Fiber Infrastructure Expands on All Fronts

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There’s that old adage: “It takes a lot of wires to make wireless work!” After all, signals are only wireless between your mobile device and the nearest cell tower. From there, signals are carried over wireline terrestrial networks. These days, those wires increasingly are fiber optic cables, and lots of them.

Fiber cable use is expanding across multiple fronts with different network architectures. More and more, fiber is applied in wireless infrastructure at several so-called X-haul levels: fronthaul, mid-haul and backhaul. 

At the same time, fiber companies operate millions of route miles delivering wholesale long-haul transport and middle mile dark fiber and wavelengths to enterprises and other carriers with high capacity dense wave division multiplex (DWDM) systems. Telephone and cable companies are selling fiber-based retail broadband services to tens of millions of residences and small businesses via fiber-to-the-home/fiber-to-the-premise architectures.

These different applications allow fiber companies to generate revenues two ways: business-to-consumer (B2C) local access retail broadband services, and business-to-business (B2B) wholesale data and transport services.

Over 1,000 operating companies in the U.S. provide fiber-based services both on a B2C and B2B basis. These companies fall into several categories:

  • Tier 1/Tier 2 incumbent local exchange companies (ILECs) — AT&T, Verizon, Lumen Technologies, Frontier Communications and Windstream -– provide both local access and long-haul transport services.
  • Broadband companies comprising nearly 850 small, regional, and rural independent telephone companies (ITCOs), led by TDS Telecom and Shentel, are upgrading their networks to FTTH/FTTP-based local access services.
  • Dozens of large and small cable companies led by Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Altice USA, and Mediacom, deliver triple-play (voice, internet, video) local access broadband services over both hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) and FTTH networks.
  • Several dozen fiber companies including Crown Castle International, Uniti Group, Zayo and Fiberlight operate long-haul transport networks and metro rings in regional markets and in key cities around the country selling only B2B services.
  • Broadband overbuilders such as WideOpenWest (WOW), Google Fiber, Metronet and Fusion Media are competing with incumbent cable and broadband operators in select markets.

Fiber networks require extensive capital expenditures to install, operate and maintain. We estimate that aggregate capex among U.S. public and private telcos, cablecos, fibercos, and overbuilders is nearly $50 billion a year. These investments encompass intercity long-haul transport, regional and metro rings and local access broadband connections in major cities, small towns, and rural communities across the country.

A detailed analysis entitled ‘Understanding the Fiber Infrastructure Business’ is presented in the just-released Intelligence Q3 2021 issue. The report provides a deep dive into fiber network architectures and fiber company business models along with profiles of the leading fiber companies.

For more information, or to subscribe, visit: www.insidetowers.com/intelligence 

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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