did. I’ve been wanting to do a podcast about multi-gig Internet for a while, and I thought Matt presented it well. So I guess first let’s define the term for folks. What do we mean when we say “multi-gig internet offerings?”

Matt Daniel: So for about probably at least a decade, gig offering as standardized by the industry was one gig by one gig synchronous, upstream and downstream. Most customers use down; they don’t use much of the up. Old DSL technology was using the technology to try to get all that down, and they were reserving frequencies for the upstream. So we get into a synchronous world, 100 meg, 500 meg, one gig. Now we’re talking about the possibility of technology available to deliver two gig synchronous, five gig synchronous, up to, in the near future, ten gig synchronous to the home.

Andy Johns: So we’re talking about Internet that’s really fast to sum it up. What all, and one of the things here obviously at the Calix conference there’s a lot of talk about technology, but what kind of things are involved – and again, knowing the audience is mainly marketing communications folks – what are some of the basics on what’s involved in going from a gigabit as your top speed into that multi gig world?

Matt Daniel: If you have a outside plant currently offering one gig services, the multi-gig is pretty well handled by the COE, or the central office equipment in the back end. It’s an evolution from where we are now. There’s active and GPON technologies and XGS-PON, of course is ten gig PON. That’s what the XG is, is meant to be a standard of. It operates over the exact same fiber. It’s a bi-directional transmission.

Andy Johns: And that’s an important part is once the fiber is in the ground or on the poles, we’re not talking about having to redo all of that.

Matt Daniel: That’s correct. As long as you’re not pushing your optical budget too much, you should be able to just keep evolving to the next generation of COE over the same outside plant fiber, and it shouldn’t be degrading. Everything that has been put in the ground probably in the last 6 to 8 years, it’s been really high quality fiber. How good people are maintaining their splices, if they’re using core alignment or if they’re using the other alignment process. The name eludes me right now, I apologize. But depending on the how well they’re maintaining their outside plant, there’s no limit to the transmission rate of the fiber itself, as long as you have a good quality, and you’re not getting into that link loss budget where you’ve got so many splices, and you can’t get the transmission end to end. And it’s all typically to the home is bi-di, which means you are transmitting one direction on one light frequency and receiving the other direction on a different light frequency. So you’re operating that transmit and receive on one fiber, which is very efficient in the network.

Andy Johns: Exactly. Yep. So when we’re looking at the multi-gig XGS like you talked about, what are some of the reasons why – and I don’t know if you want to get into numbers about subscribers and how many folks you have on gig and that sort of stuff now – but what are some of the reasons why a gig is not good enough? What’s the need, and why are some of the reasons why you at Mountain and then other folks in the rural telecom space are looking at multi-gig service?

Matt Daniel: Well, I think the pandemic opened a lot of eyes for us about working from home, telemedicine and some of the things that have been buzzwords for the last five years during conferences. We all knew this was a possibility. The restrictions about getting out and being with other people really kind of drove home the need. Oftentimes, I’m asked, we’re our own ISP. I’m often asked, “Did you see a doubling of your bandwidth?” No, I didn’t see a doubling of my bandwidth. The actual throughput didn’t really – it rose, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t project for five years from historical data.

Andy Johns: Interesting.

Matt Daniel: But what I saw was the full load demand started earlier in the day.

Andy Johns: Okay.

Matt Daniel: So instead of seeing a full load demand at 4:00 when school’s out. Everybody comes home, and they’re streaming their TV. And it lasts about midnight and drops off. It came in at 9:00 in the morning and stayed sustained for the day. So the amount of traffic we put through was greater, but the peaking wasn’t doubled. So to that end, we learned that, I guess, if you build it, they will come, you know, to use a term from the movie.

Andy Johns: Great movie, by the way. One of my favorites.

Matt Daniel: That’s a great movie. So I think that VR is probably going to become a reality for social media before anything else. And so…

Andy Johns: Virtual reality.

