FOA Guide



Do It Yourself FTTH

Do you think that creating a FTTH network is only possible if you have the resources of a Verizon or Google? That you need a contractor with lots of experience in designing and installing the fiber network? Or an IT department who can install and operate the equipment? Well, think again...AND IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN DIY FTTH, DO NOT MISS THE INFORMATION AT THE END OF THESE STORIES!

With most people agreeing that broadband Internet is an essential utility, the problem becomes how to get it to places that incumbent service providers don't have any interest in serving because of the cost? More and more groups are deciding to do it themselves. DIY FTTH is completely feasible and hundreds of organizations are doing it already. These DIY FTTH projects are being done by cities and towns, utility coops, especially electrical coops who need fiber for their grid management anyway, as well as private groups like homeowners' associations, real estate developers and even private companies with venture capital funding.

Perhaps the best known is the Electricity Power Board of Chattanooga, TN, EPB has shown that gigabit broadband can transform a sleepy city into a booming manufacturing (VW factory) and tech city. But you don't need to be as big as EPB to bring broadband to your area as these two examples show.

Southern Fiberworx, Cordelle, GA

Southern Fiberworx

About 2014, FOA was contacted by Greg Turton of Cordele, GA. who was curious about what was involved in creating a FTTH network. Greg is a real estate developer who also owns several local hotels. Where he lives and builds homes is way outside of a service area that anybody wants to build good broadband, forget FTTH. Cordele itself has a population of only about 15,000 and is one of those small cities along the Interstate highway that are everywhere in the US.

We answered Greg's questions and led him to some of the FOA Guide web pages and YouTube videos about FTTH to get him started. More conversations discussed how to get connections as an ISP, types of components and suppliers, etc. Fortunately the local electrical utility has lots of fiber but they were restricted from building their own FTTH network because Georgia was one of 19 states where lobbyists for the incumbent providers got laws passed restricting their ability to operate a FTTH system themselves. But they were more than willing to lease dark fiber to Greg at really good rates. And there were good choices on getting an Internet connection. As he got more serious about the project, we introduced him to two FOA Master Instructors, Eric Pearson and Dominick Tambone, in Atlanta, just two hours away.

Greg hired Eric to come to Cordele and train him and several more of his people. Eric taught them how to work with cable, prepare the cable and splice it, dress cables in splice closures, pedestals, manholes, etc. Eric, Dominick and the FOA had many conversations with Greg about his project and the potential suppliers to it. As construction began, Dominick came down to Cordele to help with the early installations.

Now that you know where we're going with this story, let's talk about Greg. He is not your usual fiber optic project manager. First he is a second generation developer, following in his father's footsteps. He is accustomed to getting into the depths of a project, understanding the risks and making investments. He's also a "tinkerer" - he likes projects and challenges. He's a private pilot who has invented and manufactures two types of air conditioners for small airplanes which he built in his shop and tested in his own airplane. He makes electrical hardware he invented for his own hotel to make using tech devices more convenient for his guests. He also has a great crew of people working for him and lots of local connections.

To Greg, FTTH was another challenge, and after he became educated himself, he knew he and his crew could build it themselves.

And they did!

FOA visited Greg and his crew recently (they now are known as "Southern Fiberworx")  and saw what they have done. It's amazing - simply amazing - and should be an inspiration to any other group wanting to build their own system. Here's some photos and descriptions of their project.


Greg Turton

Meet Greg Turton. Greg and his crew had a lot to learn and accomplish before the project even started, as we mentioned above. They also had to figure out how to document the system as they designed and built it, something they accomplished using Google Earth.

SF design

As they started buying equipment for splicing and testing, the needed a splice trailer. No problem, they built one.

SF-trailer

Based on their training, they knew they needed a splicing trailer for work in the chageable South Georgia weather. A small converted travel trailer provided the base for their splicing trailer and they furnished the inside with a work counter and racks and cabinets for storage. Air conditioning was furnished by a local company that wants a fiber connection themselves. The white rectangle on the right is the entry for the fiber optic cables being spliced - a converted home doggy-door!

SF rent backhoe

Rather than investing in heavy equipment, they rent from local companies. They converted a large utility trailer to carry cables and conduit.

