Tag Archives: fiber

One foot of sea level rise puts thousands of miles of fiber underwater

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Climate change poses a significant threat to telecommunications infrastructure. That’s the conclusion of a recently published paper by three researchers from the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin.

The authors took standard electronic map data – i.e. geographical information system/GIS files – showimg major fiber routes and overlayed it with coastal flooding predictions made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The data shows thousands of miles of long haul fiber at risk…

The results of our analysis show that climate change-related sea level incursions could have a devastating impact on Internet communication infrastructure even in the relatively short term. In particular, we find that 1,186 miles of long-haul fiber conduit and 2,429 miles of metro fiber conduit will be underwater in the next 15 years. Similarly, we find that 1,101 termination points will be surrounded by sea water in the next 15 years. Given the fact that most fiber conduit is underground, we expect the effects of sea level rise could be felt well before the 15 year horizon. Interestingly, we find that the risks over longer time scales do not increase significantly. Specifically, there is only a modest increase in the amount of additional Internet infrastructure that will be under water at the 6 ft. rise level (the 100 year projection) vs. the 1 ft. rise level (the 15 year prediction)…

Our results show that communication infrastructure in New York, Miami, and Seattle, respectively, are at highest risk. We also quantify the impact to individual service providers and find that CenturyLink, Intelliquent (formerly Tinet), and AT&T are at highest risk.

California also faces significant risk, according the authors. They list San Francisco, Palo Alto and Los Angeles in the top five of several risk categories, primarily because of the high concentration of telecoms assets.

It appears that the authors assumed that the fiber routes in their database are all underground. Some of that infrastructure is likely strung on utility pole routes, but the principle is pretty much the same: coastal flooding can disrupt fiber infrastructure, and it doesn’t matter much if it’s entire routes or just chunks.

The danger might not be as imminent as the authors assume – a one foot sea level rise in the next 15 years is a pretty aggressive forecast. Even so, it’s a factor that needs to be considered in planning new fiber construction, for redundancy as much as for additional capacity, and in maintenance budgets for existing routes.

Santa Cruz fights fire with fiber

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As a wild fire burned in the Santa Cruz mountains, a key AT&T fiber line was cut nearby, reportedly by a road maintenance crew doing previously scheduled work just before 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday of last week.

In 2009, a break in a different AT&T cable effectively knocked Santa Cruz, Watsonville and most of the rest of the county off of the Internet for most of a day. Since then, AT&T, Comcast and independent broadband companies have upgraded and diversified cable routes running north and south. A few thousand customers were affected by last week’s break, but it went unnoticed by most people in Santa Cruz County.

But not all. The County of Santa Cruz’s IT infrastructure was connected directly to the severed AT&T cable, and there was no failover capacity in place. So the county’s website went down, just as residents in and near the evacuation area would have been waking up and going on line, looking for information about the Bear Fire.

Fortunately, Cruzio, a local Internet service provider of 30 years standing, had a solution ready to go. As a result of an earlier swap with the county, Cruzio installed a 100 Mbps auxiliary circuit in the county’s main building on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz. It was connected to Cruzio’s high capacity links that rely on newly installed, redundant fiber routes, one going north to Sunnyvale and the other, subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund, heading south through Watsonville to the Internet backbone along the U.S. 101 corridor.

With Cruzio’s assistance, county staff routed their traffic through this connection, and got back on line “a little after noon”, according to a county spokesman.

But it wasn’t enough. The combination of external web traffic and internal county business quickly overloaded the connection – the AT&T service it replaced was specced at 250 Mbps – and county staff asked that the connection be bumped higher. Cruzio replied by opening up a gigabit port. “No charge for any of this of course” said James Hackett, director of business operations and development at Cruzio.

Had there been a repeat of the outage caused by the 2009 AT&T fiber cut, on top of a growing fire threatening lives and homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the result could have been a major, and dangerous, disruption. Instead, the work that’s been done over the past eight years to build independently-owned fiber optic lines in the region, led primarily by U.C. Santa Cruz, kept the focus where it needed to be: on fighting the fire.

This post is taken from an article I wrote last week for Santa Cruz TechBeat, and has been updated with information provided by the County of Santa Cruz..

Verizon buys enough fiber to reach Mars, sorta

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Make it quick.

Verizon is pumping up the volume about its three year deal with Corning to spend $1.05 billion on “fiber optic cable and associated hardware”. It even got a congratulatory (and self-congratulatory) press release from Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai. As it should It’s a big commitment and will add a considerable amount of potential bandwidth to the U.S. supply.

