CTO for Arkansas utility Conway says move to 1-gig services was decade in the making

Ethernet cables in on premise equipment

Arkansas utility company Conway Corp. recently announced that it’s now providing DOCSIS 3.0-powered 1-gig services to nearly 19,000 homes in the Conway, Arkansas, region. 

According to Conway CTO Jason Hansen, the network upgrade dates back to February, when the utility -- which has spent $3.9 million upgrading its network over the last six years -- put in a purchase order for a couple of Cisco cBR-8 converged broadband routers.

In reality, however, the strategic roots to Conway’s upgrade date back more than a decade, with the company taking myriad steps to put its HFC network in position to achieve 1-gig status.

“This is really a testament to the 10 years of plant planning we did,” said Hansen, who joined Conway in 1999, shortly after the company became one of the first cable companies in North America to offer broadband service. 

Speaking to FierceCable earlier this month, Hansen sketched the history of Conway's network all the way back to 1995, when the utility — which provides water, electric and wastewater services to the nearly 26,000 total residences of Conway, Arkansas — converted its plant to a two-way, 750 MHz network. 

With YouTube usage beginning to explode in 2007, Conway began an aggressive network upgrade strategy, building and splitting nodes, and upgrading its plant from 750 MHz to 1 GHz. Then, in 2012, the company went on an analog reclamation project, slating 20 QAMs of bandwidth just for DOCSIS 3.0, managing channels carefully and strategically as it went. 

Last year, Conway began using 12 channels to launch 200 Mbps service, “without touching the 20 channels we reserved,” Hansen said. “Those 20 channels are set aside in the most prime place in our network.”

Today, he added, Conway has “all 32 channels of internet in the most prime spectrum we have. We planned it with understanding with DOCSIS 3.1 on the horizon,” he explained.

Hansen said Conway plans to start DOCSIS 3.1 trials next year. They originally planned to first offer 1-gig services in 2017. But engineers for the 85-year-old utility were surprised to find their network so easily upgradable to 1-gig based on its current DOCSIS 3.0 configuration.

“We had some fortuitous delays that made us reevaluate what it takes to do a gig,” Hansen said. “It made us say, ‘We think we can do it in 2016.'”

After pitching their 1-gig plan to the utility’s CEO and board of directors, Hansen and his team were off and running. 

In terms of major product purchased, they kicked the tires on Arris’ E6000 converged edge router, but decided instead to replace their aging Cisco uBR10000 router with two cBR-8 boxes, the second one available to “handle any overflow situations that might crop up,” Hansen said. 

Conway, which also delivers water, electricity and waste-water service to local residents, is now offering gigabit service for $94.95 a month. 

“I attribute this to everything we did to our plant over the last 10 years," Hansen said. “We’re not just targeting one specific region of our footprint. We’re delivering these services to everyone.”