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CABLE SHAPES UP! Members of CableFit #teamplatform at NCTA get ready to run a St. Patrick’s Day 8K road race, spanning the U.S. Capitol grounds and National Mall on March 9, (back row, l. to r.): Julie Hance, Ethan Buch, Frank Gallagher, Kristin Buch, Steven Morris, Lisa Hamilton, Scot Donaldson, Rob Stoddard, Rick Stoddard; (front row, l. to r.): Kelly Allers, Kat Stewart, Esther Song, Carleigh Blewett, Lisa Otto.  NCTA’s team finished 11th in a field of 54.

May 16, 2008

Suddenlink Rings West Texas

Suddenlink's completion of a 957-mile fiber ring in west Texas is another point in the trend toward building vs. leasing optical assets. It also marks the maiden deployment of Chinese telecom equipment provider Huawei in U.S. cable.

The six-month long construction was aimed at enabling an expansion of video and other services for the MSO's customers in 14 regional systems.

"This major investment opens the doors to new and better services for our customers and gives us the ability to introduce those services faster," said Dave Gilles, Suddenlink's West Region vice president of operations, in a statement.

Texas-sized spans

The case for Suddenlink's building vs. leasing had three pieces, according to Larry LaFrenieire, vice president of engineering and technical operations for the MSO's West Region: distances and the regional fiber market, headend economics and carrier sales opportunities.

With spans between the region's five major cities - Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland, San Angelo and Abilene - ranging between 120 and 180 miles and lease providers being few and far between, Suddenlink was looking at long deployment timelines and high circuit costs for going the leased route.

As for headends, LaFreniere said that video was driving those economics.

"If we can really have our own fiber and light it up in 10 Gig waves, we can collapse headends," he said. "So for launching the next 20 high definition channels, instead of having to purchase five times the headend gear, we'll just purchase it once and transport those signals all around the ring."

Suddenlink's interest in carrier sales mirrors the scarcity of providers. LaFreniere pointed to the Texas Tech University system in his region as one of several potential customers currently leasing circuits and awaiting an alternative provider with its own backbone.

"Business services, of course, but bigger pipes for bigger customers," he said.

Timelines, skeptics

The timeline on this deployment stretches back to April 2007, when Suddenlink corporate executives asked the West Region to figure out how to link those five markets. Budget approval came in June.

In July, Suddenlink began vetting 16 proposals for electronics. "As soon as vendors saw the distances, a lot of them fell out," said Omar Sandoval, regional director of engineering for west Texas. "We wanted no re-gen, no amplification costs."

LaFreniere and Sandoval also wanted to deploy quickly, before winter weather hit, which only increased the number of doubters they encountered.

"There was a lot skepticism out there that thought (A) this won't get funded, and (B) even if you get funded, you can't do it at that cost, and (C) you can't do it in that time frame, either," said LaFreniere.

Huawei goes the distance

To power this fiber network and help them meet their goals, Suddenlink chose Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer with large global reach, but until this deal, with no reported deployments in the North American cable space.

Sandoval said that Huawei "had some fabulous distances that they could hit, without amplification or re-generation, which saves us money."

Other pluses include speed to market, a North American headquarters in Dallas and keen focus on the details of Suddenlink's particular situation. "Of all the teams that came in and bid the job, they were the only ones who really approached it from a cable MSO perspective," said LaFreniere.

Construction began in October, with the first links being lit in December 2007 and January 2008.

- Jonathan Tombes

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology's Web site at http://www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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