Verizon also claims that it will be buying “up to” 20 million kilometers (12.4 million miles, it helpfully adds) of “optical fiber” each year, from 2018 through 2020. That’s enough optical fiber to wrap around the Earth almost 1,500 times. It could circle the Sun almost 100 times. It’s even enough optical fiber to build a middle mile line from Earth to Mars. Until it snaps off a few minutes after closest approach, anyway.

It is truly a big deal, but not as big a deal as a quick glance might lead you to believe. Verizon is careful to distinguish between “optical fiber”, which is a strand of glass, and “fiber optic cable”, which is a bundle of optical fibers. Cables come in many sizes, but 432-strands are typical for mobile carriers these days. Cables with 864 strands are not unheard of, and 288 is probably as small as you’re likely to see from them (granted, there are unlikely builds out there). But let’s say 432 strands.

That implies a build of 29,000 miles a year, or 87,000 miles total. At a total cost of $1.05 billion and allowing a bit for “associated hardware”, that comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 a foot, which is in the volume discount ballpark for 432-strand cable. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but in round numbers it looks like Verizon is planning to build something like 80,000 to 100,000 miles of fiber plant over the next three years.

That’s a lot of backhaul, and a lot of cell sites.

Verizon could close a big competitive gap with Charter’s fiber

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Verizon needs to build more than 100,000 new cell sites and add more fiber connectivity to close a capacity gap with its U.S. competitors, according to a report from New Street Research. And, the report concludes, buying Charter Communications – as rumors say it might – could help solve some of Verizon’s problems. It wouldn’t be much benefit to Charter, though.

The report estimates that when the number of cell sites and the amount of spectrum used is taken into consideration, Verizon has a bit more than half of the capacity per subscriber that AT&T and T-Mobile have. In order to catch up, Verizon would have to build 69,000 new macro – traditional, big – cell sites, or 138,000 or more small cell sites. New Street estimates that if small cells are properly located to reach high concentrations of subscribers, it would only take two to replace a big cell site. To fully cover the same geographic area, though, the ratio is more like ten to one.

Those sites would all need back haul, of course, which is where Charter comes in. Verizon still has some wireline assets of its own, but Charter’s footprint is much bigger and U.S. cable companies have more fiber – and more easily accessed fiber – than telcos. “Cable has much greater fiber density than their wireline competitors”, the report says. “To put this in perspective, the Cable industry has 320,000 nodes today, the vast majority of which are fed with fiber. By contrast, telecom carriers have 23,000 fiber fed central offices”.

So a cable acquisition would be an advantage for Verizon. From Charter’s perspective, the benefits aren’t clear. New Street discounts speculation that a cable-mobile merger would reduce churn, concluding that Verizon’s is a low as it can go and there’s no hard evidence that it would have much more than a marginal impact on Charter’s.

The report makes several other good points about the cable and mobile sectors, and telecoms in general, and is worth reading. New Street’s top line conclusion is that an acquisition is less likely than originally thought, and “our working hypothesis is that it will be very tough for Verizon to structure a deal that Charter will find compelling”.

California can’t hand CenturyLink a fiber stranglehold

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Damage – serious market damage – will result from CenturyLink’s proposed acquisition of Level 3. The two companies argue that the new, combined operation will be a fiercer, more able combatant in the battle for business services accounts, and that might be true up to a point. But along key corridors in California and elsewhere the long haul fiber market will take a giant step toward monopoly.

A quick glance at the national footprint of the new CenturyLink tells the story. The lines are artfully drawn to make it look as if the blue Level 3 network kinda goes the same places as the yellow CenturyLink routes, but the two don’t really overlap.

Bullshit.

On the key U.S. 101 and Interstate 80 corridors in California, CenturyLink and Level 3 run down the same railroad right of ways. If you do a short (and cautious) walk at any point you choose along either, you will see fiber markers belonging mostly to four companies: CenturyLink (usually still identified as Qwest), Level 3 (sometimes with old WilTel posts), Verizon (often labeled as MCI) and AT&T. There are other companies in spots – Zayo and Sunesys/Crown Castle come to mind, and there are more – but not consistently. The long haul, intercity fiber market in California is dominated by those four companies.

Three companies. If the merger is allowed to happen exactly as proposed.

