Cincinnati Bell sees new dark fiber opportunities with large enterprises, wireless operators

Cincinnati Bell traditionally shied away from offering a dark fiber, but having built out fiber to serve its consumer and business units it sees it as a part of its service evolution.

Driven by a host of wireless backhaul and even enterprise opportunities, the telco recognizes the growing surge of interest in dark fiber and has been conducting installations with a number of its customers. 

Gary Peddicord, managing director for business and carrier market operations for Cincinnati Bell, told FierceInstaller that the dark fiber trend is nothing new for the telco. However, it is willing to offer the service to enterprise and carrier customers after it creates a sound business case.

"In the past we've been like the traditional ILECs in that we were not eager to offer dark fiber," Peddicord said. "We changed somewhat in the last few years and are more open to those opportunities, so the big change is we're open to look at those through the normal due dligience business case. And if it makes good sense for us and our partner, that's something we're willing to pursue."

While Verizon Wireless' stance as an advocate of dark fiber for wireless backhaul is well known, Cincinnati Bell found that the service is also resonating with large businesses. These businesses can use the dark fiber connection to extend their presence in harder to reach areas, while controlling their own service and provisioning destiny.

"The type of activity we see are for large entities -- at least in the near-term -- and they are pursuing dark fiber because they want to operate their own networks and they think that they have the expertise to manage a network," Peddicord said. "They are doing it for the obvious reasons: It provides some flexibility to manage the bandwidth requirements that they have and, to some degree, to control costs."

Alternatively, small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) haven't taken advantage of dark fiber yet.

"At some of the medium-sized companies there's some talk, but there's not a whole lot of serious activity," Peddicord said. "It's all large companies or someone who thinks they have the expertise and scope to manage a network." 

The service provider has found in some cases that some customers that initially ask for dark fiber also end up talking to them about various managed services.

This includes everything from traditional managed services like Ethernet, network integration and service provisioning.

"We're a service oriented company, so in a general sense some people reject dark fiber because it's not what they want to get into using," Peddicord said. "As we go down the path with some of them, they get into a managed service and that is a way to tack on and to add a little bit of probability and some margin to the project."

Like other service providers, Cincinnati Bell is also seeing interest in dark fiber from wireless operators. Cincinnati Bell may have sold off its wireless business last year to Verizon, but the telco retained wireless engineering talent that it can use to apply to wireless backhaul contracts. 

Service provisioning and management, in particular, has become something that Cincinnati Bell's wireless backhaul customers have cited as a particular strong suit.

"We're not the construction company, but they know that we do construction to provision facilities for services that we want to sell," Peddicord said. "In our case, we're getting opportunities because we have been told by our carrier customers that we're one of the best, if not the best, ILEC that they deal with as far as performance in provisioning services."

Dark fiber could also be used a means to serve multiple in-region and potentially out-of-region opportunities with multi-site businesses and wholesale services it sells to carriers, particularly wireless operators. Stopping short of revealing any specific plans, Cincinnati Bell said it is in a good position to develop such a product offering.

Several other large ILECs like AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon have shied away from offering dark fiber as a formal product, but if they do decide to offer it, Cincinnati Bell said it will be ready to respond.

"There are several other carriers that have a different view of the world in that they don't believe dark fiber is the way to go, but that could change," Peddicord said. "If it does we should be in pretty good shape to vie for that business."

One of the other potential side effects of growing the dark fiber is that Cincinnati Bell would be able to serve other businesses, data centers and wireless tower opportunities that lie along the path of where it is rolling out the service.

"As we build some of this out, the infrastructure is there. As we're passing businesses, towers and data centers, that would at least give the opportunity to generate new revenue and broaden the customer base as we do that kind of work," Peddicord said.

Business services continue to be a big seller for Cincinnati Bell. 

During the second quarter, the service provider won a number of VoIP contracts with the State of Indiana and the State of Kentucky -- and a large enterprise customer. Customers like these could also be prime targets for a dark fiber service in that they could gain greater control over how they manage their services for their locations.

From an out-of-region perspective, the service provider won't consider offering dark fiber until it feels comfortable it has the right processes in place for opportunities it is addressing within its current region.

"We're trying to take the projects we're working on here, refine the process. And I kind of see the out-of-region as a much bigger project, so we want to make sure we have our ducks in a row before we venture out. But we're not opposed to it," Peddicord said. "What we would do is just use the same criteria that we would use today to prove an in-region project, and it would be a matter of scalability. As long as the numbers prove out for both parties, we're not opposed to doing it."

However, Peddicord added the company is "not actively pursuing it at this moment."

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