Cable operators could gain hand in dark fiber backhaul, but challenges remain, says analyst

glowing blue rods with a dark background

Verizon and other wireless operators have indicated that dark fiber is of interest as the backhaul medium of choice for small cell and C-RAN network implementations and cable operators could be in line to get a chunk of that wholesale business opportunity.

While cable operators have built a sizable wholesale business with wireless operators, the focus has centered on selling managed wavelength and Ethernet services to wireless operators migrating off of legacy copper-based T-1 circuits.

Charlie Reed, partner at Atlantic-ACM, told FierceTelecom that cable has not disclosed any specific dark fiber strategy yet, but it something they could consider if a deal could produce a potential favorable return.  

RELATED: Dark fiber takes the spotlight again, but providers remain divided on offering it

“We have heard them participate in some contracts, but they have not laid out clear plans on whether or not they’ll play in the dark fiber space,” Reed said. “On a deal by deal basis, they will have to take a look at it.”

Reed added that overall cable operators continue to make headway in the overall wholesale services market.  

“On the wholesale business data services side, we definitely see quick growth from cable companies and it’s a big opportunity for them,” Reed said.

Cable operators have been largely divided about selling dark fiber.

Cox Business told FierceTelecom in an earlier interview that they don’t sell it as a product and prefer to sell a managed service.

Time Warner Cable, now Charter, said that they will look at dark fiber opportunities on a “case-by-case basis.”

The timing for cable to consider a dark fiber play for cable could not be better.

Verizon has stated dark fiber is a key focus for small cells and 5G backhaul. Likewise, Sprint is looking closely at using dark fiber, but has not revealed any specific plans.  

Sprint told financial analysts during the recent BTIG event that there’s “crossover point when cost of lit fiber on macro sites rises to a point when it makes sense to switch to dark.”

BTIG added that Sprint said “dark fiber necessary for CRAN but that is not their focus.”