Matt Daniel: Virtual reality. That’s right. Like the Oculus headset and that sort of thing. I think the Meta company, a.k.a. Facebook and those groups, I think they’re going to try to move people to that as their social media standard. I really do. And you’re talking about something that’s going to be using the better part of probably 500 meg or more synchronous. You’re going to be receiving data for you to see and take your input and do something with it. So I think that that’s a huge need.

Andy Johns: And that doesn’t even count what else is going on in the home at the same time that you’re needing that 500.

Matt Daniel: That is precisely, and that’s what I was going to say, Andy, is that in summary, our customers don’t need a gig. But there are so many things going on inside of a home now at the same time, you do need more than ten meg Internet. You need more than 50 meg Internet. Because your thermostat, your wireless cameras you bought on Amazon, your fire stick, your Amazon cube, the five cell phones in the house, a laptop, all these things are constantly using traffic. I had a good friend of mine who upgraded to our gig service, and they have our IPTV, and they have two teenage sons. And I got a call after they upgraded our gig service, and she said – it wasn’t a gig, it was 100 meg, I’m sorry. They upgraded to 100 meg. She’s like, “We can’t watch a movie on our Netflix.” I was like, “What are you talking about? You got 100 meg.” So I get in and look around the network a little bit, go, “Well, there’s something in your house that’s pulling about 90 meg.” What are you talking about? Everything’s off. Well, let’s just go see through the house, so I’ll walk them through it. And it turns out their two teenage sons, each of them have an Xbox.

Andy Johns: Oh, two Xboxes.

Matt Daniel: Two Xboxes. And they had the screen, they had the TV in the room turned off, all go watch a movie together as a family. But what were they doing in the background? They were downloading the new Call of Duty. They were downloading them. So these two Xboxes were just hogging all of the Internet traffic. And of course, the customer didn’t realize that. It’s like, no, you got to turn that off because it’s constantly drawing bandwidth.

Andy Johns: Or get a higher package.

Matt Daniel: Or get a higher package. That’s right.

Andy Johns: So the best way that I’ve heard it described as somebody way back, I heard him compare a gigabit service to a HEMI that, you know, in your truck. You don’t have to know what a HEMI does. It’s, you know, the shape of the valve is hemispherical instead of conical. So but all, all people need to know about a HEMI is that you want it because it’s good. So and that’s some of what you guys are doing in terms of being a leader against potential competition or any of that. Some of that with the multi gig service, some of that approach is kind of what y’all are after by offering that. Is that fair?

Matt Daniel: That’s fair. I’ve been with Mountain Telephone for better than 20 years. When I started we had about 600 dial-up customers. So ever since about 2001, we have always strived to have the best network that we can possibly have. And whether or not our customers get the full, whether or not they take advantage of the full benefits, we need to be able to offer the benefits, especially as a cooperative. Our customer-owner base depends on us to make sure that first of all, it’s dependable. It’s redundant. It’s resilient. But secondly, it needs to perform as expected. And our customer demands, although they may not be the high percentage of them, our customer demands are demanding a little more and a little more, a little more always. So this is trying to stay ahead of that curve.

Andy Johns: We talked about some of the cases already, but who are the gig customers right now, and who do you think are going to be the multi-gig customers either now or in the next couple of years?

Matt Daniel: So everybody always wants to say that the gamers are the gig customers. Our network is low latency anyway, so even at 100 meg, gaming is still improved because especially if you’re playing point of view games, that latency is very important. But a lot of our one gig customers are gamers. That’s not the majority of them. Some customers have it just because they want the HEMI. I mean that’s just all there is to it. They want the HEMI.

Andy Johns: Give me the best.

