Telecom in Ten | Episode 4 | Quality Connections | Northland’s Fiber Network

Telecom in Ten | By Northland Communications Team

Rob Capodiferro – Manager of Plant Operations | Brian Healey – Chief Operating Officer

Welcome to Telecom in Ten, where we explore the quality connections between our cutting-edge technology, unparalleled service, reliable products, and you, our customer and community, as we continue to transform Telecom here at Northland Communications.

Chelsey (Off Camera*): Hello everyone and welcome to our fourth episode of Telecom in Ten—featuring our Manager of Plant Operations Rob Capodiferro and our Chief Operating Officer Brian Healey. At Northland Communications, our trusted technology powers hundreds of thousands of connections—learn how our team is constantly looking ahead to the future as Rob and Brian discuss our fiber network. We sat down off camera and asked them a series of questions for this conversation. So let’s jump right into it.

01. Get To Know Us | (1:00)

Chelsey: Can you introduce yourself and how your role at Northland Communications extends the ongoing expansion of our fiber network?

Rob: My name is Rob Capodiferro and I’m the Manager of Plant Operations. I manage the outside plant crew as well as structured cabling. The outside plant crew consists of what’s a called a line crew and a drop crew. The line crew runs the fiber, what you see on the poles driving down the road, and the drop crew would run what goes into an office building or home.

Brian: My name is Brian Healey, I am the Chief Operating Officer for Northland Communications. My role is working with the other functions at Northland—the finance, the sales, the operations, and the people and talent functions to be able to provide the resources necessary to grow our fiber optics.

02. Fiber vs. Cable/DSL | (01:45)

Chelsey: So how does fiber internet work and how does it differentiate from cable and/or DSL providers?

Rob: So fiber optics work off what’s called total light reflection—basically the optics on the ends of the fiber sends a light signal which travels down the fiber optic cable to whatever the endpoint is to bring the internet however far it needs to go. It differs as far as bandwidth that you can push across it as well as what’s called speed or latency. A lot of people misconstrue the difference between bandwidth and speed. Latency is the speed at which it travels, and bandwidth is how much capacity it has.

03. Advantages of Fiber| (02:35)

Brian: I might even add a flare of reliability with the fiber optic lines as well—as you compare that to some of the other older technologies that rely on copper infrastructure where the age of the cable and moisture in the cable—other factors add in some potential issues that slow the service or take it out of service a little bit more often where the fiber is a little more resilient in those scenarios. And also, with the fiber internet services that we provide—they are dedicated from our network to our customers. It’s not shared with the neighborhood or a cluster out in the field, where the internet usage is going up based on a time of the day and it impacts the performance for the others, we don’t see any of that.

Rob: As well as you know, copper can’t go as far. Where fiber goes a long way, approximately 180 kilometers at points in time, it depends on which optics you put in, and it doesn’t degrade the signal, whereas with copper, the further it travels, the weaker the signal gets as it goes further out.

04. Beginnings of Fiber | (03:50)

Chelsey: Where and when was the first fiber trench built and how did Northland make that decision?

Brian: So the roots of our fiber optics go back into the late 80’s and early 90’s at Oneida County Rural Telephone—Oneida County Rural Telephone (OCRT) is one of our companies within the Northland Communications group. We had built a fiber optic network ring around our franchise territory. It started out in Holland Patent, went down into Marcy, into Floyd, then Westernville, into Steuben, and then came back into Holland Patent. Specifically, just to connect our field offices and then from there we would send the signal out on copper—we would do the transition from fiber to copper in a DLC (digital loop carrier) and then it would go out to the customer to provide services.

And then from Northland’s standpoint as we grew out of that, and certainly we’ve built much more fiber in OCRT’s territory since—but Northland it was probably around 2005 and 2006.

05. Types of Fiber | (05:00)

Chelsey: What type of fiber is required to run at gigabit speed?

Rob: Basically there are two types of fiber—multi-mode and single-mode. They can each run at gigabit speeds—multi-mode fibers generally run inside of a building and goes a shorter distance than single-mode fiber which you see on the sides of the roads and things like that to connect long distances. Our fiber actually runs at 100 gigabit speeds—it really depends on the optics that you put on the end of it to determine what speed you get out of it.   

