Another piece in ION's ongoing evolution of is the growing demand by its member and accompanying carrier customer needs for higher and higher bandwidth speeds.
Initially, the demands from its member customers were for electrical circuits (OC-3, OC-12 and DS-3), but now that's shifting to 100 Mbps-2.5 Gbps needs.
"We've seen the size grow and seen it go from electrical to more of optical," Becker said. "The real things are the size of the pipes is just growing exponentially."
And while the focus of ION will continue to be on its 13 telecom cooperative owners, ION is continually branching out to meet the needs of other wireless carriers, ILECs and even cable operators.
In fact, ION's member business makes up about 18-20 percent, while the rest is carriers, tier 1 backbone providers, wireless operators, and a small pocket of large enterprise customers.
One area of outside carrier growth is wireless backhaul, an opportunity that's quite diverse in terms of needs. Some wireless carriers want to bring fiber right to the towers, while in more rural situations taking fiber to every tower may not be cost effective.
To resolve that issue, Becker said he's working with at least one wireless operator that has taken on a mesh-like network architecture. In this case, the wireless operator would put one large optical pipe into one tower and then mesh back with other towers in the distance.
"When we're talking with the cell folks, we want to give them options," Becker said. "In some of the actual areas, they want fiber to be put right into the actual towers, but in other areas they understand it's going to cost them more to do that and that's where that mesh option really fits."
In addition to wireless backhaul, Ethernet is showing up as a new opportunity for its telco members. Becker said that ION has essentially served as an advisor to its members who have fiber "help them get into that space."
So what's next for ION's network? As it looks to meet its internal and external customer's needs, ION laid the groundwork for the new network expansion.
Consisting of four geographically diverse and interconnected SONET rings and DWDM, the network leverages ADVA (Movaz) and Cisco (ONS 15454) equipment, the ION network has OC-48/192 capacity and can scale up to 40 wavelengths of either OC-48/OC-192.
Having DWDM in the holster helps especially in instances where it has to rent fiber strands from other tier 1 providers. "The DWDM gear gives us a good opportunity where we do lease strands, we only have to lease a pair versus 12 or 24 strands because that type of opex would make it impossible," Becker said. Currently supporting 10 Gbps capabilities, ION is poised to get to 40 Gbps with a small upgrade and that they are closely watching 100 Gbps. "We can do 10 Gbps now, but we can go to 40 Gbps with a small upgrade and 100 is not that far off," he said. "It's the nature of the beast and we think it's a good thing and hits us in our sweet spot because we have the fiber so let's do it."