Wholesale/transport services

Aerie Prepares a Feast of Fiber

A startup carrier that few people had heard of -- Aerie Networks http://www.aerienetworks.com -- announced on Wednesday that it was going to build America's highest capacity fiber backbone.

It plans to roll out a total of 8.9 million miles of fiber in a 20,000 mile network covering 195 cities, and complete the whole project by "early 2003".

It's big. It's huge. But why is Aerie doing it? On the face of it, it's coming to the party way too late, considering that other bandwidth barons - such as Level 3 Communications Inc. http://www.level3.com, Qwest Communications International Inc. http://www.qwest.com, and Williams Communications Group Inc. http://www.williams.com - are a long way ahead with rolling out their backbones.

The answer is that Aerie is aiming to be a different kind of carrier, one that will probably end up selling dark fiber to the likes of Level 3, Qwest and Williams - and many other operators.

In essence, it's following the example of Metromedia Fiber Network Services, Inc. http://www.mmfn.com - an operator that is laying large quantities of fiber in cities, and then selling it unlit (without transmission equipment) to other carriers and large corporate customers. Aerie is aiming to do the same thing on long distance routes. The clues are in the numbers in its press release (see Aerie To Build "Largest Capacity Backbone" ). 8.9 million miles of fiber over 20,000 miles means that, on average, it's planning to install more than 400 fibers per mile.

That's way more than existing backbone operators. Williams, for instance, says it's installed up to 212 strands in its network. KPNQwest NV http://www.kpnqwest.com - a European carrier that places a big emphasis on having lots of fiber in the ground - recently told Light Reading that it had up to 144 strands in its network (see Jack McMaster, CEO of KPNQwest).

The overall impact of Aerie's plans is likely to be fiercer competition for the likes of Level 3, Quest and Williams. Why? Because the availability of low cost dark fiber will make it a lot easier for new operators to enter the market.

Of course, that won't start kicking in until Aerie's network goes into service. It will be laid along 14,958 miles of rights-of-way obtained from 12 U.S. energy companies, including BP Amoco, Explorer Pipeline Co., and National Fuel Gas. The project is being financed by VantagePoint Venture Partners http://www.vpvp.com.

by Peter Heywood, international editor, and Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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