The Private Fiber Option

For home internet users with broadband connections, “high speed” service usually is considered a necessity. For most, going back to a dial-up connection over a conventional copper telephone line simply isn’t a consideration.

Indeed, many people do quite nicely with no internet connection.

Analyzing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data, Insight Research, a firm focusing exclusively on the telecommunications industry, reports in a study released in December 2009 that about 48 percent of the households in the U.S. do not have broadband service (the number includes those without an internet connection).

However, for many businesses, government agencies, educational institutions and other organizations, a high speed fiber network is not an option, it is essential. Yet there are many regions in America that do not have broadband access, and an increasing number of small communities recognize attracting new business is unlikely to succeed without access to broadband.

For several years, a solution for some has been a “private” fiber network often operated by municipalities or independent telephone companies, who seek assistance from firms who design the system, oversee its construction, and can manage its operation, depending on the level of involvement needed by the network owner.

The benefits of private networks are not limited to rural areas. Businesses and organizations in large cities often bypass major carriers in favor of a network that exactly suits their needs and has capacity for growth. For example, the DeKalb County school system in the Atlanta area and the Garland, TX, school system both operate private fiber networks that are 100 percent underground.

Cheaper and faster?
Several specialist companies are active in providing telecommunications services that fit the specific needs of their clients. They claim to be able to do so much faster and at less cost than incumbent carriers. Services provided include dark fiber connectivity, internet access and a variety of “lit” fiber services for transferring data quickly and securely to multiple locations.

There are three categories of systems that can be included in the “private” category, said Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research:

  • Point to point private line network connections (either copper or fiber);
  • Wavelength services; and
  • dark fiber.

“Point to point networks typically connect an organization’s offices and are fully managed by the provider,” Rosenberg said. “Wavelength services are a submarket of the point to point private line market in which the fiber owner sells capacity that can be defined by optical frequency band. Then there is dark fiber in which management of the fiber is taken over by the user of the fiber.”

Of these, Rosenberg said dark fiber, from a construction industry point of view, is most significant because the system owner lays its own fiber, lights it on both ends and manages their own network.

“Dark fiber” is fiber optic cable that is in place but unused and immediately available when additional capacity is needed.

“Dark fiber can give an organization control of costs as needs for its network escalate,@ said Larry Coleman, president of Sunesys LLC, a leading provider of high speed, dedicated fiber optic networks for businesses, colleges and universities, school districts and medical facilities that include managed wide area network (WAN) systems and dark fiber.

Dark fiber solutions from an independent company such as Sunesys offers benefits
a telephone company can’t match, said Coleman. They include:

  • A private fiber optic network with virtually unlimited throughput;
  • Fixed costs to keep expenses the same year after year regardless of the amount of speed added;
  • Dedicated building to building connectivity that is infinitely easier to maintain and monitor;
  • Unparalleled security because there is no shared infrastructure, switches or network electronics;
  • A converged wide area network that is ready for implementation of voice, video and data;
  • No frequent and costly moves, adds or changes inherent with doing business with a telephone company; and
  • A telecommunications partner answerable only to the client with customer support personnel who know the network inside and out.

Recent Sunesys projects include:

  • Designing, constructing and maintaining a physically diverse, 8 strand fiber optic WAN (wide area network) to connect a new administration building and data center for NutriSystem, a leading provider of weight management, fitness products and services;
  • Cisco Systems and Dimension Data, redesigned Cooper University Hospital’s metropolitan area network (MAN) to achieve 100 percent redundancy, scale bandwidth and reduce complexity by eliminating a complex protocol (migrated from ATM to Gigabit Ethernet);
  • Built and maintaining a fiber optic MAN for the Philadelphia School District providing connectivity through four core rings between 22 sites with point to point spurs to the more than 270 other facilities in the nation’s seventh largest school district; and
  • A 20 year partnership with Northwestern University to build and support a fully redundant fiber optic ring interconnecting the University’s suburban Evanston, IL, campus and its downtown Chicago campus networks at multiple locations. The intersection point will be the world renowned StarLight facility, an advanced international network exchange funded by the National Science Foundation and located on Northwestern’s downtown Chicago campus.

For contractors experienced in telecom construction, private network projects can represent substantial work. Depending on system requirements and design, much or all of the outside plant may call for underground construction.

Companies that design and build dark fiber and other private networks generally subcontract construction of the system, often providing opportunities for experienced horizontal directional drilling contractors. To be considered for these projects, companies must have experience in telecom construction and a record of successful projects without problems.

“For Sunesys projects,” Coleman said, “we do most of the design, access right of ways, determine whether outside plant is aerial or underground, and specify the duct size, cable size and type, and methods of construction.”

Underground trend
In terms of route miles, he said most plant is aerial, but the decision depends on site conditions on each project.

“Typically,” Coleman said, “underground segments are in central business districts, highway and water crossings, or for other factors that make underground more economical than aerial.”

However, Coleman said the percentage of plant going underground is increasing.

“It’s not necessarily because of regulatory requirements, but more often is driven by the customer,” he explained. “We are finding, also, that some poles are so laden with other cable that it is more cost effective to go underground.”

Underground portions of Sunesys projects usually are completed by open cut or horizontal directional drilling. Sunesys is evaluating Quanta’s patent pending microtrenching process to reduce costs and simplify deployments.

Sunesys’ parent company is Quanta Services, and other Quanta companies experienced in telecommunications often build Sunesys systems. However, if a Quanta company is not in the area of a project or is not available, Sunesys uses other qualified contractors.

Coleman said the current recession has had little effect on demand for Sunesys services.

“It slowed for a brief period, but has picked up again,” he said.

Insight Research, (973) 541-9600,
Sunesys, (267) 927 2000,

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