It gets worse. The problem is compounded by the deal’s structure. Level 3 is the Big Kahuna of independent middle mile fiber companies and does business with companies of all kinds on whatever basis is necessary. Including dark fiber.

CenturyLink, despite its hardscrabble roots and odd assortment of acquisitions, is now overwhelmingly a legacy Bell operating company, with a legacy Bell attitude toward iron control of assets and wringing the last nickel out of customers by refusing to sell anything but high margin managed services. Unless a regulatory gun is held to its corporate head.

Giving CenturyLink more heft in the business services sector would be a good thing in some circumstances. But not at the cost of condemning low revenue rural areas to perpetually slow and expensive bandwidth, and preventing small, flexible competitors from entering urban markets.

Less fiber competition looms as CenturyLink buys Level 3

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CenturyLink announced an agreement to acquire Level 3 yesterday. Valued at $34 billion – a combination of cash and stock – the deal would combine two of the biggest wholesale bandwidth providers in the U.S. According to Bloomberg, Level 3 is the second biggest, behind AT&T, and CenturyLink ranks fifth.

Both companies have extensive long haul and metro fiber networks. CenturyLink, which has the legacy Bell systems previously owned by Qwest, has more business locations, but Level 3 has more fiber: 200,000 miles of it. The objective of the deal, according to a joint statement, is to improve the combined company’s competitive position in the business services market….

The combined company will have the ability to offer CenturyLink’s larger enterprise customer base the benefits of Level 3’s global footprint with a combined presence in more than 60 countries. In addition, the combined company will be positioned to further invest in the reach and speeds of its broadband infrastructure for small businesses and consumers.

As might be expected, executives from both companies expressed confidence that the deal would be approved, not only by their respective shareholders but also by regulators. Unlike AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, the CenturyLink/Level 3 marriage will be combed over by the Federal Communications Commission and state regulators, including the California Public Utilities Commission, in addition to going through the federal justice department’s standard anti-trust review.

Another difference between the two mega-deals is that combining AT&T and Time Warner is a vertical integration move – AT&T is buying one of its key suppliers – while CenturyLink’s acquisition of Level 3 would be a horizontal merger. Both companies have similar, and sometimes overlapping, business lines and assets. It’s true that CenturyLink would be in a stronger competitive position relative to AT&T and Verizon, but it would also mean that the wholesale bandwidth market would be concentrated into fewer hands.

Regulatory reviews are expected to take about a year to complete.

Google finds dropping cable off a boat is easier and faster than digging up streets

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Google might be defaulting, excuse me, pivoting to wireless broadband technology in last mile broadband markets, but it appears to be moving full speed ahead with laying underseas fiber to connect continents. And Facebook is sailing right alongside.

Google, Facebook, TE Connectivity – the former Tyco Electronics – and Pacific Light Data Communication, a Hong Kong-based start up, are partnering to build a submarine cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong, with a completion target of summer 2018. According to a Google blog post

The Pacific Light Cable Network will have 12,800 km of fiber and an estimated cable capacity of 120 Tbps, making it the highest-capacity trans-Pacific route, a record currently held by another Google-backed cable system, FASTER. In other words, PLCN will provide enough capacity for Hong Kong to have 80 million concurrent HD video conference calls with Los Angeles.

FASTER – a collaboration between Google and a consortium of Asian telecoms companies – went online this summer, linking Oregon to Japan. Google is getting 10 terabits per second of capacity – one-sixth of the total – on that cable. And it has ownership stakes in four other submarine cable projects.

Facebook has also wet its feet in the trans-oceanic fiber game, joining Microsoft and Telefonica as investors in a planned route between Virginia and Spain. That’s scheduled to come online next year.

It’s not a business venture as such for either Google or Facebook. Instead, it’s the kind of classic make versus buy choice that’s leading both companies down the path toward greater vertical integration.

FCC set to cut legacy wholesale broadband prices, oversee faster services

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Competitive split.

There’s a 45 Mbps divide in the wholesale bandwidth business, and the Federal Communications Commission is preparing new and separate regulations to address both sides. It’s one of the three key issues that chairman Tom Wheeler promised the cell phone industry he would address to clear the path for deployment of 5G technology, the other two being spectrum and local restrictions on wireless sites.

In a summary – Wheeler doesn’t release drafts of new rules to the public, preferring instead to limit his conversations to industry stakeholders – he described prices for (mostly) legacy broadband services at 45 Mbps and below as “artificially high” and outlined a plan to first cap current rates and then chop them over time, by as much as 20% in the next the three years alone.

