Southern Light sees growing opportunities in dark fiber, small cell backhaul

Southern Light, a competitive fiber provider serving the Southern United States, says it is finding new opportunities to sell a mix of dark fiber and small cell backhaul.

Dark fiber may be the latest fashion statement in the wholesale provider market, but to Southern Light, the service is something it based its initial business case on when it founded the company.

Eric Daniels, COO of Southern Light, told FierceTelecom in an interview that despite the initial economic challenges, they have been deploying dark fiber in rural markets.

"The biggest shift for us is we have done a lot of rural market buildouts in recent years, and that's harder to do to make the math work, but we have seen the value in it," Daniels said. "If it's like the rest of the market all we're going to hear about is rural fiber in the next couple of years."

As it expands its network in Alabama, Daniels added that they are looking for ways to interconnect its growing fiber network with a number of smaller telcos.

"As we have been expanding throughout Alabama there are pockets of smaller telcos doing some really innovative things and it has been fun figuring out ways to link up with these guys," Daniels said. "They are small, they stay in their footprint, but it's fascinating how these guys do business." 

At the same time, Southern Light is also seeing emerging demand for small cell backhaul in various markets.

In particular, it has lit small cell backhaul for a number of major wireless operators in the New Orleans area.

Daniel says that one of the benefits of small cell backhaul is that they only have to maintain the connection to the small cell nodes and not the devices themselves.

"I really like small cells because we don't own the $50,000 equipment that's sitting at the top of the pole in that scenario," Daniels said. "We may have to run out there and replace it for somebody, but they're having to foot the bill and I am not responsible for the RF all the way to the end-user like I am with an ODAS system."

Despite the potential for small cell, wireless operators seem to be divided, according to a FierceInstaller report.

Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) appears to be ramping up its small cell deployments while AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) is scaling back on its plans. Meanwhile, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) said it has no immediate plans to deploy small cells, while Sprint (NYSE: S) flat-out refuses to talk about a small cell strategy.  

Daniels said he is aware of the difference in how wireless operators want to use small cells, adding that the initial deployments he has seen have been at concert and sports venues.

"They're still playing with it and a lot of venues is where we saw it first, and that's not surprising because it's much cheaper to put up a small cell and leave it all year long versus using a COW [cell on wheels]," Daniels said. "From what I have seen they have gone beyond venues and are moving towards solving capacity problems."

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