Thursday, April 05, 2012

Lafayette goes to a Gigabit!

LUS Fiber is now offering a 1 gigabit internet connection to businesses. That puts Lafayette at an elite level globally and among the very few providers in the US which offer a gig of service available to the whole city and not just a few in the "business core." 

Joey Durel and Huval presented the new service as advancing Lafayette to the forefront of communities that could serve as testbeds for new services and as further fulfilling their promise to the community to maintain LUS Fiber as a world-class asset.

LEDA's Greg Gothreaux, the public school system's Logan McDaniel, and Dr. Menard, principal of St. Thomas More all spoke a few words of support, agreeing that in their experience the system was rock solid. Gothreaux touted that he'd long wanted a gig to market to the new business prospects that LEDA seeks to bring to Lafayette and claimed that he relished being able to get up from the table and make a follow up call to a prospect that had been in town last week and was impressed with the 100 meg intranet. Logan McDaniel, whose LPSS has been on the wholesale network since 2005, reported that they'd already upgraded the central office to two gigs and some of the high schools to a gig. The new plan that superintendent Cooper unveiled last night included an increased use of distance learning. But the most interesting testimonial came from Dr. Menard of St. Thomas More who noted that her school's technology initiative had placed an internet-connected device in the hands of every student complained that they were already hitting the limit of a 100 meg connection and were eager to be the first customers of the new 1 gig service. Schools are a good example, perhaps the best example, of institutions where the basic functions of the institution demand more bandwidth than is commonly available. Educators simply cannot count on having enough capacity available to reliably slot in 15 minutes for a high bandwidth activity like video conferencing to sister school in France. The reliability and headroom that a 1 gig fiber connections provides will make all the difference in such institutional settings.

Elsewhere—and here until this morning—gigabit services only been practically available to large corporations and public institutions like universities at a staggering price. LUS notes that in Lafayette before today it cost $20,000 a month to buy such a connection. Against that background LUS Fiber pricing its offering at $999.95 sounds like a bargain. (Though I suspect that part of the reason for the relatively high price is that LUS maintains a stable of wholesale providers to whom it has been marketing very large connections and who then resell their connections to business users. I expect we'll hear an outcry from such users that this pricing is too low and undercuts their business model...?) 

Part of the traditional high cost of such connections is that the seller assumed that organizations that wanted such speeds would have a damned good reason to buy it and that they needed to have that much service available without fail. Consequently most such services were "dedicated" and "guaranteed." That roughly means that  a purchaser can count on getting the full gig of service—as long as their connection stays on-network. No one can guarantee service speeds on the open internet. 

One of the things that sets LUS Fiber apart, and this may be due to their history of having been a wholesale provider of dedicated bandwidth for years before getting into the retail business, is that all LUS services are treated as if they were dedicated services. In most Internet Service Providers' (ISPs') networks the bottleneck is at or very near the last mile connection and anyone wanting large, guaranteed service requires rewiring or dedicating physical assets in the last mile to that customer alone; something which is very costly—hence the high prices. Oversubscription and "best effort" is the name of the game for almost all ISPs and the bandwidth available to the last mile customer is in practice limited: if all subscribers were to use their full bandwidth at once the available speed would drop to a small fraction of the promised bandwidth. LUS has always played that game a different way, minimizing oversubscription and ensuring that even during busy hours of the day the customer's full bandwidth is available. That's in marked contrast to what I used to experience on Cox when the kids in my neighborhood got off the bus. LUS Fiber's modern network takes fiber optics all the way to the home but over a PON network where the final distribution node is a 32 address split. In talking with Huval after the press conference he noted that LUS will, as a matter of policy, split a node in half to 16 customers anytime any customer on a node buys a gig connection. That effectively doubles the available bandwidth available and ensures a reliable speed that doesn't fluctuate.

LUS is not the first to offer a Gigabit of service...Chattanooga, for one, has offered gigabit services to all its customers for quite some time, and on a very similarly architected system. So the question you have to ask is: what has kept LUS from offering a gig before and what has changed? Mona Simon, in charge of LUS Fiber's daily operations, explained that LUS has as a matter of policy has purchased two main connections to the internet that together is double the capacity it anticipates needing on a regular basis. They want to maintain full fall-over capacity so that if one of their providers fails they'll be able to continue to provide service without interruption or even degradation. What changed, apparently, was that LUS Fiber has reached a point in its customer growth that it has enough people online that the sudden spikes in usage that a gigabit service can provide would no longer be unmanageably large relative to the baseline usage. Companies that are less careful about the effects of oversubscription at all levels (meaning most companies) would tolerate the sudden drops in the network's shared connection to the internet that having a Gbps product would entail. LUS was unwilling, apparently, to offer such a product until it could "drown" the effects in a large user pool that overall justified a larger internet pipe.

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