There’s something like a market, though, at higher bandwidths, he says

For packet-based services and circuit-based services above the level of [45 Mbps], there is evidence of emerging competition and falling prices. New entrants include cable companies that, with their already ubiquitous networks, are primed to challenge incumbent [telephone companies]. In addition, revenues from high- bandwidth offerings enable competitive [telephone companies]…to deploy their own networks to serve the most attractive customers.

Instead of directly regulating prices, Wheeler proposes to reaffirm “that, with rare exceptions, providers, including packet-based Ethernet providers, are common carriers and as such need to deal on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms”. Instead of setting prices in advance, he falls back on his version of “light touch” regulation, which is to let companies play the game as they please, with the FCC standing in the middle, acting as a referee. It’s a lawyer and lobbyist-centric approach and one that Wheeler, a former top lobbyist for both the cable and mobile industries, favors.

The new rules could appear at any time. Instead of a formal vote at a public meeting, Wheeler is privately circulating the full text of the rules among his current colleagues. When at least two other commissioners sign off on it, it’s a done deal. Then, and only then, do we get see what it says.

Muni fiber build RFP issued by Union City, California

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A lot of long haul fiber criss-crosses through Union City, a town of about 70,000 people tucked in between Hayward and Fremont in the East Bay area, just north of Silicon Valley. The City of Union City has issued a request for proposals from companies interested in bidding to “design and install a high-speed dark fiber network in City-owned conduit” to take advantage of that wealth, and to spur development of a new business and residential area…

The Union City Station District is a high-density development area located around the Union City BART Station. At buildout, the Station District will have 1.2 million square feet of office and 850+ residential units and live-work space along 11th Street.

An adjacent 80-acre in the greater Station District area is undeveloped and underdeveloped with some public streets. This area is zoned for new office, research and development, and flex-industrial businesses. Conduit and fiber will need to be installed in this area as new streets and additional points of access are built to accommodate the growth in a second phase of design and installation of a City-owned high-speed fiber network.

That high speed network will be built from a base that includes several more miles of city-owned conduit, and adjacent and intersecting middle mile fiber, including routes owned or operated by BART, PG&E, Level 3, Zayo, OpticAccess, AT&T, Verizon and XO Communications.

To answer the first question that always gets asked, yes, the City has a budget for it.

The deadline for questions is 11 October 2016 and proposals must be submitted by 18 October 2016. The RFP documents include the required elements for responses, as well as maps and plans of the area.

The official documents can be downloaded here, and that’s where any updates will be posted. If you’re just curious, here are direct download links that are current, as of today:

RFP for high speed fiber in the Union City Station District
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C

Tellus Venture Associates assisted the City of Union City in identifying the market opportunity and in developing the RFP. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

FCC chair Wheeler says fiber companies can’t hold 5G hostage

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Valediction.

Backhaul is critical to development of next generation mobile networks, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in Las Vegas this morning, promising the commission will ensure “that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold 5G hostage”.

It doesn’t look like the Federal Communications Commission will be taking up pricing and access regulations for middle mile backhaul in September, though. In what could be his final CTIA keynote as FCC chair, Wheeler promised new rules, but “before the end of this year” and not before the end of the month. Might be this month, but that didn’t seem to be the direction that Wheeler is leaning.

Wheeler was vague about the timing of new privacy rules but referred to them as “imperative”. Privacy, though, wasn’t on his critical path for deployment of 5G wireless networks over the next decade. Wheeler pointed to three issues – backhaul, spectrum and local restrictions on cell sites – as the three biggest policy bottlenecks that must be overcome. He didn’t exactly declare war on “nimbyism and the recalcitrance of local authorities” but he didn’t have kind words in that regard either.

The FCC’s attempt to clear 120 MHz of television spectrum and re-use it for mobile broadband will be scaled back to 114 MHz and a new reverse auction will be launched next week, Wheeler said. Television stations wanted, in aggregate, $88 billion to give up 120 MHz, but wireless companies were only willing to pay $23 billion. The hope is that cutting back on the bandwidth will bring the two sides closer together.

New rules for cable set top boxes, which is the third major policy decision in the FCC’s hopper, weren’t mentioned. The agenda for this month’s commission meeting will be released tomorrow. We’ll find out then if any of those three issues – backhaul pricing (business data services in FCC-speak), privacy and set top boxes – will be decided soon.