DukeNet bolsters FTTT initiative with connections to 3,500 cell sites

DukeNet Communications, a regional provider, now reaches over 3,500 cell sites as part of its growing fiber to the tower (FTTT) program that provides services to a number of the top wireless operators.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), for one, named DukeNet as one of its initial wireless backhaul suppliers where it does operate its own wireline networks in the Southeast markets to support its LTE roll out.

However, this milestone could soon be passed.

Tony Cockerham, COO for DukeNet, said in a release that it is "already contracting to provide fiber connectivity to additional towers throughout 2013 and 2014."

To date, DukeNet provides FTTT services to the top three wireless operators, mainly in North and South Carolina with a growing presence in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

Network expansion outside of its North Carolina home base has been a key theme for DukeNet. As it updated its network to 100G this March, the service provider extended its network into Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia.

"When we first started building fiber into cell sites for T1 connectivity and the industry exploded in the Carolinas and certainly cell backhaul was one of the key customer segments that allowed us to expand into those markets, including Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina," said David Herran, VP of Network Architecture and Technology Planning at DukeNet Communications, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "Through all of that we added towers to the market and then we would add cell sites where we would start with an anchor tenant and then bring on additional carriers, and sometimes we able to secure contracts with multiple carriers at the same time."

The demand for more bandwidth from wireless operators has various technology and staffing implications for DukeNet.

As they build out each cell site, Herran said they needed to ramp up their workforce to "execute on that type of construction, which started to catapult over the past three to four years and manage the transition from TDM services over to Ethernet."

So what's next on DukeNet's FTTT build out list?

Despite reaching this recent milestone, DukeNet is still adding new cell sites to the network and are moving into the optimization phase with new capacity upgrades and increasing network reliability.

"In a lot of these markets, the carriers will continue to add towers, and they're trying to manage their capacity so we'll continue to connect to those sites," Herran said. "We're also looking at new next-generation requirements like small cell site connectivity and remote radio heads that will feed off the base stations that feed off the base stations that are located in these same cell sites we have built fiber to."

Looking beyond small cells, the two other new potential service opportunities Duke Net is tracking is providing wavelength services such as 10 GigE and dark fiber.

"There will be some conversion to even higher capacity if not dark fiber and wavelength-type capacity to these sites because the bandwidth demand is so significant and the expectation that demand is going to be required for a long amount of time," Herran said.

He added that dark fiber requests would likely come from "some of the metro markets and some of the carriers have played with a little bit of dark fiber for the purposes of connecting distributed antenna systems."

The service provider currently operates over 9,000 route miles of fiber in the Southeast that in addition to offering FTTT also provides business services such as Ethernet. Its Ethernet offering became even more compelling when it announced it was awarded the Metro Ethernet Forum's rigorous Carrier Ethernet 2.0 certification.

For more:
- see the release

Related articles:
DukeNet joins ranks of MEF 2.0 certified providers
DukeNet completes its core 100G network upgrade
DukeNet branches out of the Carolinas, goes 100G
DukeNet Communications advances its Ethernet, fiber footprint

Updated article on Sept. 24 with quotes from David Herran, VP of Network Architecture and Technology Planning at DukeNet Communications.