Quick history lesson for those not familiar with this telecom buzz word. Dark fiber was a hot topic during the dot-com days of the late 1990’s. Telecoms, railroads and other large utilities planned for growth and increased demand of their optical fiber networks by laying down extra, unlit fiber cables. When the bubble burst and advancements such as Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) allowed carriers to get more out of their existing lit cables, network owners began selling off their unused optical networks – thus the term “dark” fiber.
Now dark fiber is back in the vernacular mostly sparked by Google, Amazon.com and Microsoft buying up large amounts of the unlit optic cable for their expansion into cloud computing. However, we’ve seen another trend bringing dark fiber back into the mainstream — recent large-scale implementations of purchased dark fiber in the education and government spaces.
Driven by a variety of government programs targeted to “bridge the digital divide” which allows some government funds to be used for dark fiber, many entities (state agencies, higher ed organizations, etc) are looking at dark fiber as an option to bring broadband to their constituents.
It’s no surprise when you consider two of the most compelling benefits: nearly unlimited bandwidth and full ownership (and thus control) of the network.
While dark fiber has many upsides, there can be some “hidden” costs. Here are some things to consider before jumping in:
1) Start up costs: Have you considered the operational execution and costs of “flipping the switch”? Operationally, you’ll need to create processes such as provisioning and trouble ticketing. In addition, you’ll have CapEx due to equipment needed including optical amplifiers, network management tools and transceivers.
2) Long term/sustainability – A network doesn’t run itself. Once you get it up and running, you should consider the personnel costs of operating and maintaining the network. Does your staff have the expertise and bandwidth to maintain your network? Do they have the expertise in provisioning and managing traffic to ensure QoS? How will you respond to failures, capacity increases and bandwidth shaping? Also, all that equipment you needed to get started – a seemingly “one-time” cost – will require refreshes (typically every 3 – 6 years).
The bottom-line is that, on the surface, dark fiber may seem like a slam dunk, but the start-up and long-term costs should be considered before making a move.
What’s your take? Is dark fiber worth it?