Fiber Networking Not Limited to the Giant Players

Carl Weinschenk

RST Global is building a telecom network in the North and South Carolina region that it claims is the equivalent of the Google Fiber project in Kansas City. According to Co-founder and CEO Dan Limerick, RST is aimed at supporting the massive increase in wireless demand. Limerick told IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk that the asymmetrical network will be built completely underground – at a depth of 10 feet – and serve both business and residential customers.

Weinschenk: What’s the backstory, Dan?

Limerick: About three years ago I had a plastics company and would sell to Home Depot and Lowes. It was a successful business in my hometown of Shelby, North Carolina, which is about 40 miles west of Charlotte in the western Piedmont area. My dad was the director of the chamber of commerce in Shelby. The economy was driven by textiles and naturally over the last 20 years that business has migrated overseas. With the 2008 economic situation and recession the unemployment in Shelby and the surrounding area was up to 13 percent at one time.

I was coming back through Shelby in 2010, three years ago, when I met a fellow who worked for 30 years with Time Warner Cable. He was Randy Revels. His passion for the past 20 years, as cable evolved to new technology, was fiber. It was not only his job but also his passion. He learned every aspect – about the hardware, from the network perspective, and all parts of building the infrastructure.

Weinschenk: And you two went into business…

Limerick: We started building what we refer to as a core-out network, meaning we started in Shelby and laid fiber outward from Shelby to connect a two- or three-county area. Two-and-a-half or three years ago we were joined by Doug Brown. He had been the publisher of OnSat.

Weinschenk: Characterize what you are doing.

Limerick: Number one, we wanted to avoid aerial deployment if we possibly could. The goal from day one was to go underground with the entire network, not only the backbone but also the middle mile and the last mile. It’s all underground. We also decided to do it via directional drilling. During the past five or 10 years, with all the activity in fracking and natural gas and oil, the technology of directional drilling advanced. Usually drilling goes straight down. Directional drilling in general goes down six or eight feet and turns the drill head through use of computers. It eventually reaches a depth of 10 feet.

Weinschenk: Why go so deep?

Limerick: The primary reason that most outages occur in underground cabling are cuts. Somebody digs where it is not marked properly and he is not aware of fiber or cable being there. Because all our drilling is on state road rights-of-way we knew none of the rest of the infrastructure -- the water, the sewer and gas line -- were 10 feet deep. They are all 4 to 6 feet. If we came in at 10 feet, it would enhance our chances of not having service interruptions.

Weinschenk: How far have you gotten?

Limerick: We are 418 miles in. Phase one was the first 400 miles. The next thing is a lot of beta testing. We mainly are trying to make sure services are what we are touting them to be. There are a number of video options that we are continually working on. Hopefully we will be able to offer customers uncompressed video. Right now telcos and cable companies send compressed pictures to customers. When people see it uncompressed it will have deep impact on quality and how much they are willing to pay for it.

Weinschenk: How many subscribers do you have?

Limerick: We’ve got over 200 customers now. We’ve taken 125 residential and 75 businesses. Those are in Gaston, Cleveland and Rutherford counties.

Weinschenk: Are you using stimulus money?

Limerick: We are not using stimulus money.

Weinschenk: What’s next?

Limerick: Our plan for phase two -- after the beta is done -- is to build out and expand the I-85 corridor. From Clemson, South Carolina to Greenville/Spartanburg and the Charlotte area on through to Greensboro, Winston/Salem, and Durham and into Raleigh, North Carolina. The goal is to complete it in two years. We don’t know what the penetration will be, but we do know this: We think customers really don’t have a choice. We want to change the way they think. Look at kids now. Nobody sits down to watch “I Love Lucy.” The whole society is mobile, especially the young.

Weinschenk: But you are building a wired network. How does that support wireless?

Limerick: You always have to have a wired network. Mobility will only reach so far; the wired network always is there. It is the backbone of wireless network.

Weinschenk: Couldn’t any quality wired network play this role?

Limerick: I think ours is brand new and has all the newest, latest and greatest technology to take wireless to next step, which is LTE. 3G is being phased out with the advent with LTE. We already have Wipro Industries, which has a data center on our route, buying a 10 Gig connection from us. We are encompassing all spectrum of customers buying broadband services.

Weinschenk: Are you materially different than FiOS?

Limerick: We essentially are the same as FiOS. The main difference between us and especially [many of the] large incumbents is that we do not have one inch of copper in our entire network. Everything is fiber. Our lowest speed is 50 Megabits per second down and up. When you have copper involved, getting the upload speeds on a symmetrical basis is difficult.

Weinschenk: Why is that important?

Limerick: If you look at this year’s CES, the theme was the smart home. Everything is going smart -- the lights, heat, security systems. Everything is accessible from home or when you travel. The only way to support that many IP addresses and bandwidth is to have decent connections on the upload as well as the download. We feel that’s critical as society continues to involve. We think that’s where incumbents are in trouble.

Weinschenk: But upload transmissions now are not data-intensive. It doesn’t take too much capacity to send an alarm to central station or report to the manufacturer that a refrigerator’s compressor is operating out of parameters, for instance. Do you think demand will grow?

Limerick: We think it will. If you would ask five years ago what the broadband usage would be today I promise you the estimates would not even be close to what we have. The additional upload capacity will be needed for the new systems like telemedicine. What is happening with things like the Healthcare Act will drive usage. There are more and more changes, such as more home monitoring, more remote medical devices, more individual devices that will enable a doctor with an iPad to monitor, speak to and in some cases treat many more patients than he can now.

Weinschenk: Things change in a way that isn’t always predictable.

Limerick: Consider the municipalities … Municipalities can’t afford any longer to continue to hire people. As we move forward there will be more and more video surveillance, more and more smart services enacted. I think probably 90 percent of apps that will be used on fiber have not yet been invented.

Weinschenk: How do you match up against Google Fiber, the project that is deploying in Kansas City and likely elsewhere in the future?

Limerick: We are matching their speed of 1 gigabit connections. Google of course has a little more assets than I do at this stage of the game. I think Google is not a fiber infrastructure company. Google is an advertising company. They are building a network to show the rest of the country what a fiber network implemented in a large metro can mean.

Weinschenk: You suggest they can use it to target ads on a granular basis.

Limerick: I know when a golf company advertises they want that ad targeted to the people that play golf. That’s what Google wants to show, that what they have is a much more efficient and productive technology than what’s out there right now.


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