Interview: Virginia Ruesterholz of Verizon

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Verizon trying LTE as alternative to fibre and building fibre to support LTE launch

Verizon is trying out 4G mobile technology, LTE, as a way of offering its FiOS broadband services in remote areas, says service operations president Virginia Ruesterholz. At the same time she is rolling out fibre backhaul to support the demands of the new LTE customers 

Virginia Ruesterholz: FiOS has been game changing, but the
fibre network also connects thousands of cellsites for 4G 
Verizon is trying LTE to deliver its FiOS fibre optic service to customers in remote areas. The US operator’s mobile division, Verizon Wireless, will be launching LTE in 30 markets before the end of 2010 and a link between this 4G mobile technology and optical fibre could enable it to win customers in remote areas.
The LTE trial of FiOS delivery is being conducted in two states in the US, says Virginia Ruesterholz, president of Verizon services operations. And FiOS, its fibre-to-the-home project, is already available in 15.5 million homes, with 200,000 new video customers and 200,000 new data customers signing up per quarter.
“We are trialling LTE [for FiOS service delivery] in some less dense areas,” says Ruesterholz. “Can that be an alternative [to fibre delivery]?” The idea is to use LTE for the last mile from a hub to the main network, instead of laying fibre down everyone’s driveway.
According to Ruesterholz, trials of LTE in two markets have delivered speeds of seven to 10 megabits a second. “That’s what the trials are showing,” she says. “Seven megabits is a conservative number.”
Ruesterholz is heading the operation to install FiOS and to provide backhaul to cellsites to support the LTE rollout, though other mobile operators’ needs will be covered too. “The backhaul is part of the equation.”
The company’s original roll-out plan, set at the start of the programme, called for 18 million homes to be passed “over the next several years”. But Verizon is already covering 60% of its local footprint and “over the past four or five years the technology has improved”, she says: hence the LTE trial. 
Verizon’s FiOS “has been game-changing”, she notes: “It’s three networks converged into one.”
Ruesterholz’s responsibilities in Verizon include the traditional wireless network as well as FiOS plus the company’s global IP network. “And I’m responsible for the real estate, the supply chain, logistics, the fleet and sustainability across Verizon,” she says. “And some finance operations.”
With the LTE announcement by Verizon Wireless, 55% owned by the Verizon group, one of her main concerns at the moment is backhaul to the company’s cellsites. “We’re putting in fibre to the cellsite. My network team is building and operating that.”
The company has planned the fibre to the wireless base stations alongside the FiOS rollout whenever possible. “We’ve extended our fibre to the cellsite where we have FiOS to support what carriers need.” The new LTE sites are connected by ethernet: “It’s been an explosion.”
That’s not a mistake when she refers to “what carriers need”: the company’s wholesale division connects other operators’ cellsites as well as those of Verizon Wireless — just as, in the local telephone markets where it is dominant, AT&T connects Verizon Wireless’s and other mobile operators’ equipment.
“Fibre provision is a real wholesale opportunity,” says Ruesterholz. “We are connecting thousands of cellsites this year. We’ve supported fibre to the cell for Verizon Wireless so they can launch 4G. It is critical to them.” 
Even where FiOS is not yet in operation Ruesterholz’s team is installing fibre, carrying data at up to 10 gigabits a second, to cellsites on behalf of mobile customers and to corporate customers. “We’re putting fibre in as a long-term investment opportunity,” she says, estimating the investment in backhaul in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ruesterholz has been with Verizon and its predecessors for 26 years, having joined what was then New York Telephone as a manager, not long after graduating with a degree in chemical engineering.
New York Telephone became Nynex, and that merged with neighbouring Bell Atlantic in 1996 to become Verizon. Ruesterholz became president of complex installation and maintenance for network services but later headed all the group’s wholesale services as president of Verizon Partner Solutions.
She headed the FiOS programme from the start, first as president of Verizon Telecom, covering the consumer, general business and US wholesale markets, and now in her present role.
Verizon’s approach to fast broadband to the home is different from AT&T’s — though the two are not direct rivals in the fixed market, as each operates local telephone networks in different states, so nowhere can a customer run a direct comparison between the two giants of the US industry.
The difference in approach is that AT&T delivers fibre to a node in each neighbourhood, with DSL over traditional copper taking the service from there into each customer’s home. Verizon takes the fibre direct into the home.
“We want to roll out a broadband network that promotes our reputation,” says Ruesterholz. “Operationally we are hitting on all cylinders, with installations and the quality of the network. It’s everything you’d expect from a fibre network.” 
Content for tablets 
As fast as Verizon builds the network, demands are changing. “More and more content is moving from the TV to the laptop to the tablet. A year ago there were no tablets.” Now, widgets that Verizon is offering with FiOS allows customers to buy online while they’re watching a big game. “The whole ecosystem is about to offer some interesting things,” she smiles.
Her team has to keep up with speed demands and technological change. “We’re investing $17 billion a year in total.” The result of that is that FiOS is already available in 60% of Verizon’s territory. What about the other 40%? “We’re committed to passing 18 million homes over the next several years,” she notes: that means another 2.5 million homes to be passed. “That was the original business plan. What happens next depends on the technology — and over the four or five years since we started the technology has improved.
At the moment FiOS uses BPON technology — broadband passive optical network — and Ruesterholz expects to move to GPON, gigabit PON, with “more bandwidth, more customers, and the costs go down”.
But Verizon’s approach — using fibre all the way to each customer’s home — means costs go up when trying to connect homes in low-density areas of the US. That’s why she is looking at the possibilities of using LTE simply as a last-mile alternative to fibre in rural areas.
“We are trialling LTE in some less dense areas,” confirms Ruesterholz. “Can that be an alternative?” There are no confirmed results yet, though she says first indications are “very good”.
One of Ruesterholz’s other concerns is Verizon’s sustainability policy. “We are looking at our energy footprint, and tackling it in several ways.” One is to replace network equipment with more energy-efficient models.
“But we are also buying 1,800 green vehicles by the end of 2010, that are hybrid vehicles or use compressed natural gas, depending on the public infrastructure. We’re trying both.” It’s a start, but is still less than 5% of Verizon’s total fleet of 40,000. Natural gas “has less of a CO2 footprint that gasoline and it’s US-sourced so we cut out the transport”. 
Community commitment 
Behind it all is “a balance of corporate responsibility and a commitment to the community”, she says, “as well as doing things that are economically good”.
One of the challenges of doing that at the same time as rolling out networks such as FiOS is that the new services need more data centres to deliver the content. Ruesterholz accepts that, but notes: “You have that growth but you can grow more efficiently. And FiOS uses more efficient equipment.”
For example, Verizon has just introduced what she calls “a green set-top box” for FiOS customers, made by Motorola. Energy consumption is lower than with previous models and the box itself is made of a certain percentage of recycled materials. It will be installed in customers’ homes whenever they upgrade from standard definition TV services to high definition.
Motorola is just one of the vendors supplying FiOS: there are also set-tops from Cisco and equipment from Ciena, Fujitsu and Juniper.
Given her responsibilities for the FiOS rollout and the LTE backhaul infrastructure — the two anchors of Verizon’s business — does Ruesterholz have sleepless nights. “The size and scope of the network and the amount of traffic means we all think about the reliability,” she says.
The fibre network is built with a level of redundancy “and this gives us a lot of relief — it’s not the same as using the old telephone line”, she adds. Indeed: there is almost nothing in common between FiOS and LTE and those old networks — and this is just the start. GTB 
Further reading:
GTB interview with Verizon CTO Dick Lynch here
Alcatel-Lucent contract with Verizon Wireless here