SF Backhoe

Most cables were installed by trenching. In an area that has lots of underground utilities, they had to be very careful. They started by calling utilities before they started and manually digging holes before using the backhoe. Finding after a few near-misses that wasn't sufficient, they bought a top quality underground locator and learned how to use that to double-check before digging.

SF directional boring

To avoid digging up paved roads or driveways, they used directional boring. It also worked well for several bridges crossing small streams.

SF Pedestal

Splice closures were put into hand holes or pedestals like this one. The cable was laid along two lane roads along with other utilities.

SF cabinet

Here's Greg with one of the equipment pedestals needed to get connections into a remote area.

SF-cabinet

Neat splice trays - they learned well from Eric Pearson's training.

SF Greg and david

Here's Greg and David Herlovich, his assistant, with the equipment for their head end. They chose ADTRAN equipment for their system because of their reputation, knowledge and support, plus they are nearby in Huntsville, AL so Greg can fly his plane over to visit the factory when necessary.

SF-speedtst

The proof is in the performance, of course. This is a computer at Greg's house connected to his network doing a speedtest.

SF-speedtest

And there you see the results of the speedtest on a "do it yourself" gigabit FTTH network.

When we visited Greg in November, 2015, Southern Fiberworx had just started installation. They had already connected 30 homes and had over 100 scheduled for installation. His original goal was to pass about 800 houses in his development and sign up 30-40%. Southern Fiberworx works like Google Fiber; get your neighbors together and sign up and they build that neighborhood next.

While we were in Cordele, we talked to some local businesses and discovered that what Greg had been telling us was true - the local enthusiasm for what he was doing was amazing and people want to get connected ASAP. Because Greg knows practically everybody in town and has talked to many as he got permits and help building the system so far, they know what he's doing and want him to expand beyond his development to cover the entire town. As the word spread, the county expressed similar interest in his expanding the Southern Fiberworx footprint to cover the county. Then the next county approached him with the same idea.

While we were in Cordele, Greg asked us to visit his bankers who wanted to know more about building a FTTH network - you know, from the investment point of view. To date, no kidding, Greg has funded Southern Fiberworx out of his pocket! Yes, it does not cost that much to get something like this started. But if he expands to the city of Cordele and the two local counties, he may need to get financial backers. We pointed out to the bankers that FTTH provides high income with little overhead making good cash flow. In addition, recently two CATV systems had been sold for $5-6000 per subscriber - a whole lot more than it cost to connect each of Southern Fiberworx subscribers on gigabit FTTH. If that's not a good return on investment, what is?

Southern Fiberworx is not the only independent FTTH network FOA has been working with. We get calls often asking how to get started and this is the best example we have seen yet!



Connect Anza

Connect Anza Logo

In late 2014, Kevin Short, General Manager of the Anza Electrical Cooperative called FOA to ask questions about building a fiber optic network. FOA visited Kevin and subsequently met with the Board of Directors of the Coop to discuss ideas about building a fiber network over their electrical network. Their electricity supplier was pushing them to build fiber for grid management (Smart Grid) and it seemed reasonable to assume that once the backbone was built, expanding to provide Internet to their customers was possible.

Anza - Kevin
Kevin Short, GM, Anza Electrical Cooperative

There was certainly a desire for better Internet because they did not have any. It's easy to understand why. Anza is really, really rural - located in the Southern California high desert at the southern end of Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Anza gets their electricity from an electric cooperative. With the help of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who established the Rural Electrification Administration in 1936, friends and families banded together to create a new kind of electric utility, where the voice of every person made a difference. Electric cooperatives brought electric power to the countryside when no one else would. Electric cooperatives are owned by their members and focus on their member needs and local priorities.

Anza Electric Cooperative, Inc. (AEC), energized in 1955, is a member of Touchstone Energy® - the national brand of electric cooperatives - providing power to the communities of Anza, Garner Valley, Pinyon Pines and parts of Aguanga. AEC provides power to 3900 homes, schools and businesses.

AEC's service area is nearly 700 square miles of high desert with an elevation at roughly 4,000 feet where winter weather can sometimes be a challenge. Anza is located at an almost equal distance from Palm Desert, Hemet and Temecula in Riverside County in Southern California.


 Anza backbone
AEC's fiber backbone run along their electrical lines.