Matt Daniel: Give me the best. Another aspect we’ve seen, we’ve seen several businesses. So we have some local doctor or nurse practitioner offices that have subscribed to our one gig services as well. And that’s going very well. They’re providing their own firewall. Things like that. We’re just providing a broadband connection for a gig, but also two, we just have some general customers who work from home, or they are just high users. I mean, they’ve got a camera system. Maybe they’ve moved into the area, and they’re homesteaders, and they’ve got a camera and everything because they come from an area where they don’t feel safe as they would be in our territory. And they want to be able to see that from their phone when they’re not at home. And people have home monitors, of course, with children and things like that. Sometimes those newer ones are, of course, are video. You get a little more higher throughput there. And if they’re not home, they’re wanting to keep up with what the babysitter is doing. They don’t want to delay. They want to see everything going on. So generally speaking, it’s probably about 30% gamers. And the other 70% is people that just want the HEMI, or they think they need the gig for their homework, their work from home, business – I said homework, but work from home. And just to get the best performance out of their network.

Andy Johns: Exactly. Now, one of the last things, two more questions for you. You talked about gamers, and I know we had Lisa Fanin on an episode in March to talk about the gaming tournament you did. So while we got you, you mentioned in your presentation, but part of that for anybody who didn’t hear that episode, it was one of the ones we recorded live at StoryConnect. You guys did a Madden tournament. You had folks come in and play Madden, and then the folks that participated got an upgrade to the gigabit speed for a while. And now that it’s been a few months, you said that has been pretty good results, pretty good return in terms of how many of those folks kept that gigabit service once they once they tried it.

Matt Daniel: Yeah, I would have to ask Lisa and Ricky to get the exact stat, but I think we had right around a 40 to 50% take rate of keeping that gig. So, I mean, that’s really good. I mean, you give ten people the chance and five of them keep it. You know, it just really shows that I guess they saw the benefit of it, and weigh that against the cost of it and felt like it was was right for them.

Andy Johns: Got it. Last last question for you. What advice would you have because it is an investment certainly to be able to offer a gigabit, but then to go multi-gig. It’s certainly an investment. So if there are some folks that are an organization that may or may not be skeptical about, do we need to do this, what advice do you have to somebody who’s kind of considering going down the road where you guys are about offering that multi-gigabit service.

Matt Daniel: Do your research. I know you can do a lot of polling and just surveys with your customer base. I think you’re going to realize that you’re going to have a percentage who really, really want the service. And then you’re also going to find a large number of people who don’t think they need it. We found out we’re actually changing our fiber lineup to begin at 100 meg. So our base Internet offering on our website is 100 meg synchronous.

Andy Johns: That’s awesome.

Matt Daniel: And then goes up from there. Because we run our own help desk, and we found out that a good percentage of our truck rolls are because customers are just consuming their bandwidth. And we fought this battle for a long time to try to convince them that they need to have something higher. They need to have something higher. And so we kind of met in the middle. You know, we’ve said, “Hey, we’re going to we’re going to raise what this base rate is.” We still have some legacy plans that were confusing. And  I think that’s something else, too. If you’re going to go into the multi-gig, you need to get rid of those legacies that look like your DSL or your WISP offering or whatever you had, get rid of those and move up with your technology as well. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last year, trying to do that. So look for federal funding. You know, there’s tons of federal funding going on right now with broadband, state and federal funding. So if you’re looking at doing multi-gig, talk to your in-state rep for BEAD money and those sort of things because it’s available. And then I would also encourage you to join industry associations because there’s a lot of good information coming from those industry associations where we all talk and share and do things like this podcast to talk about, you know, how to do this better, how to do it well, and how to reach our customers and provide the best service we can.

Andy Johns: You’ve tied that up nice with the bow right there at the end, just like a professional. So, Matt, I appreciate the time.

Matt Daniel: Thank you, Andy. I appreciate you.

Andy Johns: So he is Matt Daniel. He is [the] central office supervisor at Mountain Telephone. I’m your host, Andy Johns. Until we talk again, keep telling your story.

Intro: StoryConnect is produced by Pioneer Utility Resources, a communications cooperative that is built to share your story. StoryConnect is engineered by Lucas Smith of Lucky Sound Studio.