The Hidden Network Behind Your Cell Signal

Case Study

Imagine you are on a road trip through the state of Indiana. You see fields, barns, and electrical towers while listening to the latest episode of your favorite podcast. What you don’t see, however, is that as your cell phone moves to connect you from one tower to the next, there’s a good chance your connection is thanks to IFN and its member/owners.

When major cell providers want to build a new cell tower in order to expand their coverage area, they need someone to provide the fiber connection from the tower back to their aggregation point. This often involves those cell providers putting out a request for proposal (RFP) in order to identify companies best suited to lay the fiber. This is where IFN steps in with its member/owners.

“Cell service providers prefer to work with a single entity to source the fiber in a geographic territory. Since rural areas are spread out, it’s not possible for a single rural telco [telecommunications company] to handle the project. That’s where IFN comes in – they can work with all the rural telcos and put together a package to bid,” said Jill Snyder, business & economic development director at NineStar Connect. “This provides a single source, which is attractive to the cellular providers, and gives rural telcos an opportunity to win contracts. If IFN was unable to do this, I doubt that any rural telco or REMC would ever win a cell tower contract for a single tower.”

When rural telecommunications companies or rural electric membership cooperatives (REMC) are able to win cell tower bids and participate in the fiber build, they also have the benefit of being able offer fiber to the home (FTTH) or fiber to the business (FTTB) to customers along the way. NineStar Connect has connected over 350 residences through 16+ miles of fiber to cell towers across central Indiana, delivering urban-grade high-speed fiber to rural homes. Several upcoming cell tower projects are on the horizon, and more FTTH is likely to follow.

CEO and General Manager of New Lisbon Telephone Company (NLTC), John Greene, states that participating in these bid partnerships with IFN allows their small company to stay competitive and relevant. “NLTC’s relationship with IFN was the perfect platform for growing the competitive areas of the business,” said Greene. “Schools, hospitals, banks, the cell towers – they often can’t partner with small local companies because their connection needs are larger than the available footprint. IFN is the key that allows member/owners to participate in larger customer business opportunities.”

For NLTC, cell towers provide a great deal of business and allow the company to expand its reach. Not only do contracts with cell companies provide a steady source of revenue that make other buildouts possible, NLTC is also able to pick up customers along the backbone route. Since 2014, NLTC has grown from providing fiber to three cell towers along I-70 to serving 13, with plans to add two more in 2019. Also in 2019, NLTC is going to light a previously dormant fiber cable in New Castle, Indiana, meaning there will be dozens of businesses and residents added to NLTC’s service territory.

For Kevin McGuire, Chief Operating Officer of Enhanced Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), the ability to partner with IFN has allowed ETC to be aggressive in trying to win as many cell towers as they can. Today, ETC has 50+ circuits serving southeast Indiana. In fact, building fiber to cell towers has allowed the company to build out their broadband capabilities in FTTH products and with more fiber in more rural communities.

However, in the case of ETC notes McGuire, building to residential areas along the backbone is not always the case. “Fiber is like the interstate,” he explains. “When we’re building the ‘interstate’ to cell sites, we’re not always building off-ramps to get to customers along the way. Some cases it’s only a cell site and it costs the same to lay the fiber no matter how many customers are along the line.” Ideally, creating more of these off ramps will become a more viable solution in the future with additional cell tower wins.

With IFN’s 23+ member/owners across the state of Indiana, the geographical footprint available for partnerships to meet these cell tower RFPs is unmatched. And with new partnerships budding in Illinois and Missouri thanks to IFN’s partnership with WVPA, over the coming years there’s a good chance these network connections can expand outside of the state.

Cell tower signals have become essential to the way Hoosiers (and Americans) communicate, work, and live. IFN is dedicated to not only powering these connections for Indiana residents, but to also help rural telco and REMC partners access the profits available to be made in their own backyards.

Want to know more about the fiber in your area? Contact IFN today to learn more about our member/owners and fiber cables across the state.