It may not be the news those who continue to wait patiently to obtain 1G (Gbps) broadband want to hear, but Lumen Technologies, the parent of CenturyLink, is preparing to roll out 8G service in Sterling Ranch in Douglas County this year and next.
“We started to be able to build fiber to each home in 2015, and back then that wasn’t a common thing. Now we are working with Lumen to push the envelope. There is an economic competitive advantage to creating this system,” said Brock Smethills, president of the Sterling Ranch Development Co.
Sterling Ranch’s current fiber network, which the developer built out, provides its 1,600 residents with access to 1G service for $75 a month each through Lumen. But the network has plenty of spare capacity and through a new network technology Lumen calls XGS-PON, speeds will leapfrog over what Comcast and other rivals can provide.
“It is great to be able to tout ourselves as the leader in that race,” said Jeff Johnson, director of consumer sales for Lumen’s West Region. He adds the upgraded network will be able to provide speeds 40 times faster than the U.S. average household speed of 193.9 Mbps.
Comcast achieved speeds of 10G on a live network at CableLabs last April, and the company provides the fastest residential speeds available in metro Denver right now in select areas — 6G for $299.95 a month, according to BroadbandNow, an Internet service search engine. In December, it upgraded speeds for a majority of its existing Colorado customers to 2G.
A handful of providers are offering 1G service, including Verizon 5G Internet at $64.99 a month, Google Fiber Webpass for $63 a month and CenturyLink, which provides a 940 Mbps service, essentially 1G, for $70 a month, according to BroadbandNow.
Nationally, the fastest network speeds Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of BroadbandNow, has seen offered is 10G. Google Fiber is looking to launch 5G and 8G plans this year, he said. Because Lumen’s networks must be switched over to XGS-PON, Cooper said he expects “a slow rollout to start.”
For years, Lumen, through its Quantum Fiber subsidiary, has pushed to get its fiber optic network into new communities and it has gone back into existing ones to add it, an expensive process. For years, it has lagged behind Comcast for the network speeds it could provide, especially without a fiber connection.
Once a fiber connection directly to a home is in place, the network can be upgraded to handle faster and faster speeds, and that is what is happening in Sterling Ranch. Details on pricing for the new service were not available yet.
But that raises the question of how will consumers use all that capacity, especially in a market where 1G was the gold standard and once considered more than enough. Given that some parts of Colorado are still struggling to reach consistent speeds in the 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps range, the big leap forward raises the perennial questions of equity and access.
“We can only imagine what this next evolution in speeds will bring. Each time we bump up the speed, new technologies and uses emerge,” said Walker Hinshaw, chief operating officer at Lumiere, a Denver company that helps developers and homebuilders implement the latest technologies into their communities.
Hinshaw said 2023 should be a breakthrough year when it comes to artificial intelligence applications, which can be data-intensive. Meta continues to push the Metaverse, which hogs bandwidth. And the pandemic has resulted in more people working from home, often with bandwidth-intensive enterprise software applications. The ability to offer a faster connection should provide communities such as Sterling Ranch with a leg up on attracting residents.
When the rest of metro Denver is talking about rolling out 5-Gig or 10-Gig in the next five to 10 years, Sterling Ranch could be moving toward 20-Gig or 50-Gig, he predicted.
“We are far from maxing out. It is the electronics and the algorithms on either end that are the rate-limiting factors,” Hinshaw said.
But Sterling Ranch’s network isn’t an isolated island and connects to a larger fiber system, which Douglas County is working to see expanded. The county set aside $11 million of the money it received from the American Rescue Plan for improved fiber deployment, including a wider loop network reaching the eastern part of the county, said commissioner George Teal, who has a background in technology.
“We are trying to be that middle funder for private enterprises to deliver it,” he said, adding the county is going with a market-based approach rather than trying to build its own network or mandate service. The county wants to provide smaller and quickly growing communities in more rural areas better connections and faster speeds.
“How can we make sure that everyone has good and adequate broadband capability and access?” Teal asked. Right now getting to 1G is the goal, but it helps to have communities like Sterling Ranch on the cutting edge of what is possible.
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