Amid M&A, cable holds its own in fiber-lit buildings

May 15, 2018
Vertical Systems Group (VSG) has released its 2017 "U.S. Fiber Lit Buildings Leaderboard." AT&T and Verizon maintained their positions at the top of the list, but there were several cable operators in the top 10 ...
Vertical Systems Group (VSG) has released its 2017 "U.S. Fiber Lit Buildings Leaderboard." AT&T and Verizon maintained their positions at the top of the list, but there were several cable operators in the top 10, including Spectrum Enterprise, Comcast, Cox, and Altice USA. Making it to the top 10 on the list, for this go-around, meant that the companies had connected to at least 10,000 buildings by the end of 2017. VSG noted that these 10 were the only companies to meet that criterion. A fiber-lit building, incidentally, is a commercial site or data center with on-net fiber connectivity to a provider's infrastructure and onsite active service termination equipment. Some of the companies at the top were aided by acquisitions. Press reports show that CenturyLink gained 200,000 route miles of fiber, including 64,000 route miles in 350 metropolitan areas and 33,000 subsea route miles, by acquiring Level 3, for example. Verizon acquired XO Communications' fiber-optic network assets, and Crown Castle Fiber made the list, helped by the fact that it acquired Lightower and Wilcon.

Rosemary Cochran, principal of VSG, noted that fiber footprint expansion is in the strategic plans of every major network service provider. "Merger, acquisition, and re-branding activity across the fiber provider landscape is so intense that it takes a scorecard to keep track," Cochran said. Such activity also is becoming more common among smaller players not on the Leaderboard (see, for example, "Atlantic Broadband buying FiberLight's south FL net").

But, there also is building from within. Comcast Cable is said to have the highest organic growth rate. This is not surprising given the amount of news that comes from Comcast's business segment about not only DOCSIS 3.1 news, but fiber offerings as well. In the last six months, we've seen:

And news across the fiber board is intense. For example, Globalstar is merging with fiber-optic network services provider FiberLight, gaining 14,000 route miles of fiber.

ZenFi Networks and Cross River Fiber, which are focused on the New York and New Jersey metro markets, intend to merge this year. Combining their assets means that they will have more than 700 route miles of fiber-optic network, 130 on-net buildings, 49 colocation facilities, and 1700 outdoor wireless locations.

A separate VSG report that came out in April shows that all this activity is benefitting business customers. The market research firm reported that 54.8 percent of U.S. commercial buildings had fiber connections at the end of 2017, compared to 45.2 percent the previous year. And there is no slowdown in sight.

"Deployments will continue to accelerate because fiber is both a strategic asset for delivery of wireline business services, as well as a necessity for enabling 5G," Cochran said.

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