Mobile Operators Want their Ethernet over Fiber

A new telecom paradigm is on the verge of becoming reality. Not a disruptive technology, not the right brain flash of a new radical idea – rather it is a logical development of existing infrastructure using better operational execution. It is an acknowledgement of fiber optic infrastructure as an inherent requirement in the development of the 4th utility – broadband Internet, compute capacity, and storage as a basic right for all Americans.

The “utility” label has merit. Just as we need roads, water, and electricity to function in the modern world, we need communications. Much like the roads, electrical distribution, and water distribution systems crossing North America, the communications infrastructure follows a similar matrix of hubs, spokes, loops, and major exchange points interconnecting every square mile of the continent. The matrix includes a well-interconnected mixture of fiber optic cable, wireless, cable TV, copper telephone lines, and even satellite connections.

However, the arteries of this telecom circulatory system remain fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cable allows tremendous densities of communication, information, and data to travel across the street, or across the continent. Fiber goes north and south, east and west, connecting everything from wireless towers, satellite earth stations, collocation and hosting centers, communication carriers, Internet Service Providers, and end users to each other on a global scale.

Geography of the 4th Utility

Let’s take a deeper look at this circulatory system in geographic terms. When looking at a US map, latitude lines run horizontally, parallel to each other based on degrees north or south of the equator. The northern 40th parallel runs from Northern California to New Jersey, hitting parts of 12 states along its path. If we look at the US Interstate Highway system you will see some of the longer “arteries” stretch from the West Coast to the East Coast, such as interstate highway 10, running 2460 miles, hitting 8 states from California to Florida, and 35 major cities.

In addition, I-10 intersects with 45 other interstate highway junctions, and has several thousand entry and exit points serving both major cities and rural locations along the route. If you dig into the electrical grid you will find a similar mesh of interconnections, nodes, and relationships originating at power plants, and ending at the utility outlet in a bedroom or office.

The fiber optic system follows a similar model. The east-west and north-south routes follow the interstate highway system, rail system, and electrical grid – taking advantage of rights-of-way and interconnect nodes all along the route. The routes are generally shared by several different fiber optic providers and carriers, further extending their reach by collocating fiber at major carrier hotels along the coast, such as 60 Hudson in New York, the Westin Building in Seattle, NAP (network access point) of the Americas in Miami, and One Wilshire in Los Angeles, where they splice their fiber with major intercontinental submarine fiber optic systems.

Within North America further domestic interconnections are provided at each major city junction point throughout the country reinforcing the mesh of fiber networks in cities such as Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Dallas, Omaha, and Minneapolis.

The Local Value of a Global Fiber Optic Circulatory System

All this fiber is of little value if its utility does not reach every potential end user in America, or around the world. Much like the interstate highway system sporting several thousand access points and exits, the new fiber optic backbone will support fiber optic connections to every end user in the country, or push wireless broadband to every other addressable mobile and rural user. In the new world, the utility does not end at a wall outlet, but ends wherever the user is located. And that mobility is a local challenge.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber, an emerging fiber utility provider in the United States, advises that “It’s all about fiber…to the tower. For that component the long haul (fiber routes) is just how we get out there and back.” So while we may be able to analogize fiber routes with cities and interconnection points with the idea of a system starting at the driveway in a house to the East Los Angeles interchange and I-10, the wireless towers provide an undefined end point to the telecom grid that is unique.

The main difference discriminating the road system and electrical grid from the fiber grid are that in the telecom industry each route has many competing commercial providers. By definition, competition is not neutral. And if not neutral, it is not a utility, and cannot be expected to provide service in a location (or market) that will not be of financial advantage to the service provider – resulting in locations potentially stranded from the infrastructure.

Is this Really Different than the Existing Telecom Infrastructure?

Newby continues “The truth is that it’s the fiber that binds. Our route and its design is unique to today’s needs, unlike the design and needs of the cables from 10+ years ago. There are no neutral colos on those cables every 60 miles. There are also no FTTT (fiber to the tower) ducts (supporting) a separate fiber cable with handholes every 3000 ft on those systems.”

Following telecom deregulation in the United States, companies such as AT&T are no longer monopolies, with infrastructure development based on economic factors. If Carp, Minnesota (population ~100) does not offer sufficient economic incentive for AT&T to build broadband infrastructure, then it is unlikely to happen. Unless broadband is available through wireless networks, connecting to a broadband fiber backbone, and the rest of the world.

With companies such as Allied Fiber entering the market, access to the east-west, north-south routes will include a truly neutral alternative to the private road system of the existing telecom carriers. The long haul fiber routes will connect to regional neutral fiber routes, such as provided by companies such as Fiberlight in the eastern United States, and even more importantly provide both access to towers and interconnections at least every 60 miles (or more often) along the route.

That is because the long haul utility cable system will need to regenerate their signals at 60 miles points, offering a location for towers and regional fiber providers additional local access to supplement the carrier hotels and collocation facilities located at major junction or interconnection points. And financial incentives are available to companies through programs such as the Rural Development Telecommunications Program (RDTA) supporting the US government’s 4th utility Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP).

Hunter Newby brings evangelism to his vision.   

“Add to that the neutral colos allow the rural wireline and wireless carriers to colocate locally – in their county, or closeby by using the short haul duct to get to the closest AF colo – and in those locations they can buy high capacity transport and transit at wholesale rates from the large US and international carriers coming through. Right there! Wholesale! The rural carriers don’t even have to lease dark from us to get to the big cities/carrier hotels if they don’t want to or can’t afford to yet.

The ability to gain access to the power of the major US carrier hotels, but not have to actually get to them is the next frontier in the US.”

The 4th Utility is an American Entitlement
Newby concludes “The fiber laterals will all be built to us (the long haul neutral fiber providers). The tower companies won’t build them, but there are several transport providers that will. The mobile operators want their Ethernet over fiber.” Fiber that connects them to the content and people available on a global network-connected community. Broadband access that allows Americans to function in a global community.

Those wireless companies, whether mobile operators offering LTE/4G services, or WiFi providers offering a local competitive service, will pay the same tariff to connect to the neutral towers and fiber systems without prejudice. Just like an electrical utility doesn’t care if the outlet is supporting a private individual’s television set, a small storefront business’s display case, or an aircraft assembly plant, the only discriminating issue is in volume and required capacity.

A utility. Broadband access is now an expected utility – not a value-added service, available to all, but rather as an entitlement to living in America.

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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