Tower Cloud begins 1,300 mile Florida dark fiber build for Tier 1 wireless operator, ramps up installation services

Tower Cloud has begun the installation of a 1,300 mile dark fiber network in Florida, one that will serve one of the top U.S. wireless operators.

Upon completion of this network build, Tower Cloud will expand to over 6,800 route miles of fiber installed. The network expansion, which will serve 56 cities including the 10 largest metro areas, includes more than 150,000 fiber miles serving wireless operators, carriers, enterprises and data centers throughout the region.

This deployment will address a mix of macro and small cell wireless backhaul deployments and is part of a broader effort to grow its Southeast fiber network.

"This network expansion, which includes 1,300 route miles and 150,000 fiber miles, will cover Jacksonville down to the Eastern seaboard towards Melbourne and the space coast and back up to Orlando and a diverse path to Jacksonville," said George Townsend, senior VP of business development for Tower Cloud, in an interview with FierceInstaller. "We believe this gives us the penetration to reach at least 354 cell sites that are under contract with fiber to the tower with a dark fiber presence."

Small cell continues to be another growing area for Tower Cloud. Now that the hype around small cells has died down, Townsend said that it is "getting some small cell awards today and we're beginning to build out some larger-scale projects."

Within the small cell segment, it began with fronthaul and backhaul services, but like Zayo and Unite Private Networks (UPN), Tower Cloud is offering turnkey services such as site acquisition, installation, permitting and even network operation. While it depends on the specific wireless operator, TowerCloud is seeing more requests for information (RFIs) for turnkey small cell services.  

"They want you to do the RF design, find the street furniture, secure the permits, do the backhaul, secure the power and put all in place," Townsend said. "Not that they'll abdicate the whole RF engineering, but they want you to do the initial design, put all the pieces in place, give it to them as a package and let them guide you on what the best solution is."

Having an electric utility background, Tower Cloud understands how to navigate the permitting process and deal with local utilities, but a number of challenges still exist.

"We're good at it and we have done a lot of it through our utility background so we know the right questions to ask and how to get the agreements in place to go do it. But it is an iterative process of how many cycles it takes if you're three to five small cells for every macro sector that has to have capacity issue solved for," Townsend said. "How many of those places do you have to move it to tweak it so it works just right? And then can you get that building owner or utility or municipal that owns that street lights to get permission to put it on a pole? Because it's that fragile of a design."

But wireless backhaul is only one part of the network build equation.

Townsend said that the network will help it grow its broader wholesale carrier and budding enterprise services business lines. In addition to selling dark fiber, the carrier is selling an array of Ethernet, optical wavelengths, and Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) services.

"We'll also be able to utilize that fiber for some wholesale and enterprise that is a new vertical we started about three years ago," Townsend said.

Now that is has built out more points of presence (POP) and connectivity, Townsend said that "we can get to a lot more customers and be more competitive."

Like other network installations it has done in the state, the majority of the fiber build will be conducted in underground fiber conduit. There are some points in Jacksonville where it will leverage existing utility poles as it crosses bridges.

"Pretty much 90 to 95 percent is underground and there will be a few crossings over a river that requires aerial, but primarily underground," Townsend said.  

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