Montana District Implements Fiber-Based Passive Optical Network

Montana District Implements Fiber-Based Passive Optical Network

Billings is the largest city in the state of Montana and continues to experience growth thanks to a diverse economy. Billings Public Schools serves approximately 16,000 students and manages one of the largest computer networks in the state of Montana.

The Billings Public Schools technology department was tasked with upgrading the existing network infrastructure throughout the district’s 22 elementary school sites. Outlined in the district’s five-year-plan is the Billings Public Schools Technology Plan, which includes mandates for:

• Providing teachers with current technologies, training and support.

• Creating opportunities for students to become active participants in their own learning.

• Using technology as a tool to improve the education of their students to prepare them to become future leaders in the global community.

“A bond was passed that included an allocation for technology upgrades,” said Larry Bybee, Network Manager, Billings Public Schools. “We wanted to rewire our elementary schools because they were running on old, failing copper wire.”

Bybee initially set out to implement the large-scale project using a traditional infrastructure based on copper wiring, but soon realized the bond wouldn’t cover the costs.

“As we started to research the project, we realized we couldn’t upgrade all of the schools because the cost to rewire them all was too great,” Bybee said. “Then our technology consultant, Kris Good of the CTA Architects Engineers, suggested we check out GPON.”

GPON, or Gigabit Passive Optical Network, is a fiberbased solution that has several advantages over traditional copper-based implementations, including:

• Decreased power consumption

• Faster time to implement

• More cost effective

• Minimal space requirements

• Easier to install

• Fewer system disruptions post-installation

Bybee worked with Kyle Brucker, Director of Technology, Billings Public Schools, to draft a proposal for the Billings school board outlining their plan to implement GPON at a single school site. Arrowhead Elementary would act as a test case before a full-scale rollout across all 22 campuses in the Billings Public Schools district. Ultimately, the success of that initial test site resulted in a district-wide rollout plan at the elementary school level.

Initial estimates to deploy a traditional category 6 copper-based solution came in at $205,000, for a single school site, McKinley Elementary School. In contrast, the GPON installation using Zhone Technologies access equipment cost approximately $65,000, for a savings of $140,000. Using that cost basis as an estimate, Billings Public Schools saved approximately 3 million dollars in total by upgrading all its school sites with a fiber-based LAN system.

The Billings Public Schools deployment is based on Zhone Technologies’ GPON platform, with Zhone’s zNID 2624P and 2608T indoor GPON Optical Network Terminals (ONT) at the foundation of the implementation. These four-port and eight-port ONTs have unique configurations that support the various video, data and other Internet

services the Billings Public Schools population requires.

Zhone’s zNID 2624P and 2608T GPON ONTs are unobtrusive and smaller — about the size of a notebook — than traditional telecommunications equipment. The Billings implementation included installing ONTs in classrooms and administrative offices, and require a single telecommunications closet per school site.

The flexibility of Zhone’s GPON solution enables teachers to be more self- sufficient in the classroom. Live jacks were installed in multiple locations in each classroom. This allows teachers, who frequently reconfigure their classrooms during the year, to pick up and move their ONT and their desk to another area in the classroom without having to call in a technician for assistance.

“One of the biggest compliments we can give Zhone’s GPON solution is that since the rollout, teachers haven’t complained about the network and the tech support they require has dropped off to almost nothing,” Brucker said.

“At one point, we anticipated having to add headcount to our IT team to service our elementary schools’ networks,” said Brucker. “We were pleased to discover that GPON is so reliable, we don’t have to add another network expert, which is a cost savings of nearly $100,000 per year.”

The technology team realized further economic advantages by receiving funds from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries (E-rate) program.

“The E-rate program allowed us to stretch our bond dollars even further,” said Brucker. “But, ultimately, it was the cost savings advantages of Zhone’s GPON technology that will allow us to upgrade all 22 elementary schools within our district by 2017.”