Many Tucson businesses soon will be able to take advantage of super-fast “gigabit” fiber-optic Internet and data service from phone and data provider CenturyLink.
Tucson and Phoenix are among 16 cities where CenturyLink will begin offering or expanding its gigabit service beginning Aug. 18.
Gigabit service refers to Internet access speeds of one gigabit per second, or 1,000 megabits per second, provided through ultrafast fiber-optic networks to customer premises.
CenturyLink’s service, aimed at small- to medium- sized businesses, will initially be available at multi-tenant office buildings and surrounding areas.
In the Tucson area, the gigabit service area includes downtown, parts of Speedway and the Broadway business corridor, as well as outlying areas such as parts of Marana and Oro Valley’s Innovation Park and a new retail outlet mall planned for Twin Peaks Road at Interstate 10, said Guy Gunther, CenturyLink vice president and general manager for Southern Arizona.
Gunther noted that CenturyLink has already been providing super-fast fiber connections to some of its largest business customers.
A technology known as Gigabit Passive Optical Network, or GPON, has allowed the company to scale its fiber-optic network to offer the service to smaller business customers, along with services like cloud computing, online data backup and Web hosting.
“We’ve always served the Fortune 500, we’ve always served government (with fiber),” Gunther said. “What we’ve done here is, by using this technology we’re able to cut costs, which we’re passing along to customers.”
Pricing will be higher than current CenturyLink business broadband, but how much higher depends on a customer’s current service, which speedwise starts at 10 Mbps, Gunther said.
While businesses can buy just gigabit Net access, customers typically buy packages including features such multiple Internet-based phone lines, Microsoft Exchange email boxes and online data backup.
“Before, these types of offerings were for larger businesses and were a bit intimidating,” Gunther said. “We’re removing the intimidation factor itself and allowing them to customize it.”
While businesses in major office buildings and corridors will have first crack at the service, CenturyLink will also extend fiber to other areas depending on demand, he said.
“We’re focusing on the multi-tenant office buildings and we’ve also targeted corridors,” Gunther said. “As businesses express interest, we’ll build out that remaining fiber.”
Gunther said his role as chairman of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc., a public-private economic development agency, convinced him the service shouldn’t be limited to Tucson proper.
Besides Tucson and Phoenix, CenturyLink is rolling out the gigabit service for business customers in Spokane, Wash.; Sioux Falls, Iowa; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Albuquerque. The service will be offered to both business and residential customers in 10 other markets: Seattle; Portland; Denver; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Columbia and Jefferson City, Mo.; and Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Omaha, Neb., the three cities where the service was initially piloted.
CenturyLink is offering another fiber-optics based technology — its Prism TV service — in Scottsdale and parts of Phoenix, but Gunther said there is no current plan to offer that service in Tucson. CenturyLink entered the Arizona market when it acquired Qwest Communications in 2011.
Meanwhile, cable competitors aren’t sitting on their hands.
Cox Communications, Tucson’s main cable provider, announced in May that it will roll out residential gigabit service in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha this fall, starting with new-home developments, and will start extending the offering across its territories by the end of 2016. Cox has been providing gigabit-plus service to larger business customers since 2007.
Comcast, which mainly serves Pima County outside of Tucson proper, hasn’t rolled out gigabit services but is offering half a gigabit (505 Mbps uploads) service in several markets outside Arizona.