Topic 8- Fiber-Optic Transport Networks
Attesting to the value of fiber-optic transport systems in the wireless ecosystem is the number of fiber networks purchased by wireless carriers and tower companies in recent years. With its latest agreement to acquire Wilcon Holdings, LLC, in April 2017, tower industry giant Crown Castle brought under its control 28,000 route miles of fiber.1 In January 2017 Crown completed an acquisition of FPL FiberNet Holdings, netting 11,500 route miles of fiber. In August 2015 Crown completed the purchase of Quanta Fiber Networks, Inc. (Sunesys), and in 2014 Crown acquired 24/7 Mid-Atlantic Network LLC.2 The business opportunity for tower companies in fiber-optic transport is the horizontal placement of users along the transport route, not unlike users located vertically on a communications tower, according to Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown.3
AT&T Fiber serves fifty-one metro areas as of February 2017, with sixteen more on the way. The AT&T internet protocol backbone includes 410,000 route miles of optical fiber to which AT&T Mobility has access.4 In one purchase during March 2016, Verizon Wireless purchased XO Communications’ fiber network business, including 20,000 inner-city route miles and 13,000 metro route miles.5 In April 2017 Verizon Wireless struck a deal with Corning, Inc., to manufacture 12.4 million miles of optical fiber a year for the next three years.6
Besides these developments, industry consolidation is occurring in the fiber business. On October 31, 2016, CenturyLink and Level 3 announced merger plans.7 The two companies own 450,000 route miles of optical fiber combined. On February 27, 2017, Windstream announced the completion of its acquisition of Earthlink, increasing Windstream’s fiber route miles to 145,000. Communications Sales and Leasing, Inc., (spun off from Windstream in 2015) merged two other companies (PEG Bandwidth LLC and Tower Cloud, Inc.) earlier in 2017 to create Uniti Group,8 a real estate investment trust (REIT) with 4.2 million strand miles of fiber, 486 tower facilities, and 235,200 route miles of copper cable.9 On March 1, 2017, Zayo Group Holdings, Inc., announced that it closed on its purchase of Electric Lightwave, adding over 12,000 route miles to its network, now at 126,000 route miles in North America and Europe, according to Zayo’s website.10
Telecom Ramblings posted links to network maps for over thirty of the largest fiber-optic networks in 2009. Some maps have been updated by operators, others haven’t.11 The large-scale development of metro area and long-haul fiber-optic transport networks in the US started in the 1980s. It could be said that the fiber-optic transport business grew up during the same time-frame as the wireless industry. The two didn’t really get acquainted for twenty-five years, during which time many considered them competitors. Now, after thirty-five years, they are married to each other and planting trees (small cell sites) around the world. The growth of fiber-optic transport services (FOTS) in public and private rights-of-way represents a significant business opportunity for wireless site acquisition and permitting as well as right-of-way consultants.