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5 Questions with Monroe Electric and Telecom Director Brian Thompson

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Posted: Wednesday, August 7, 2019 12:00 am

Brian Thompson heads up Monroe’s Electricity and Telecommunications Department, putting him in charge of getting residents electricity and internet. Here, he talks about Monroe’s growing high-speed fiber network, and tries  to explain the mysteries and future of 5G wireless networks, which Verizon recently brought to parts of Atlanta.

What is fiber? What makes it different from other internet options?

Fiber is a method of data transport that uses very small optical glass fibers to transport light pulses. Other forms of communications use either electrical impulses or radio waves to transport that data. With both of these technologies, the physical limitations of the medium limit the distance and capacity. Copper wire used in cable TV modems and dial-up internet services has the requirement of regeneration of the signal (maintenance) and limited bandwidth of 100-150 megabits per second. Fiber on the other hand is only limited to the speed of the electronics on each end of the circuit. Copper based products need amplifying every 1000-1500 feet and with fiber Monroe has circuits that go over 25 miles.

Where has Monroe built out its fiber network so far? How far will it eventually go?

Monroe has had a fiber network since the mid-’90s that was originally built to support our cable television system and a network for Walton County and Social Circle school systems. That network has been expanded over the years when opportunities arose, which has resulted in a network that spans from Snellville to Watkinsville and from Walker Park School to Bostwick. The system has been used for education, economic development and governmental communications since its construction. All of Monroe’s and a good many of Walton County’s government installations are connected as are the majority of industry and health care facilities in and around Monroe. These connections save the taxpayer money and provide jobs while not using any tax revenue for the network construction or operation. While school networking is commonplace today, it was unheard of when we constructed the system for Walton County Board of Education.  Our FTTX system, which runs fiber directly to homes and businesses, was started in 2018 and now rings the Downtown core. This system is what commonly serves residential and small business locations. We are studying the feasibility of deploying this system city wide. 

What is 5G?

If you ask five people, you’ll get five different answers. To understand 5G you need to understand the problem the cellphone carriers are facing, which is your cellphone is no longer a phone. Most people use their iPhone or android for a internet streaming device much more than as a phone. So if you remember my answer from question 1 there are distance and capacity limitations on wireless communications. The solution is more antennas with lower power connected to a fiber backhaul. We as a society are not going to allow a 100 foot tower every 500 to 1000 feet so they devised smaller transceivers to hang on utility poles. This purpose is to get cell “phone” traffic on fiber as quickly as possible, which solves several problems for the carrier. The speeds are higher due to incremental increases in the wireless technology but mainly because there are less users using limited bandwidth on any one antenna. More antennas equal less users per antenna equals high speeds.

What does it mean that Verizon recently “turned on” 5G in parts of Atlanta? Will it eventually affect us out here?

All carriers are targeting areas where large numbers of people congregate. Think office buildings, shopping centers and stadiums. Monroe is working with carriers that have aggregation issues in certain areas in and around town. We are also making development decisions and including duct in all of our telecom projects to be prepared for future 5G deployments. Whether these micro cells are LTE or 5G the purpose is the same, to get that traffic on to a fiber ASAP and Monroe wants to be ahead of the curve by helping rather than hindering this deployment while protecting the beauty of our town.

Monroe gets 70% of its electricity from non emitting sources. Where do we get our power from?

Monroe is a member of the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and we own our generation. Monroe’s power supply is diverse with nuclear, hydro, natural gas, and coal. Our usage from the these sources varies day to day but on an annual basis it is 70% non emitting with emitting sources coming mostly from natural gas.

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