Broadband “Middle Mile” Network
A “middle mile” broadband Internet network connects communities to an Internet gateway and then onto what is commonly called the Internet backbone. In the TERRA-Southwest network, communities in southwest Alaska connect to the Internet gateway in Anchorage.
TERRA-Southwest currently serves the 30,000 residents of Bristol Bay and the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta and includes 400 miles of new fiber optics, 13 new microwave towers, and 26 upgraded existing microwave sites. GCI is already working at extending TERRA-Southwest northward. Unalakleet and Shaktoolik will come on line in 2012 and Nome in 2013.
With the completion of supplemental work on TERRA-Southwest and the “last mile” connection to the TERRA communities, GCI and UUI will have invested more than $146 million in the construction of TERRA-Southwest (excluding Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, and Nome). Of this investment, $102 million (70 percent) will have been funded with GCI/UUI’s own capital. The remaining $44 million will have been funded by a broadband grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.
Prior to TERRA-Southwest, broadband connectivity in Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta was provided via satellite. Satellite transmission has much higher latency (a quarter second delay caused by the enormous distance the transmission must travel) than terrestrial transmission (latency as low as one tenth of a quarter second).
Microwave technology was used in TERRA-Southwest to reach more communities, ensure high network availability, and avoid conflicts with land conservation system units and other land use restrictions. As a result, TERRA-Southwest does not have as large a backbone capacity from Bethel to Anchorage as an all-fiber system would.
There are many demands on TERRA-Southwest’s backbone capacity, including regional healthcare and education providers, mobile wireless customers, residential Internet subscribers, business/government and data customers. GCI and UUI are planning upgrades to TERRA-Southwest that will increase the backbone capacity over time. Even so, GCI and UUI will continue to evaluate usage patterns as traffic ramps up on the network and manage use of the backbone capacity so that all users benefit.
WiFi Wireless “Last Mile” Network
A “last mile” broadband Internet network connects individual homes and businesses in a community to an Internet access point/router that in turn is linked to a middle mile network. Last mile networks include hybrid fiber-coaxial wireline networks that also deliver video services, wireline copper networks that deliver local telephone service, and wireless networks that use Wi-Fi or other wireless technologies.
GCI has operated wireless last mile networks (using satellite for long-distance transport) for many years in rural Alaska. GCI and UUI plan to deploy current-generation, standards-based 802.11n Wi-Fi networks in 63 TERRA communities this summer, including nearly 200 access points (APs) in aggregate.
Customers currently receiving wireless Internet service from GCI or UUI will need to upgrade their equipment in order to support the faster throughput speeds. Current customers will receive the equipment without charge.