- July 22, 2021
Bill Baker (left), CEO of Nextlink Internet, and Jeff Johnston, lead economist for communications at CoBank.
Providing fixed wireless access and fiber-to-the-home telecommunications service in rural Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois makes Nextlink Internet what its CEO, Bill Baker, calls a hybrid provider. Baker spoke during an AGL Virtual Summit in June at the session, “Rural Coverage Opportunities and Challenges,” moderated by Jeff Johnston, a lead economist for communications at CoBank, a national cooperative bank that provides credit to the U.S. rural economy.
Johnston asked Baker what steps NextLink Internet takes to futureproof its telecommunications networks in the face of ever-increasing throughput speeds required by advances in applications and connected devices.
“It’s interesting in the usage patterns design, because I have gig fiber customers; I have gig wireless customers; I have 25-meg fixed wireless customers,” Baker said, referring to internet download speeds of 1 Gbps and 25 Mbps. “There’s no radical difference in use between a gig customer and a 25-meg customer. To me, what futureproofing means is bringing the fiber as close as possible to that last-mile connection.”
Baker explained that in highly rural markets, customers might be 30 to 75 miles away from the nearest fiber access point. He said that at such distances, latency becomes problematic for customers. Improvements in technology, even on the wireless side and the wireless backhaul side, have been massive in the past five years, he said. “It’s the old adage: double the capacity at half the price. That’s what you’re seeing in the wireless backhaul market,” Baker said.
“Ultimately, you’ll slowly get there, but I deal with highly rural areas, and the concept of getting fiber to the home — unless the federal government wants to throw hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars for fiber to the home for every location — we’re just nowhere close to that kind of futureproof state. In an urban environment, houses may sit 50 to 100 feet from the road. In a rural environment, houses may sit 1,000 to 2,000 feet from the road. Even taking fiber from the highway, the farm-to-market road, to the farmhouse is a project unto itself. We don’t see futureproofing in that regard happening for quite a while.”
Johnston asked whether telecommunications service from low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites has potential for wireless backhaul service.
“We’re tracking LEO,” Barker said. “I’ve never considered LEO to be a backhaul provider. I don’t believe there’s the capacity in the network for that. I have close to 2,000 towers in the central United States; thus, we’re intimately familiar with microwave backhaul. I have microwave backhaul links carrying up to 2.5 Gbps up to 15 miles. To us, microwave backhauls are the Swiss Army knife.”
Baker said that if backhaul demand begins to exceed installed capacity, Nextlink Internet could double up the radios or obtain newer models. “We have a huge presence in North Texas,” he said. “I can’t think of a more booming rural area than that. We have licensed microwave backhauls ranging from 300 Mbps to 2.5 Gbps. That’s where you get into the short-range millimeter-wave of 10 GHz hops.”
Nextlink Internet is a firm believer in using every available tool, Baker said, because not only can a microwave link go down, but also a fiber site can go down. “The magical backhoe always seems to find that fiber, no matter where it’s buried in a rural area,” he said. “When you’re not only moving traffic, but also building a network that’s redundant, it needs to be able to carry traffic in different directions.”
For the June 8 AGL Virtual Summit, Total Tech sponsors included Raycap, Valmont Site Pro 1, Vertical Bridge and B+T Group. Tech sponsors included Alden Systems and Aurora Insight. Viavi Solutions sponsored the keynote address. Additional sponsors included Gap Wireless, NATE, VoltServer and WIA.
Sharpe Smith programmed the Summit, and Kari Willis hosted. AGL Media Group has scheduled the next AGL Virtual Summit for Sept. 8. To register, click here.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.