Middle mile network providers take a measure twice, cut once mentality

Aug. 22, 2023
Service providers and vendors prepare middle-mile networks to satisfy growing consumer, wholesale and business service bandwidth and redundancy needs across diverse communities.

ORLANDO, Fla.—Middle mile networks, including those built by consortiums like Diamond State Networks, are in the midst of a new growth wave to provide connectivity and exchange points for the internet in underserved and unserved communities.

As service providers plot their middle mile plans, they take a measure twice, cut once method to ensure the network can serve current and future needs. 

During the Middle Mile and Future Demands: Drivers, Case Studies, Technologies, Strategies panel at this week’s Fiber Connect 2023 show, a group of panelists explored the opportunities for the middle mile.

Doug Maglothin, CEO of Diamond State Networks, a middle-mile provider serving Arkansas formed through the partnership of 13 Arkansas member-owned electric cooperatives and their fiber network subsidiaries, said that the middle-mile network is essential to extend broadband to more communities.

“Without the middle mile, you don’t close the digital divide inexpensively,” he said.

He added that the interest in Arkansas for middle-mile funding has exceeded estimates. In Arkansas, the last round of financing for the capital projects fund was $150 million. Administrators thought they would settle nearly 100 projects, but they only paid for 40 projects.

“It’s very shocking to the state broadband office that it’s not as inexpensive as they thought it would be,” Maglothin said. “Arkansas got $1 billion from the BEAD last mile fund, and their estimate said it would cost $750 million to complete the tasks at hand, but we estimate it will be over $1 billion.”

Building for scale

As middle-mile providers build out their networks, there’s necessary to ensure the networks can handle network needs today and tomorrow.

Vendors like DZS and Ciena are responding with various new optical solutions. DZS is offering its Saber 4400, an environmentally hardened, modular ROADM transport platform delivers up to 400 Gbps per wavelength. Ciena offers a DWDM solution that can up to 800 Gbps per wavelength using WaveLogic™ 5 Extreme, with an upgrade path to 1.6 Tb/s per wavelength using WaveLogic 6 Extreme.

Sanjay Bhatia, VP of product marketing for DZS, said that any middle-mile network should be built to accommodate the fact that consumer and business bandwidth demands continue to rise.

“Today, on average, there are about 20 devices in the home, all using a little bit of bandwidth, and then there’s business services for hospitals, enterprises, and public safety,” he said. “The question is how much demand is there, and if you add all of those up, it starts getting big in numbers.”  

Diamond State Networks has set a threshold to, at a minimum, put 144-count fiber cable in the ground. Ninety percent of the network is built with a 288-count line. Additionally, Diamond State puts in two extra fiber conduits.

“Even at 288-count, I have worked for plenty of providers that have maxed that amount out,” Maglothin said.

By deploying these high fiber counts, Diamond State Networks can offer an array of high-speed optical wavelength services. Today, Diamond State can provide lit 800G services per wave on a single fiber across 42 DWDM channels before lighting the next fiber pair.

“For lit services, we reserve six fibers and leave at least 138 spare fibers,” Maglothin said.  

Ciena, which has intense penetration in middle mile networks with its optical and Ethernet platforms, is seeing similar trends.  

Vinicius Santos, solutions marketing senior advisor for Ciena, sees the demand for high bandwidth middle mile demands rising. Ciena conducted a simulation of 20,000 homes that showed, at peak hours, would require 400G for the middle mile.

“We can see this is an interesting number on how the middle mile will go,” he said. “Whether last mile access is on 10G XGS-PON or 25G PON, access will be good for a while, but it is already adding up to 400G in the middle mile, so we’ll need to scale.”

Ensuring service uptime

As service providers, including consortiums, build out middle-mile networks, the expectations by customer base will vary.

While a hospital or local business might be happy to pay extra for a higher-level SLA and network redundancy to ensure better uptime, a sizeable wireless backhaul operator will expect this element to be part of the service. 

Having worked at various ISPs, Maglothin said that while he has seen providers charge a premium for network redundancy, some providers expect it to be just part of a network services agreement.  

“Some providers will offer a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint Ethernet service and if a customer wanted greater redundancy, there was a premium charge for service protection,” he said. “This does not work for large wholesale incumbent providers like Verizon. It is baked into their service agreement.”

He added that incumbent providers, including large wireless operators, “are not paying top dollar for every service you deliver to them.”

Diamond State has configured its network to have three primary hubs; everything is dual-homed.

“We were lucky because we were able to build the network from scratch,” Maglothin said. “Because it’s challenging to change things for each business, everyone gets the protected service capabilities.”

DZS sees some of its regional customers create a middle-mile network themselves. “These providers have created a redundant point-to-point network in existing locations, serving 80 to 100 miles,” Bhatia said. “There are different ways to slice this pie.”

Ciena, which offers platforms for greater visibility and management, is succeeding in middle-mile networks with Diamond State Networks and the Maryland Broadband Cooperative.

Diamond State Network uses Ciena’s DWDM solution that can scale up to 800 Gbps per wavelength using WaveLogic™ 5 Extreme, with an upgrade path to 1.6 Tbps per wavelength using WaveLogic 6 Extreme.

The Maryland Broadband Cooperative is leveraging Ciena’s 6500 platforms to deliver 400G transport services to its more than 80 members, which include telecom companies, internet service providers (ISPs), utilities, health care facilities, universities, and state and local government.

“It depends on how far a carrier is from the peering point and how much fiber they have to create a middle mile network,” Santos said. “There are various cases providers are taking.”  

For related articles, visit the Business Topic Center.

For more information on high-speed transmission systems and suppliers, visit the Lightwave Buyer’s Guide.

To stay abreast of fiber network deployments, subscribe to Lightwave’s Service Providers and Datacom/Data Center newsletters. 

About the Author

Sean Buckley

Sean is responsible for establishing and executing the editorial strategies of Lightwave and Broadband Technology Report across their websites, email newsletters, events, and other information products.

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