As the COVID-19 pandemic forces us to reevaluate how we exist in a world where we can't be near each other, rural operators are solving for the challenge of people needing reliable Internet access more than ever, while also striving to keep engineers and support technicians out of harm's way.
For West Carolina Tel (WCTEL) – a broadband provider servicing western South Carolina – this means relying a lot more on support they can provide from a distance.
According to Troy Mack, network operations manager at WCTEL, this is a departure for the company that previously prided itself on providing in-person service. With most support happening off-site, talk time on customer service calls has gone up 54%.
WCTEL's network relies on platforms from Calix, a global provider of cloud and software services for ISPs. In conversation with Broadband World News, Bridget Watkins, product marketing director at Calix, said that the biggest challenge has been how quickly service providers have had to adapt to everyone working, learning and getting medical help from home. "A lot of service providers have tried to be creative in getting services to places where they’ve never had it before," said Watkins.
For Calix, this has resulted in a reevaluation of its own end-to-end solutions and the rapid release of custom reports to ensure operators are able to conduct remote-assisted installations, provide tech support and gain the visibility they need into their networks from a distance. Much of that is reliant on the company's cloud offerings, which fall under its Edge and Sights portfolio. According to Watkins, the COVID-19 crisis has made Calix more aware of the needs customers will have from those services going forward, and it's worked faster to ramp cloud products up to allow operators to be proactive about getting subscribers more bandwidth where it's needed.
"Service providers haven't had to necessarily say 'we're going to bump up everybody's speed,' because not everybody needed it," she said. "Being able to identify and do it in a targeted way shows the subscriber you're paying attention."
From February 20 until April 20, WCTEL saw traffic on its network increase significantly, with gaming usage up 41%, streaming video up 47% and work-from-home activity up 49%.
For the most part, says Mack, WCTEL has been able to pursue its work as planned, with a few exceptions. While the company is around 95% fiber-based, the remaining 5% on copper will stay that way for now. "Until we get past this we won't be doing full cutovers. We'll get the mainline put in and drops up to the customer homes, but we won’t do cutovers from copper service to fiber until the pandemic has passed."
It faces an uphill climb, but Viasat is exploring a plan to build 300 low-earth orbit satellites that could deliver low-latency broadband service and qualify for the US Rural Digital Opportunities Fund.
Over the next two years, approximately 60% of service providers (both large and small) will adopt virtualization on a wide scale across their networks, according to the latest survey report from Ovum. Why are providers making these moves? Is there an easy way to start?
Learn how and why service providers are using virtualization to transform their networks. This webinar will look at how providers are leveraging virtualization to create more flexible and agile networks while also providing a better customer experience. Expert speakers from netElastic and Heavy Reading will address the industry drivers for network virtualization, the benefits that can be realized, the challenges to face and the results of virtualization being achieved by providers today.
Key topics will include:
Current network infrastructure and the move to virtualization
Benefits and challenges of network virtualization
How providers can get started
Service provider success stories: the decision to virtualize, the solution, and results