DZS helps Craighead deploy fibre-enabled smart grid

  • August 10, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Texas-based optical networking company DZS is helping Craighead Electric make the leap to a fibre-enabled smart grid for rural Arkansas. More than 10,000 have been connected to the fibre network over the past two years.

DZS specialises in optical and packet-based mobile transport, broadband connectivity and software defined networking. The rural broadband network was deployed by Craighead Electric and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Empower, across rural north-east Arkansas.

Implemented by DZS partner and electrical distributor Irby, the fibre optic network infrastructure is based on the DZS Velocity and Helix edge access portfolio that have allowed the cooperative to modernise its electrical grid with a communications network that delivers gigabit broadband services to the region.

In 2017, Craighead recognised that only 44% of its members had access to FCC-defined broadband with little hope for improvement. This realisation, along with the need to connect critical electrical infrastructure to a smart grid capable communications network, was the catalyst for it to embark on a fibre expansion initiative. As a by-product of the communications upgrade project, Empower now delivers gigabit internet speeds and voice services that leap beyond FCC minimum requirements and offer hyper-broadband connections to nearly 30,000 Arkansans.

To date, Empower has leveraged CAFII funds to help fund some of the buildout. Going forward, as part of a consortium championed by Irby, Empower has been awarded RDOF funds to continue to build out its gigabit network.

“Orchestrated by Irby, we collaborated with DZS to develop a number of custom solutions, such as managed wifi, wireless mesh networks and remote-control management of access devices,” said Jeremiah Sloan, chief operating officer of Empower, who led the communications upgrade projects that deployed fibre throughout Craighead Electric’s service area and infrastructure, enabling access to smart grid technologies and broadband-related services throughout the cooperative’s membership.

“DZS played a big part in our broadband success by providing solutions that scale and fit our needs,” said Sloan. “We are especially grateful for being able to access DZS throughout the pandemic when the supply chain for so many of our vendors was significantly interrupted. We were able to do record numbers of installations every month throughout that period, and DZS delivered day-in and day-out by keeping us stocked with equipment to transform broadband access in our communities.”

Craighead has installed nearly 5600km of fibre optic cable, connecting over 10,000 locations with Empower services to date since launching in early 2019.

“It is a testament to Irby Utilities and our providers like DZS that we outpaced our original timeline estimates on construction and connecting premises,” said Sloan. “We originally planned on completing 5000 connected locations at this point in our project, but to date we have doubled that with 10,000 connected locations and finished construction almost 24 months ahead of schedule.”

DZS Velocity broadband access provides the backbone for Craighead’s gigabit services deployment, providing a high-capacity, fibre-optimised aggregation platform that can be deployed in some of the harshest and most demanding environments faced by the industry.

The DZS Helix edge access includes indoor residential 2400A series GPON ONTs acting as the fibre termination points at Craighead, while wifi-enabled DZS Mesh-2100 delivers 802.11ac dual-band mesh services that support an aggregated data rate of up to 2100Mbit/s.

“Craighead Electric’s vision for transforming rural broadband sets the gold standard for cooperatives across America,” said Jay Hilbert, executive vice president at DZS. “Irby put that vision into action and implemented flawlessly, which enabled DZS to support Craighead Electric in competing, with Irby’s support, at the gigabit level for RDOF and CAFII auction funding and advocating for fibre and symmetrical uncapped, unthrottled gigabit to every household throughout the USA. We look forward to supporting Empower’s bold ongoing broadband expansion strategy that is changing the economic, entrepreneurial and educational opportunities for not only in their service area, but for underserved rural markets around the USA.”

This hyper-broadband-speed service has enabled many in the community to work from home and receive their education remotely over the past year. It has also allowed for visitors and new residents coming to the community from nearby metropolitan areas like Memphis to experience broadband services in this rural area that are often better than services they experienced in the big cities.

Craighead Electric is a member-owned not-for-profit electric company incorporated in 1937. The cooperative operates offices in Jonesboro, Walnut Ridge and Paragould. The locally owned and managed organisation has 100 employees. It is a distribution cooperative, meaning it does not generate its own power, but rather purchases electricity wholesale and distributes it to members within its service territory. It services more than 30,000 members in eight counties in north-east Arkansas.