WaveLengths – Hunter, please tell me about Allied Fiber, what it does, and the customers it serves.
Hunter – We are essentially in the real estate business. We negotiate rights-of-ways for vast tracks of land. Then we install dark fiber through those rights-of-ways and lease it to content providers. We also lease space for their equipment within our own buildings.
WaveLengths – You refer to your customers as “content providers.” Can you be more specific?
Hunter – Content providers deliver services or “content” that goes beyond voice calls, fax transmissions and other basic services. We provide direct, physical layer access points for commercial networks, educational and government facilities, mobile networks, data centers, Internet service providers and more.
WaveLengths – Do you feel the range of services offered by content providers will continue to expand?
Hunter – Content providers have become arguably one of the more important pieces of the telecom puzzle. They are rapidly migrating to next-generation networks to meet customers’ insatiable demand for reliable broadband services over any device,
anytime, anywhere. That is where we come in.
Our dark fiber enables content providers to add value to the standard service offerings they provide to customers and it spurs consumers to engage with technology more frequently. This, in turn, enables network operators to enhance revenue. Everyone wins.
WaveLengths – When was Allied Fiber founded?
Hunter – I founded Allied Fiber in 2008 to create an integrated neutral colocation and dark fiber ring around the U.S. The fiber ring will link the submarine cable landing regions, providing a faster, cost-efficient and more reliable way to provide access to the Internet for consumers throughout the United States.
We achieve this by securing rights-of-way, procuring and also installing duct in the RoW. We then install our own fiber and modular colocation facilities, establishing a physical fiber presence within the major carrier hotels, data centers and submarine cable landing stations.
We provide local access through handhole splice points located all along the fiber route. These access points allow for mobile and fixed line local networks to meet content providers like Google out on the edge. Our colocation facilities enable direct connections between networks present in them, which eliminates the need for local carrier loops. Local loops have become bandwidth bottlenecks in cities and towns across the nation.
WaveLengths – What is your definition of Dark Fiber?
Hunter - Dark fiber is fiber that isn’t lit. There are no lasers injecting light into the fiber, which is required to transport data via optical signals.
Technically, unlit fiber sitting on a spool in a warehouse is dark fiber. However, that fiber is of little value to anyone unless network operators can access it. Before that happens, rights-of-way have to be negotiated, construction permits obtained, and the fiber has to be installed. That’s what we do. And once all that work is done, dark fiber becomes a financial asset for our company, and a valuable resource for customers who lease it from us.
We buy our fiber from Corning and install it in underground conduits, or ducts. Dark fiber can be installed along railbeds, tunnels, highway meridians, and so forth. Transportation corridors are excellent thoroughfares for dark fiber.
WaveLengths – Why is there so much interest in dark fiber these days?
Hunter – Demand for broadband services is exploding and communities have come to realize that they can’t wait for their local telecom company to meet these needs. Local carriers are just not upgrading their network infrastructure or increasing bandwidth capacity fast enough.Again, these so-called “local loops,” also known as backhaul, have become the nation’s broadband bottlenecks. Access to dark fiber and neutral colocation provides an answer.
WaveLengths – Isn’t there still some dark fiber left around from the 1990s that isn’t being used?
Hunter – Telecom companies own a lot of that dark fiber and don’t want to sell or lease it to potential competitors. This is the primary issue. Beyond that, even if a carrier were willing to lease some of its dark fiber there are numerous limits placed on the buyers. Fiber age, type, availability, mid span access, and route diversity are a few of the factors that need to be considered. Also, many of these old, long haul dark fiber routes contain low-count fiber optic cable and their capacity is far short of what is needed by business and industry today. In contrast, our long haul dark fiber cable has 528 fibers and we are exploring ways to add more in future builds as the need arises.
By the way, all of our customers own their own network equipment which they attach to our fiber.This is huge because it enables them to upgrade their equipment whenever it suits them. They don’t have to wait months or years for a local telecom carrier to do it.
WaveLengths – Is Allied Fiber competing against local telecoms?
