SUPERCOMM: Multitasking your fiber network

Organizers of this year's SUPERCOMM event may have been selling the idea of the broadband connected nation, but one of the offshoots of the show's theme was how service providers are leveraging fiber pipes not just to support broadband, but also enterprise services and wireless backhaul opportunities that come along the path of that fiber.

In other words, traditional service providers (Qwest, and Verizon), wholesalers (Level3), cable (Cox Business) and newer competitors (FiberTower) are building out their respective fiber networks to serve multiple tasks simultaneously. One obvious application is wireless backhaul.

Leveraging fiber for wireless backhaul is an obvious and growing use of the multi-tasked fiber network. As wireless operators continue to expand their data service offerings via 3G and soon 4G LTE, a host of traditional ILECs, cable operators and a bevy of competitive wholesalers are all trying to cash in on wireless backhaul.

Qwest, while not having to support its own wireless network, is a bit unique in that it can be a neutral wholesale provider to other wireless operators. Providing both TDM and Ethernet/IP-based backhaul services, Qwest says it has gotten requests from unnamed wireless operators to provide for 7,500 of 17,000 cell sites in its 14-state operating region. And even though Qwest maintains its network capital spending will remain relatively flat in 2010, it will prioritize neighborhoods with FTTN if they happen to fall along the path of a cellular backhaul opportunity.

"As we push that fiber out to the node we're not only are we doing it to serve the residences in that area, but I am passing what we call shiny buildings at the same time, which are enterprise customers who need that fiber access," said Cliff Dinwiddie, Director, Data and IP Strategic and Business Development, Qwest Wholesale markets at FierceTelecom's Wireless Backhaul--A Wholesale Provider Perspective breakfast event. "So as we look at the capex business case, we're looking at all the available contributory revenue sources that can help us monetize those assets we're putting in the ground."

ILECs aren't the only ones cashing in on the multi-task fiber access game. Another service provider to keep your eye on is cable. Cable is not only trying to get a share of the ILEC's voice bread and butter, but also building out their own fiber backhaul networks for internal and external business and wholesale customers. Since the other MSOs tend to shy away when I call, the most vocal of multi-purpose operators that I can see with fiber has been Cox Business. Cox Business' stance in multi-purposing their fiber for wireless backhaul--last mile backhaul of their own last mile traffic and business--is really is nothing new for the Atlanta, Ga.-based MSO. After all, the service provider got its start selling wholesale fiber services to IXCs of all things as a wholesaler over 13 years ago.

Phil Meeks, Vice President Cox Business, told me that they are really building out a fiber network that can accommodate any diverse need: wireless backhaul (currently makes up 11 percent of its wholesale business), backhauling its own wireless build out, but also last mile backhaul and other business opportunities.

"We are building fiber rings and as we pass other customer opportunities, we can quickly expand into business customer sites that could come along the way," Meeks said. 

And finding opportunities along the way not only makes technological sense, but business sense as it will help any service provider create multiple revenue streams from one piece of glass. --Sean