The IT landscape may be evolving to include solutions like SD-WAN and network virtualization, but dark fiber is still as relevant as ever. Dark fiber’s timelessness can be largely attributed to it becoming easier and more affordable to manage for IT teams.
Previously, dark fiber was used by IT teams that had optical engineers on staff, as the equipment required a different level of expertise that any other product set. Today, the equipment manufacturers have engineered simplicity into virtually every router and switch platform on the market, enabling technicians to plug in fiber and operate links at 10G or even 100G line rates. Additionally, as the complexity of dark fiber workloads has decreased, equipment and gear has become much more cost-effective. Many companies are doubling these savings by using distributed performance, a solution reliant on lit services.
New Dark Fiber Trends
As relevant as dark fiber is in today’s infrastructure designs, new trends are entering the fray that are driving the decision-making and investment process.
1. Market Consolidation Is Shaping the Future
Acquisitions by CenturyLink, Crown Castle and Zayo have led to significant inventory consolidation. With less competition among providers, fiber prices are holding. However, prices are dropping in areas where competition is still high. The key takeaway is that consolidation and competition will continue to shape the future of dark fiber as a product, evolving it from being solely a revenue driver into a strategic asset geared toward establishing market share in impactful areas like wireless and small cell.
2. Increased Utility
Fiber is becoming a more commonly-available and useable product for enterprise companies, especially for those interested in high-capacity links between data centers. This trend is largely driven by the fact that fiber circuits and gear have become more affordable, accessible and easier to manage.
Overall, companies considering fiber should prioritize flexibility above all else – and for good reason. Dark fiber often offers sizable value in instances where, for example, a company can set up multiple links where they’re segmenting 100G into discreet networks. While there are other ways to manage traffic, dark fiber offers an easier way to manage these disparate connections.
3. Smaller Metro Availability
Fiber availability from municipalities, utilities and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has grown tremendously in the last few years. As a result, dark fiber has become increasingly available in smaller metro areas, making it a viable option for enterprises considering network expansion and strategic bandwidth investments.
Companies considering dark fiber investments in these smaller metros should exercise caution, however. Because dark fiber is less plentiful in these areas, buying the fiber and deploying it can be much more complex than it is in more dense metros. In addition, public entities may not have as mature a business model as traditional carriers and can sometimes require a learning curve in offering dark fiber as a product.
While these new trends will surely lead to dark fiber’s continued evolution, it’s safe to say dark fiber will remain a valuable, relevant asset for enterprises long into the future. To get an overview of dark fiber and how it might fit into your network architecture, download Dark Fiber 101.