While researching metro fiber providers, I have come to realize that it may be best to classify the different fiber assets in three categories that have distinct characteristics:
- Longhaul fiber, which connects the largest cities in the country and forms the backbone of the internet as we know it.
- Metro fiber, which connects individual buildings to the longhaul fiber, whether SMEs or carrier hotels. It generally covers a metro area and uses different equipment for transmission than longhaul fiber.
- Regional fiber, which has some traits from each of the above. Physically it is like longhaul fiber in that it covers substantial distances to connect cities and uses the same kinds of equipment, but those cities are generally off of the backbone routes. Functionally it acts like metro fiber that it frequently serves as an on/off ramp to those backbone routes.
Longhaul fiber has been in the spotlight for a decade - sometimes good and sometimes bad, and in the last 4-5 years metro fiber has gotten its share of attention. But most people, e.g. the media, are fairly dismissive of regional fiber, and I must admit to have fallen prey to that perception. When someone like Zayo or Level 3 acquires regional fiber, it is often portrayed as something of an afterthought.
But in trying to understand metro fiber, I have come across dozens of companies whose regional fiber is both important and impossible to analyze by metrics we might look at longhaul and metro fiber. A few networks have a mix of all three, but there are a few dozen providers which specialize in just regional fiber, and I'll bet that only the most dedicated telecom folks amongst my readers have heard of most of them. They are almost always privately held, and the news media rarely pays them any attention at all.
So anyhow, over the next few weeks I will be assembling a list of regional fiber providers, and will look for metrics that can help understand them and the assets they operate. I expect details will be scarce, but that's never stopped me before... At the very least, I may get some people to tell me how wrong I am, and I find that's generally a pretty useful excercise.
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