While Anza is quite rural, it was only an hour's travel from FOA HQ (then in Fallbrook, CA), so FOA President Jim Hayes volunteered to do a series of half-day training session for AEC personnel on fiber optics and installation practices to familiarize them with what they would be doing in the future to learn from the project so we could share it with our readers.

AEC applied for and got a grant from the California Public Utility Commission for $2.6 million, about $700 per household, to help pay for the project. One thing is important to understand about rural projects - they cost a lot more than urban or suburban FTTH networks, and the CPUC grant would cover only about half the total cost.

Since AEC is a coop, a bylaw change was voted on by Anza Electric Cooperative members with an overwhelming 91.3% of members approving the bylaw change to include fiber optic, high speed internet service to our members along with our traditional electric service.

Anza map
Anza - mostly ranches and mountains

We dubbed the AEC project "FTTR" for "fiber to the ranch" because of the typical customers in the service area!

To do the design of the network, AEC used a unique solution. They enlisted Jeffery Willis, a local resident who was a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program, to do the design as expansion of a pre-existing Master's Capstone project that AEC assisted him with.  This was a brilliant idea due the success of this college feasibility study. Before getting started, Jeff performed a plethora of research and development on all aspects of the design, including a survey of design software which he shared with FOA for our readers. FOA (JH) helped him with some fiber issues but he had relatively little trouble doing a very good design for the project.  "


Anza backbone
AEC's fiber backbone plan

Much of the backbone ran along roads in the mountains that connect the various population areas of the AEC service area. Some areas had restrictions on where cables could be run because the roads were designated "scenic routes."

One thing to consider in a project like this - you need LOTS of cables! Anza had to store over a dozen spools of cable  - 20kft (about 4 miles or 6km) each, weighing about 1600 pounds (726kg) each! Another thing they learned was the length of the backbone was not the length of the cable. They had to order 10-12% extra cable to accommodate service loops, drops for splice closures, etc.


Cables in storage
More than 50 miles (80km) of cable stored in a AEC building.

They also needed more equipment, including this bucket truck purchased used, cleaned up and made into a rolling advertisement for "Connect Anza."

Anza Bucket Truck
The bucket truck advertises Connect Anza.

Installation of the cable plant for ConnectAnza was somewhat out of the ordinary. The area covered by the coop included some areas without telephone service and poles and/or messenger wires needed to be installed in many areas. One section had to be bridged with wireless because the rod was a "scenic highway" and poles and aerial cable were not allowed!

ANZA installation
Installing messenger wires on the coops electrical poles.

ANZA installation
Splicing was done on the ground, often in the desert.

ANZA installation
This closure has provision for a PON splitter and several drop cables.

The head end for ConnectAnza is installed at their main office in the town of Anza. This rack includes the router for their Internet service and the ADTRAN OLT equipment. In the bottom of the rack is the backup batteries, an important part of the equipment for an ISP.

ANZA installation

ConnectAnza is now a fully functional ISP, one of the most rural systems we know. They are proof that rural FTTH can be built and it is certainly welcomed by their subscribers. From no service, coop subscribers can get 100/100Mb/s service for $49/month, 300/300 for $79/month. Low income residents have a basic service of 20/20Mb/s for $20/month.
 



If You Are Considering DIY FTTH, Here Are Things To Remember

Legality: If you are in one of 18 US States, your state legislators have passed laws written by lobbyists for incumbent service providers that prevent municipalities, other governments or coops from becoming ISPs. Check the map here. See the map here.  By the time you read this, all this may have been negated by local or Federal laws.

Uniqueness
:  Like most fiber optic networks, every FTTH installation is unique. It must be designed for the location it is to serve and choices on components and installation methods should be optimized for the system. Construction and installation methods may include every type of OSP installation. Suppliers familiar with FTTx can advise customers on what others  have done to make installations simpler, easier and less expensive. Most systems prefer to use as many factory-made components as possible as they are generally less expensive than doing the same work in the field. New installation methods should be considered as well to reduce costs.