Hunter – Absolutely not! That’s the single most important thing I want people to understand. Allied Fiber is not a local access provider. We’re in the real estate business, that’s all that we do. We simply negotiate land rights to bring high capacity fiber to, through, and near cities and towns. Who chooses to use that fiber, for whatever purpose, is entirely up to them. If incumbent carriers want to use our dark fiber we are happy to provide it to them. If their potential competitors want to lease our fiber, that is OK too.
The world is changing. Telecoms can’t expect to remain the sole service provider forever. Look at what happened to Bell Telephone.
WaveLengths – Are there other companies besides Allied Fiber that are installing dark fiber networks?
Hunter – Yes, and I know most of the owners of these companies. We all share the same vision, which is to provide the United States with the high-speed broadband superstructure that it needs. Currently, 28 countries do a better job of providing their citizens with access to high speed broadband. Our goal is to make the U.S. number one.
WaveLengths – More and more companies and institutions are using private datacom networks.Is dark fiber being used to build these networks?
Hunter – Absolutely. For one thing, dark fiber offers customers an alternative to communicating over the public Internet, which is subject to hacking, unreliable service and slow transmission speeds. Private networks are faster, reliable and more secure.
WaveLengths – Do customers wishing to switch from the public Internet to a private network need to change their operating system or procedures?
Hunter – No. The process couldn’t be easier. All they have to do is obtain Private IP addresses for their network equipment.Most enterprises today already communicate via Internet Protocol, which is the set of rules that computers use to talk to one another. To create a private network, they simply need to switch from using publicly announced IP addresses to Private IP addresses.
Private IP networks are more secure because computers outside the network can’t connect directly to them. If desired, data encryption can provide an additional layer of security.
Also, private networks offer huge advantages in terms of speed and reliability. For example, on the public Internet, a lot of data gets queued while waiting for other Internet traffic to go by. If bandwidth demand is high at any given time, it slows things down even more. Owning your own fiber is like putting your data in the express lane. You are not affected by any of this.
There is another big advantage of using private networks. Research facilities can interconnect individual computers to create a giant distributed computing system. Grid Computing represents a growing trend.
Besides Private IP, customers can use other communication protocols if they wish. It’s entirely up to them.
Hunter Newby is the CEO of Allied Fiber, which is the first national, open access, integrated, network-neutral co-location and dark fiber superstructure in the United States. Hunter established Allied Fiber in 2008 with the goal of creating a “ring” of dark fiber around the country in order to help facilitate open-access, lower cost, and faster network interconnections for consumers and businesses with higher bandwidth capabilities. He is also a published thought leader/telecom expert, and has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Benzinga, FierceTelecom, The Verge and The Deal.
WaveLengths – Do you multiplex customers together over the same fiber?
Hunter – No, every customer gets their own fiber to do with as they wish. Now, if they want to multiplex their own fiber, they can certainly do that. That can enable them to run hundreds or even thousands of applications simultaneously over a single fiber, which is extremely cost efficient.
WaveLengths – How do customers connect to your system?
Hunter – We’ve made that easy as well. Our dark fiber spans entire states and we encourage all network operators along the way to build into our system. One way to connect to us is through our colocation facilities, which are located approximately every 60 miles along the fiber route.
Besides serving as a connection point, our colocation facilities are our own modular buildings and they provide a secure environment where our long haul customers can house their signal amplifiers and regeneration equipment. Also, our local access customers can use these facilities to house their access and core transport and routing equipment. Just as customers can lease fiber from us, they can lease rack space within our colo facilities.
Customers can also connect to us through hand holes which we have located every three to five thousand feet. We can also facilitate the building of lateral fiber optic feeds that extend out from our main fiber core to fiber hubs within communities. Or we can extend fiber directly to data centers and other facilities that require high capacity feeds.
WaveLengths – What are some of the terms of a typical lease agreement?
Hunter – Our lease terms are very flexible. For fiber, we sell predominantly 20 year IRUs (Indefeasible Rights of Use). We also offer a monthly recurring lease. We typically lease fibers in pairs of two, four or six fibers.For rack space in our colo buildings, we offer 1 to 5 year leases, or more. Anyone can go to our website and see who our customers are and the types of terms we have entered into.
WaveLengths – I’ve been hearing a lot about Municipal Broadband, both pro and con. Does it make sense for cities to install and operate their own broadband networks?
