Uniti Fiber snags new dark fiber deal with wireless operator, expands footprint in Iowa, Illinois

Cellular antennas on tower

Uniti Fiber won a big dark fiber deal serving a large wireless operator, prompting it to expand its reach in three markets in Southeast Iowa and the Central and Northern Illinois regions.

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As part of this build, Uniti Fiber will expand its existing networks in the Quad Cities/Davenport, Iowa area, as well as Peoria and Rockford, Illinois. The service provider will be extending dark fiber to 80 cell sites.

Greg Ortyl, SVP of sales at Uniti Fiber, told FierceTelecom that what’s unique about these network builds is that they are leveraging and extending existing fiber the company had in the ground.

“Illinois is one of our bigger little islands where we have 1,500 route miles of fiber in place between St. Louis and Chicago,” Ortyl said. “This was a great opportunity to densify in three – what we view – key markets in that footprint.”

Upon completion, this build will add 140 route miles of fiber across the affected areas.

“Peoria was a market where we built out that market back in the early days of Ethernet backhaul, so we had most of that fiber in place so there’s only about 15 route miles new we’ll put in that market,” Ortyl said. “It’s a big project that will probably take 14-18 months for us to complete, and it’s all 140 route miles will be Greenfield Uniti Fiber owned high strand count fiber.”

Uniti Fiber, which was formed from CS&L’s acquisitions of Tower Cloud and PEG Bandwidth, has served portions of Iowa and Illinois since 2011.

The service provider’s initial network footprint consisted of 90,000 fiber strand miles, supporting over 400 customer connections. Uniti Fiber is broadening their infrastructure to augment and expand its fiber density in these areas.

Ortyl said that while the initial focus is to fulfill the wireless operator customer, Uniti will look for other opportunities to attract other wireless carriers that have needs in these markets.

“There’s some great opportunities for us, not just carrier and enterprise, but also additional backhaul,” Ortyl said. “Just because we sold our anchor does not mean we can’t go and sell the other carriers dark fiber for small cells.”

Ortyl added that while small cell builds in these markets have not happened yet, Uniti will be ready.

“It’s not too prevalent in those markets of that size yet, but we anticipate within the next three to five years we’re going to start seeing significant densification of markets of that size and we’ll be well positioned to take advantage of that,” Ortyl said.

While the near-term focus is to satisfy its wireless operator customer, the investment in new dark fiber infrastructure will bolster Uniti’s capabilities to address additional business opportunities in growing industries like health care and K-12 education.

Under the revised FCC E-Rate rules, K-12 schools can now purchase dark fiber solutions. Ortyl said that it can tap into the sales experience in E-Rate and enterprise it gained when Unit Fiber predecessor company PEG Bandwidth purchased InLine in 2013.

“Legacy Tower Cloud brought some sales reps and the acquisition legacy PEG did of InLine had deep enterprise and E-Rate sales experience,” Ortyl said. “We’ll be looking to leverage those resources to duplicate those capabilities in markets where we win these metro networks.”

Unlike other dark fiber competitors such as Zayo, Uniti Fiber has carved a niche serving Tier 2 and rural markets where available dark and lit fiber options are often not readily available.

The company’s growing infrastructure spans 580,000+ fiber strand miles over a 19 state region, with local access to over 2,500 municipalities and dozens of utilities.