Raleigh and parts of the Triangle won’t have to wait for Google Fiber in order to receive ultra-fast Internet service as well as an alternative to cable and phone company-delivered TV services.

RST Fiber, a company based in Shelby N.C., plans to offer Internet service to homes at gigabit speeds as well as ala carte TV services and super high definition video in the Raleigh area within the next 60 days.

Internet service to homes will be priced at $99 a month.

TV and other service pricing details are being worked out as the company signs deals with content providers.

While Google Fiber considers building a gigabit network in the Triangle and plans proceed for a North Carolina Next Generation Network as sought by local governments and universities, RST says its statewide fiber optic network is now operational.

Raleigh will be one of its first service areas, following deployment over the next month in south Charlotte. Asheville will receive service about the same time as Raleigh, according to RST Fiber co-founder and CEO Dan Limerick. Some ares of the Triangle outside of Raleigh also will be linked to the RST network, but Limerick did not specify locations.

“The 5G network is here,” Limerick said joyfully in an interview Monday. “This network will enable the Internet of Everything.”

The latest wireless technology is described as “4G.” Limerick pointed out that the RST network provides high-speed Internet as well as a variety of other services and ultra-fast WiFi wireless connectivity from network nodes into homes.

The Internet of Everything

John Chambers, chairman and CEO of network giant Cisco Systems, helped coin the Internet of Everything term, which includes all so-called smart devices, from phones to TVs to thermostats, that include Internet addresses and can be controlled over networks. Chambers has described the Internet of Everything as a $19 trillion business opportunity.

RST, which is privately held, utilizes Cisco technology to operate its network. Limerick expects the network to support telemedicine, online education and a wide variety of other services that can benefit from faster connectivity.

The company also is using the latest Internet address technology, called IPV6, which offers more security and the capacity to support what Cisco forecasts will be billions of Internet devices.

RST’s network stretches from the coast to mountains and covers some 3,100 miles, thus making North Carolina a “gigabit state,” Limerick said. “It’s the first such statewide network that we know of,” he added.

Linerick won’t discuss how much the network has cost to build to this point other than to say he and his partners have invested “tens of millions of dollars” in their own money.

Other fiber-optic networks exist, generally in so-called rings around cities or neighborhoods, and Time Warner Cable has a multi-state fiber network backbone. However, RST is promising to deliver what other networks do not:

  • Internet into the homes at gigabit speeds 
  • TV services based on an ala carte menu rather than packages
  • Uncompressed video, including so-called 4K which is nearly four times the resolution of standard high definition

A gigabit in speed would be about 100 times faster than a standard cable Internet connection, according to Google. Citing a 2013 industry study, Google says “the average American only experiences speeds of 9.8 [megabits per second], while Google Fiber offers up to 1,000 Mb/sec download and upload.”

Leveraging North Carolina Research and Education Network

North Carolina’s first state-wide fiber backbone network went live in 2013 – the North Carolina Research and Education Network. Called the Golden LEAF Rural broadband Initiative and funded in part by the Golden LEAF economic group as well as federal funds, NCREN is run by MCNC and is for non-commercial use. The network cost some $140 million.

However, MCNC does lease so-called “dark” fiber to commercial providers such as RST, and much of the Shelby-based network utilizes the NCREN backbone.

Joe Freddoso, CEO at MCNC, is very familiar with the RST network and said that businesses as well as consumers will have access to a wide variety of services.

“RST has a fiber footprint that traverses the state, through their own investments/fiber builds and through their lease of fiber on the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative (GLRBI) footprint. RST, with Cisco’s help in providing optical gear, now has a plan to put its fiber into service and beginning to offer fiber-to-the-premise speeds, video and other services to consumers and businesses across the state,” Freddoso told WRALTechWire.

“In addition they will offer wholesale bandwidth services to [other providers] statewide.”

Reaching Rural Areas, More Choice Are Motivators

RST launched in 2010 and has constructed some of its own fiber while leasing from other providers. Limerick said the company launched with the purpose of bringing high-speed Internet and related services to rural areas that have been bypassed.

“This is not about making money, although we expect to make money,”Limerick said.

Another driver is the ability to deliver TV and entertainment geared to consumer’s wishes rather than through packages as offered by such companies as Time Warner Cable and U-verse from AT&T.

“Why would I ever want 250 channels,” Limerick said. “We want people to pick what they really want for news, entertainment and sports.”

RST also wanted to build a network on the IPV6 technology in order to support more rapid growth and use of Internet devices, he added.

Over time, Limerick said, the company will expand to “middle mile” offerings – extension of the fiber backbone into communities and neighborhoods. The “last mile” to consumers will be WiFi.

Business connectivity also will be offered, but each package will be priced individually based on distance from fiber hubs and expected demand, Limerick added.

A Payoff for MCNC’s Network Bet

Freddoso said RST’s commitment to rural areas is a payoff on the bet MCNC placed in expanding NCREN access to all 100 of the state’s counties.

“This is the type of activity MCNC contemplated in the commercial sector when we built the BTOP [federal Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program] funded GLRBI,” he explained. “A private sector, for-profit carrier using the network to offer high bandwidth services in areas of the state that would not see these services for generations if not for the MCNC investments and work.

“We are seeing more high bandwidth offerings in more places in the state because of the GLRBI. RST’s fiber around the state and now their detailed plans to light this fiber is evidence that the GLRBI/BTOP investment is beginning to pay dividends.”

Limerick launched RST along with Doug Brown and Randy Revels. All are natives of Cleveland County, where Shelby is located. Revels is a long-time Time Warner Cable engineer who designed the RST network and serves as the company’s chief technology officer.