Consultants:   Be wary of consultants. Consultants can be extremely valuable in designing a FTTH system, as long as they have relevant experience, are up to date on new components and techniques and are highly recommended by previous clients. Unfortunately we have seen problems with consultants, including over-designed networks with costs much higher than necessary, installation practices recommended that were unnecessary or ignore newer technology, systems designed around components that were higher performance (and price) than necessary, and in one case a consultant took the clients payment, went away for a year and came back with an admission that they could not design the network (but they kept the consulting fees.)

Contractors: As with any fiber optic project, the quality of the installation depends on the quality of the installer. Look for contractors with knowledge, experience and references. And preferably relevant certifications like the FOA CFOT. Be especially wary of subcontractors. Any subcontractors should have equal qualifications and be approved by the network owner. We have seen landscape contractors with no fiber training used as subcontractors for cable plant installation - one cut several cables to buildings that had been installed by a member of the FOA advisory board!

Call Before You Dig! Every day some major fiber optic cable is cut by a contractor.
The jurisdiction issuing permits should help you with locating other buried utilities.  There is a service that helps you locate underground utilities that may be in your construction path. See the FOA web page on Digging Safely.

What Fiber Do You Already Have?     Before you design or install a new fiber optic cable plant, inventory the fiber you have already and/or negotiate to lease fiber where others have cables with dark (unused) fibers. Also talk to other organizations who may need communications to see if they want to share costs or lease dark fibers or communications links from you. Cities, counties and states need fiber. Utilities need fiber. Fire and life safety organizations need fiber. Traffic departments need fiber. Cellular companies really need a lot of fiber.

What Other Services Can Share The Fiber?   Consider what other services than FTTH you can carry on your fiber optic cable plant - cellular backhaul, traffic systems, security/surveillance systems, leased fiber, etc. to generate additional revenue. A few years ago a large American city sent out a RFP (request for proposal) for an urban FTTH network. The document dealt strictly with FTTH to connect the city's citizens with fiber and ignored all the other services the city had that already used or needed fiber - city communications, security/video surveillance, intelligent traffic management, public transportation communications, wireless networks(small cells and 5G), utility communications, etc., etc., etc.

Dig Smart -Dig Once:    This same document also covered the difficulty of urban installation - digging up streets already filled with underground utilities, limited space for pedestals, few options for aerial cable and  other issues that are typical problems for urban fiber installation. No mention of "Dig Once" to make future installations easier. Share fibers. Use spare fibers. Use additional wavelengths in current fiber. Consider all the alternatives. Plan ahead - future proof is a myth, but one can make certain decisions that will make the future easier.     If you are considering using FTTH design software, ask to talk to customers who have used it. Determine what you need to know first in order to use it, e.g. GIS data on every utility pole, manhole or handhole, subscriber location, etc. and how much training it takes to become proficient. Will you use your personnel or hire outsiders, and how do you evaluate them.

Cost Savings:   Fiber optic cable and components are not expensive, but labor is. Saving money on components may look good in first analysis, but more savings will come from optimized designs and efficient installation practices. More experienced contractors are more efficient and may save costs by their speed and efficiency.  And design for the future - if you dig a trench for anything, not just fiber but any underground utility, bury a number of fiber ducts for future use, install cables with more fibers than you need - lots more - fiber is cheap, installation is expensive. The program is called "Dig Once."

Take Rates Are Important:   "Take rates" for new FTTH networks vary from low to high, depending on the satisfaction with the current ISP (Internet service provider.) When Google Fiber started in Kansas City, the take rate was high because the current service was bad, but in later cities when the local ISPs knew they were coming and improved their service and/or lowered their prices, the take rate was lower. Competition tends to drive take rates and take rates determine the economics of the system, Know your competition. Offering gigabit services are often the top selling point of FTTH. Every GPON network is a gigabit network, but subscribers can opt for slower speeds at lower costs.

What Makes A Successful Fiber Optic Project?

    People call FOA for advice all the time. Most of the calls deal with technical questions about products, installation and testing. But in one call; a manager who was starting to plan a fiber optic project wanted advice on how to proceed. It was a long call! His basic question was “What does it take to have a successful fiber optic project?” We responded with 4 words: financing, commitment, expertise and patience. (This section is repeated from the introductory section on FTTH because it's important for the designer and managers of a FTTH project.)

Financing:     The story goes that someone asked Neil Armstrong what he was thinking about while sitting on top of the rocket ready to launch Apollo 11 to the moon. “Every part was made by the lowest bidder,” was supposedly his reply. (The same quote has been attributed to most early astronauts!)

