That Old Dark Fiber Has a Lot of People in Its Spell

Carl Weinschenk
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10 Myths About Virtual Mobile Infrastructure

Dark fiber – fiber that has been deployed but is not being used – abounds. It is an increasingly valuable commodity. According to FierceTelecom’s Sean Buckley, much fiber was deployed – and ultimately abandoned – during the .com age. It still is there and, he writes, is “clearly back in telecom style.”

It is a complex topic. Its use is often a product of who controls it:

Dark fiber comes in two forms: unused fiber cable from excess lines and purpose-built dark fiber networks and routes. That sounds straightforward. However, dark fiber is a divisive issue. A group of newer fiber-focused providers and some regional cable operators, including Summit IG, Fatbeam, Axiom, Cross River, Cleareon, Cross River Fiber, Wilcon and USA Fiber, are differentiating themselves by bypassing legacy network route choke points.

The fiber is seen as a potent tool for mobile backhaul, bypassing chokepoints in the network and other important tasks. The questions seem to focus on what incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) will offer to competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs). The bottom line is that there is a lot of jockeying and competition.

Frost & Sullivan recently released research on what it sees as the resurgence of dark fiber. It says that the attraction is that it provides flexibility in network configuration, an abundance of dedicated bandwidth, low latency and, “most importantly, full control over their network.”

The study also looks at the negatives, which include high expense and operational complexity. The balance leans toward the positive, and new companies have entered the arena. The segment seems to be more refined than it was back in the (telecom) day:

These new ‘pure play’ providers deploy fiber networks in specific metro or regional areas; but, unlike Network Service Providers (NSPs), they generally do not make the same investment in networking equipment to manage the network, or operating and billing systems to manage customer accounts. They merely lease the physical plant to customers. Several vertical customer segments—including mobile network operators (MNO) for small cell backhaul, education and government vertical clients to fulfill bandwidth demand, financial services clients for low latency trading networks—are driving demand.

Not all the projects involve fiber left over from the last decade or so. Valparaiso is set to offer dark fiber to businesses later this year, according to The Indiana city’s Redevelopment Commission is laying fiber in a loop around businesses. They will be able to connect “at a reasonable cost,” according to the story.

The bottom line is that fiber is a vital resource. Many companies went through a good deal of pain when the fiber deployed was not used. That is old news. The new news is that old dark fiber – and new fiber deployed in anticipation of gaining tenants – again has a lot of people in its spell.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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