When its increasingly easy and cost-effective to place many data channels on a single strand of glass, it might seem unlikely that anyone would put any more fiber capacity in the ground than they can readily sell. But, said Gunnerson, fiber glut has been the natural result of installation economics that almost compel laying orders of magnitude more fiber than will be needed. "Bundle counts vary," Gunnerson said, adding that its typical to get more than 250 pairs of fiber in a 1-inch bundlewith four bundles typically installed in a single right of way. "There might be over 1,000 pair for one company trenching down your street in front of your building, and you need only one pair," Gunnerson said. "Multiply that by two or three companies, and you see there is a lot of excess capacity."Click here to read about the emerging standard for wireless metropolitan area networks. What sends the price of bandwidth not merely into a dive but into a veritable tailspin is the amount of fiber thats in the hands of owners other than the usual suspectsthat is, other than telecommunications companies with their long experience in traditional pricing practices. "There are many companies that have rights of way, such as gas pipelines, power lines, train tracks, sewer systems, cable companies, water companiesyou name it," said Gunnerson. "Many have placed optical cable along those pathways." Gunnerson added that bandwidth may well be found in unlikely locations. For example, he said he discovered that "a small, 10-square-mile beach town in North Carolina has three optical providers trenched along the single main road, supporting an off-vacation peak population [of] less than 10,000 people." In short, that underground excess can surface almost anywhere. But you have to find it first: "The discovery process to uncover owners and pathways of existing optical fiber takes some time," said Gunnerson, who added that some kind of dark-fiber clearinghouse "would make our job much easier." Gunnerson envisions several ways that enterprises and other user organizations can improve their access to those resources. "A Web site dedicated to fiber trading partners ... could take our office and carrier hotel addresses and spit out cable providers, distances and possible installation costs." Gunnerson uses the common nickname of carrier hotel (sometimes called a co-location center or colo) to denote a site where multiple carriers endpoints create an array of competing options for customers and where that proximity also lowers costs. "At the hotel, it is less expensive for [carriers] to connect to you and you to them, as youre both in the same building," he said. Provisioning time and costs to connect are much less, he added, than for the typical local-loop facilities that connect a traditional central-office installation for a single carrier to a customers location. Next page: Long-term gains.
In this market, Gunnerson said, it may well make sense for an enterprise IT department to build its own metropolitan area network, including telecommunications circuits. Companies can lease fiber, install network equipment and pay for raw capacity at wholesale prices instead of buying network circuits at retail.