    Fiber optics are not necessarily expensive; in fact, fiber has been used so widely because it is the least expensive communications medium in virtually all projects. But fiber optic projects may require a lot of construction which makes the project expensive. Like all other projects, it never pays to cut corners. Planning and running the project properly is what saves money, trying to cheapen the project. Not all jobs should go to the lowest bidder, unless they meet all the criteria for a qualified bidder. Likewise, one needs to ensure that when a project starts, there are funds available to complete the job properly, including some extra for unplanned changes or modifications.

Commitment:    Just like having sufficient finances to compete the project, one needs a commitment to finish the job once it is started. Changes of management or changes in governments often lead to confusion or even modifying a project in midstream. There is nothing wrong with making changes based on what learns as the project progresses; it may even involve greater efficiency or cost savings, but arbitrary changes may jeopardize the project's timetable, completion or even its usefulness.

    If the project is under the auspices of a government entity, changes in administration or management that causes changes in a project will invariably make it more expensive and may jeopardize the success of the entire project. Ideally, the personnel who propose, design and plan the network should see it to completion.

Expertise:     Fiber requires expertise and experience. It's obvious the installers need to know what they are doing, but in reality, so must the managers who work for the organization that is contracting for the work. There are many instances of projects where the managers signed off on the project when it was incomplete or improperly installed. The only way to properly manage a project is to understand every aspect of it well enough to know if it is being done properly and when it is actually complete.

    Planners, designers, contractors and installers should all be trained and certified as well as being experienced with good references. That holds doubly so for consultants. In many places, to be a consultant or cabling contractor means little other than registering as a business and advertising your services. Some of the problems we've seen with outside services, include consultants who took contracts, spent time on a project, then told the customer they could not help them with the project, but kept the money.

    We have seen contractors doing shoddy installations, ruining expensive fiber optic cable during pulling and leaving jobs half done but getting paid because the customer knew no better. One of the biggest problems is subcontractors. A contractor with good credentials gets the job but subcontracts some of the work to a contractor who will do the work at a lower price, but does not have the training or experience (or motivation) to do it right. In your contract with an installer, we recommend a clause giving the project manager responsibility for evaluating and approving all subcontractors.

    The manager must know better to prevent problems. FOA also has pages on what the manager needs to know.

Patience:     From concept to acceptance, a typical OSP fiber project can take 2-5 years and a premises project 1-2 years. It depends on the size of the project, the time to properly design it, create project paperwork, get permits, buy components, hire contractors and properly install it.  Proper workmanship takes time and is not easily rushed. Saving time generally means cutting corners and that is often the cause of the problems encountered. Take your time, plan, design, select, install, test and document your network properly.

    And by the way, "future proofing" is a myth! Who would have known in 1990 how ubiquitous the Internet would be today? How reliant we could be on smartphones other mobile devices? How many workers would be working remotely or using videoconferencing for meetings? Technology moves too fast and is too disruptive for anyone to make reliable predictions. The IBMer who developed MRP - the original company organizational software - used to tell everyone, "A forecast is wrong from the moment it is made." Plan for the future, but assume you will upgrade, change directions, etc. driven by new tech and changes in the world around us.




Technical Information on FTTX  From The FOA Online Guide
FTTH Introduction  
FTTH Architectures
FTTH in MDUs (Multiple Dwelling Units)  
FTTH PON Standards, Specifications and Protocols  
FTTH Design    
FTTH Installation 
FTTH Customer Premises Installation  
FTTH Network Testing  
FTTH Case Studies: Do-It-Yourself FTTH  
FTTH Project Management


The Fiber Optic Association Fiber To The Home Handbook: For Planners, Managers, Designers, Installers And Operators Of FTTH - Fiber To The Home - Networks
FOA FTTH Handbook
The Fiber Optic Association Fiber To The Home Handbook
Available in paperback or as an eBook on the Amazon Kindle  Available direct from Amazon.com, local booksellers and other distributors.

Training & Certification
Fiber U Online FTTx Self Study Program (free)

FOA Certification Overview
FOA FTTx Certification Requirements
FOA-Approved Training Programs


 Table of Contents: The FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optics




 


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