Hunter – Municipal broadband can be a perilous, slippery slope for a lot of communities. It’s difficult enough running a city government, let alone trying to run a broadband network on top of that. The cities that have had the most success with this are those that provide rights of way and lease dark fiber to network operators. This is similar to what we are doing on a national scale.
WaveLengths – Do you serve municipalities?
Hunter – Yes, certainly. For example, the city of Palm Coast in Florida has interconnected their municipal dark fiber network to the Allied Fiber system. To use an analogy, we are the bridge and they are an island. A lateral fiber link between us takes them over to the bridge to our core, long haul fiber, which is like a super-fast data highway.
Wavelengths – On a map at your website, I see that a big ring has been drawn around the United States. Is that the actual geographic scope of your projects or is that your plan?
Hunter – It’s a combination of both. That ring is actually 15,000 route miles long and represents our ultimate goal, which is to encompass the entire country with our integrated neutral colocation and dark fiber network.We are in the initial stages of that buildout. Right now, we go all the way through the state of Florida, from Miami to Jacksonville and through Georgia to Atlanta.Everything that we’ve done in Florida and Georgia is exactly the same thing that we’re doing every place we go. We have a proven proof of concept and a business model that replicates and scales.
Currently, we have 440,000 fiber miles in the ground and 11 of our own modular, neutral colocation buildings installed and operational. We have also secured rights-of-way that extend beyond our current fiber installations.
WaveLengths – How do you decide where your next dark fiber installation will be?
Hunter – Generally, we look for locations that have submarine landing points and major carrier hotels. We also put a survey on our website for the whole industry to see. The survey asks potential customers where they would like us to go. If the locations they suggest look promising, we reach out to interested parties to determine their specific needs. We inquire about fiber count, number of colos they need, how much rack space, and so forth. We then provide proposals that include pricing based on rates per fiber mile.
WaveLengths – Allied Fiber is in the news a lot. You seem be the principal spokesperson for the dark fiber industry. Would you agree?
Hunter – In many regards, yes.Allied Fiber does a lot to educate others about dark fiber, so people naturally turn to us for information.
For example, we have created the Dark Fiber Community (DFC), an information resource for our industry. I started the DFC about six years ago when a lot of folks were asking me about the equipment required to light fiber and what my vendor recommendations were. To facilitate their inquiries, I decided to put everything they needed to know on a dedicated website. We listed all of the qualified contractors and equipment vendors that we know and provided contact information. The DFC now has grown to about 350 members.
Also, the website breaks down the equipment and installation processes into categories and explains how everything interrelates. This cuts through about 80% of the effort that would normally be required if people had to do all of this research on their own.
Another reason people turn to Allied Fiber for answers is that we are the only place where they can actually “test drive” a dark fiber network. We call it the Technology Showcase. We let hardware vendors install their equipment in our system and then jointly offer that to our mutual customers to try. If they like what they see, we will hand them the keys to a system that is installed and running.
Wavelengths – Hunter, you did a great job of explaining the current demand for dark fiber. What’s on the horizon?
Hunter – 5G wireless is coming, which will be leaps and bounds above current wireless technologies as far as speed and bandwidth capacity is concerned.Then there’s small cells, DAS, Internet of Things and so forth.Microwave links will continue to be pushed out to areas where fiber is not economically feasible. As the national, neutral fiber footprint continues to organically grow, each new step becomes incremental until only the most difficult locations remain. These will be microwave fed and fiber will provide the backhaul solution for everything else.
There’s a necessity for new fiber networks to be built throughout the country. Long haul, short haul, metro and regional, these dark fiber networks all have to be built.And it all has to be independent of local carrier loops in order to maintain the speed, performance and bandwidth capacity required of today’s applications.
We’ve moved from the agricultural age to the industrial age. Now we are moving to a true digital economy. These new networks are vital to kick start GDP growth and to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
WaveLengths – Hunter, thank you for explaining to our readers what dark fiber is all about. It looks like this will be a game changer for our industry and the nation at large. I look forward to more conversation and seeing how this all turns out.
Hunter – Thank you Charlie. Yes, let’s definitely keep in touch.
Allied Fiber offers a comprehensive manual about dark fiber on their website. It’s available for download at www.alliedfiber.com.