06. Installation Team | (05:45)

Chelsey: What does a ‘day in the life’ of our installation team look like?

Rob: There are basically two crews—the line crew that runs the fiber down the road and the drop crew as well as the splicers that connect the fiber to the main line and bring it into each building. Generally speaking we will do 2 to 6 connections a day depending on how difficult they are or how busy we are, as well as continually building out the fiber network on a daily basis. So replacing copper, going into new areas, getting new businesses, special projects for companies that want us to build fiber for them, as well as the structured cabling crew that is running the multi-mode fiber inside the buildings to connect MDF to IDF for very large office buildings.

07. Future Planning | (06:40)

Chelsey: How does Northland Communications continue to build their infrastructure with an eye to the future?

Brian: We’re always looking to expand the fiber network here at Northland. Today our network is just shy of 900 route miles. We’ve invested over $20 Million into just the fiber plant itself—not the electronics to light the fiber plant to make it work—and from a business standpoint, we’re built into over 2200 buildings. So there is still opportunity for us to grow that. We’ve looked at expanding that in many different ways—both geographically and vertically, product offering wise we’re offering more dark fiber today than we ever have before to allow our customer to light up their own fiber between their business sites or across their campus, to get a better product for what fits their needs.

We have a mix of residential and business offerings today that we utilize with our fiber—with a big push in the marketplace for residential broadband—we’ve had some conversations around that but we haven’t put a stake in the ground at this point to say that we are going to take residential beyond the OCRT boundaries, but we’re certainly looking at that as well. Just really looking to build out the network in a very conservative business fashion that will allow a win for our organization, our team members, and the customers that we serve.

Rob: And we have been working with other carriers—not everyone has fiber everywhere. We trade with, sell to, and buy fiber from other carriers. No one can be expected to build fiber everywhere, but you certainly need to be able to get to certain places for your customers to be able to serve them the best that you can.

08. Supply Chain + Decisions | (08:40)

Chelsey: Has the supply chain impacted any of your decision making?

Rob: I don’t if it’s impacted our decision making but it has certainly made us aware and plan for much further in the future than we normally did. We know where we want to go in some cases so we plan to have that fiber in stock obviously we have to have stock of what’s already out there in case there’s a storm or something like that. But right now the biggest thing for planning is for fiber and the electronics on the ends—everyone’s aware that there’s a chip shortage—well those chips go into the electronics that light the fiber as well so it’s just continually planning and making sure that we can serve our customers when they needs us to.

09. Looking Ahead | (09:30)

Chelsey: Is there any foreshadowing of where Northland is going next in terms of their expansion?

Rob: We’re willing to build anywhere that it makes financial sense. Generally we wait for that one customer that gets us out one or two miles and has a need for it and then we market it on the path out there. As of right now, not really anything other than what we have in the works already.

10. Fiber Offerings | (10:00)

Chelsey: So what do we offer our customers on our fiber network?

Brian: We provide the core telephony service—local long-distance, internet type services, as everyone else does—it’s the foundation for many of the other services that we provide. Business broadband, our smallest connection out there is generally 100Mbps/25Mbps and then we have multiple 1, 5, and 8gig customers with connections to the internet. We have many other conversations going on with 50 and 20gig connections, etc. so it becomes a great foundation to be able to sell with high amounts of bandwidth.

We sell dark fiber as well for those customers who are looking to complete the whole campus arrangement of their network and tie it in to their existing equipment. It’s an outstanding product for them to be able to take advantage of.

Our Business Unlimited UCaaS product line is enhanced by our ability to provide that over fiber, although it’s not a requirement, we can provide it over some of the other networks out there for broadband as well, but our fiber network does enhance that. It’s bringing the phone system experience into one little package whether it’s a physical phone on a desk or a soft phone on a computer, integrating call recording, call reporting, and contact center with that, is again enhanced by the fiber network.

Rob: Yeah with fiber just think of it as transport to get numerous services out there the best way possible. Without that transport being so solid and the amount of bandwidth that you can push across it, a lot of these other products wouldn’t even exist so fiber is very necessary to support everything else that we offer.

Chelsey: Alright, thank you guys so much for having this conversation today!