Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Three-quarters of the way into the City of San Antonio's goal of reaching 4,000 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout the city, more neighborhoods are being equipped with ultra-fast internet access.
AT&T, Google Fiber, and Zayo Group are San Antonio's major players when it comes to fiber deployment.
The three companies – also internet service providers – are among the most active seekers of right-of-way permits, which give them the legal authority to lay fiber-optic lines through an urban-centric and shallow digging method known as microtrenching.
Showing no signs of slowing down once the 4,000-mile benchmark is reached, the activity is expected to continue as demand rises, City officials said.
“We still see permits coming in as fast right now as we have [in the past]," said Marcus Hammer, who oversees special projects for the City's Transportation and Capital Improvements department. "They’re still coming in pretty consistently from Zayo, AT&T, and Google.”
According to the City, AT&T has installed more than 2,600 miles of fiber-optic cable since announcing it would bring fiber internet speeds to the San Antonio market in 2014.
Google Fiber, which also announced San Antonio as one of its fiber cities that year, has had a slower buildout with 230 miles of fiber-optic cable laid – mostly in West San Antonio neighborhoods, such as West End Park and Westover Hills. The company recently expanded its services to more far-Westside residents.
Following strong criticism from residents of Haskin Park on the city’s Northside, Google Fiber last year announced it would remove a “fiber hut” and decrease the overall number of such structures to be installed across the city.
The Zayo Group, which has an international presence, has dug 310 miles of fiber-optic lines. A fourth company, Conterra, has contributed 140 miles to the city's fiber deployment.
Fiber-optic infrastructure is the newest generation of telecommunications infrastructure. It improves on older-generation cable lines with equipment – flexible fibers in a glass core – that allows for a more efficient transmission.
Going from the older infrastructure to a fiber-powered line is like putting a 10-foot-diameter water pipe in the ground, and only 10 percent of the pipe needs to be used at any given time, said Craig Hopkins, the City's chief information officer.
"If you lay the pipe with fiber then you get the ability to determine how much usage you need out of it," Hopkins said.
In addition to AT&T and Google Fiber's one-gigabit connection – the highest speed offered in the residential market – Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) recently rolled out gigabit speeds to San Antonio households.
Many residential customers who use the internet to send emails, stream Netflix, or play online video games typically experience sufficient speeds at the upload and download speeds that are becoming market-standard – 100 to 200 megabits per second.
A gigabit connection might come in handy for a homeowner with a sophisticated smart home setup, but gigabit and higher speeds are increasing in demand among enterprise customers who require more firepower for their operations. Such examples include companies whose assets are predominantly stored in the cloud as they require the ability transmit information from computer to server reliably and swiftly. Public safety agencies also increasingly need faster connections, as do companies that transmit large files such as videos.
Recently, the City helped deploy a 10-gigabit connection for the NCAA Final Four tournament held at the Alamodome.
"People are thinking about fiber differently [now] that it's more economical and feasible to use even for small companies," said John Rodriguez, the City's assistant IT director.
AT&T's gigabit offering is available to nearly 300,000 homes, apartments and small businesses in the San Antonio area, including in parts of Alamo Heights, Castle Hills, Converse, Hollywood Park, Terrell Hills, Universal City, Cibolo, Leon Valley, Live Oak. The company is currently installing fiber-optic infrastructure in Olmos Park. Its highest tier of service is also available in Schertz, Selma, and other surrounding communities.
"We’ve been one of the main drivers helping to position San Antonio as a gigabit city, working hand in hand with the City and its officials to build out the broadband infrastructure," the company said in a statement. "We first announced our plans to bring our fastest internet speeds powered by our 100 percent fiber network to San Antonio in July 2014, and since then we continue to expand."
The cost of Gigabit
Spectrum – which provides fiber-internet speeds by retrofitting its infrastructure with its hybrid DOCSIS 3.1 technology – offers gigabit connections for $104.99 per month.
Google Fiber's gigabit internet is available for $55 a month.
AT&T's fiber-powered gigabit service costs $80 a month.