'Middle mile' service, offered by wholesale network service providers, is an obvious fit for rural and other smaller independent carriers.
When wholesale service providers such as Level 3 and 360 Networks built out their billion-dollar long-haul networks throughout the U.S., they built optical network regeneration points in rural towns. These regeneration points were designed to amplify the optical signal as it would traverse a route between Boston and New York City, for example. However, none of these sites actually delivered service to other carriers in these markets.
Take Level 3 Communications.
As Level 3 built out its long-haul network, the wholesale provider built optical signal regeneration huts in the Tier 2, 3 and 4 market towns that resided along the path of its long-haul network build out. Level 3 estimates that it has about 500 of these regeneration huts in total.
Prior to putting its hat into the broadband stimulus funding ring in July, Level 3 already was making moves into the rural market, as it signed a deal to provide wholesale capacity to WiMAX provider Open Range Networks.
If Level 3 gets the funding, it will create Points of Presence (POPs) at these regeneration and amplification sites. If Level 3 is successful in securing broadband stimulus funding, it will extend network interconnections to both rural ILECs and even state and local government agencies.
"When we think through the impact of where our network is and where we have an ability to make an impact in expanding broadband access across the country, Level 3 is best positioned in the middle mile," said Monisha Merchant, director of product management for Level 3. "And the way we define the middle mile is from the Level 3 access point between these intermediary sites where we amplify the sites today along the paths between, let's say, Denver and Kansas City. Along that express highway route, we might go through certain towns where we don't add and drop traffic, but what we're proposing from a middle mile concept is allowing traffic to come on and off the Level 3 network through these intermediate access points."
Along with Level 3, 360networks is taking a similar approach to the ‘middle mile.'
In its network application, 360Networks said it would deploy a hybrid network that would leverage both optical networking and microwave equipment targeted at 17 service areas. This optical and microwave equipment would then be placed at the service provider's existing amplification and regeneration sites.
At these sites, which are located in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, 360networks will create fiber splice points and offer open access services to service providers, government agencies and business customers that need connectivity.
"We feel that this program is a great way for long-haul networks to get the incentive to open up this infrastructure, which required billions of dollars to put in the ground at the beginning of the decade," Mueller said. "While these networks effectively are being used point-to-point, metro-to-metro, there's a great bit of infrastructure that's not being fully utilized. This program will be the perfect opportunity for the country to take advantage of our infrastructure and provide that marginal dollar to incentivize those networks to break open at the amp and re-gen sites."