Cox Builds a Backbone

Why buy when you can build?

That's a question Cox Communications Inc. asked itself as the cable operator noodled how it might weave together its broadband backbone of the future. And "build" was the answer that ended up winning out for the MSO, whose backbone-building project entered full-swing late last year and is expected to wrap up by the end of this year.

But "buy" was the victor in the early going. Cox has tapped a backbone connecting the majority of its systems since 2001, back when it kicked off a "self-reliance" project. But rather than snap up and light its own dark fiber, Cox opted to lease wavelengths from Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT).

Level 3 is still in the picture under the new model, providing the majority of Cox's dark fiber.

"We're sort of changing out the car while we're still driving it," explains Randy Kinsey, Cox's executive director of network architecture. "It's very similar to what our backbone has traditionally looked like. In a lot of cases, where we already use Level 3 leased wavelengths, it's a fiber in the same sheath we've been in before."

The big difference, of course, is that Cox will own and control the physical layer of the new backbone. "We [will have] the ability to turn up how much capacity we need, and do it at our pace, as well," Kinsey adds. Cox has transitioned about 75 percent of its backbone so far.

When completed, the 13,000-route-mile backbone will hook up most of Cox's major properties and tap into a few other cities along the path of the dark fiber. The backbone, lit by Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN)'s DTN platform, will give Cox about 800 Gbit/s of capacity (via 80 10-Gig wavelengths), according to Kinsey. (See Cox Picks Infinera and Cox Deploys Infinera.)

Cox's old backbone got the MSO into the OC192 generation, but capacity and traffic growth reached a level where it made financial sense for the MSO to change gears.

"The amount that we were spending on leased wavelengths reached a level where it's the same cost, fundamentally, as owning the fiber and lighting it ourselves and, thus, putting more of that control in our hands," Kinsey explains.

The model is similar in some ways to that of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which owns and operates its backbone. Comcast's Converged Regional Area Network (CRAN), comprising about 125,000 fiber route miles, is running 10 Gbit/s and 40 Gbit/s wavelengths and even some 100 Gbit/s tests. Comcast's technology partners include Level 3, Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Nortel Networks Ltd. . (See Comcast, Nortel Put 100G to the Test , Comcast, Cisco Test 100-Gig, Comcast Deploys Juniper, and Comcast Thinks Big.)

The build option has resulted in a "minimal" addition of headcount, Kinsey says. Cox already had a transport engineering group up and running, but "on the operations side, we staffed up with a new organization within our NOC [network operations center] to monitor it, manage it, and run it day-to-day."

IP-based voice and Internet applications will continue to ride on Cox's new backbone, but the new network will also be equipped to handle more bandwidth-heavy video content.

"Video obviously is driving it pretty hard. As more and more of our video goes IP-based, a stream of video brings quite a bit of data along with it," Kinsey says. And that's not just video-on-demand (VOD) and other content sourced from Cox. Kinsey says so-called over-the-top, Internet-based video services are traveling the backbone and driving up utilization as well. (See Is Cable the IP Network King? )

An interesting side point to chew on: The nature of the dark fiber will let Cox run its backbone through larger cities beyond its traditional cable footprint. That could open up opportunities to extend offerings like business-class services. But Cox isn't ready to pinpoint those possibilities yet.

"We believe it does open doors to those opportunities, but nothing has been decided around what we would or wouldn't do," Kinsey says.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:36:35 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone LR is fielding more stories about service providers building their own networks to support IP traffic. This could be a bottom. Separately, does the presence of INFN gear have a meaningful impact on Cox's ability to furnish business services in cities passed?
digits 12/5/2012 | 3:36:34 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone "This could be a bottom."


For us Brits, it sounds like a negative take, given that we sit on our bottoms over here...

As for "Sounds Like a Bottom" - well, I won't go there...
tsat 12/5/2012 | 3:36:26 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone
Just don't say anything to him about a "fanny pack".

A bottom, that this is the end of the slow growth of IP equipment, it goes up from here.

The thing is, isn't the IP equipment sector pretty robust at the moment? I mean, its not scorching hot, but growing at a healthy rate, right?

Kreskin 12/5/2012 | 3:36:18 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone
The news of this story is not the network as much as look what Cox can do once it goes private and get away from the Wall Street lemmings ... that's the story.

Cox is clearly demonstrating the value of owning fiber and taking action.
^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 3:36:13 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone to kreskin,

While I agree that one of the big things about this story is the "going private" as you describe; for the purposes of "Lightreading" readers I believe the biggest news is that there is sufficient bandwidth demand to justify a major upgrade of COX's backbone. This is similar to the need for Comcast to add bandwidth along with ATT, Sprint, Verizon.

To me it indicates an opportunity. I believe we are in a nice upgrade cycle for carrier networks both CATV companies and traditional telco's.

Seeing the same thing in backbones from singapore to bonn.

many of us who subscribe to LR are in the optical communications business. upgrading backbones means spending on optical systems and hence the entire optical food chain.

To me this is the biggest part of the news in this article.

materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:36:12 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone Dear Ray and tsat:
I am a minority here. Your going off about "bottom, what do you mean" and "Fanny" are crude and hostile. You are acting like some bullies who know they have numbers on their side. Who do you think you are? What are you really trying to communicate here?

I would really like you to explain to me, ray, on this board, why your behavior is professional or even respectable. Is this the type of talk you want on your board? Who is setting the standards here?
OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:36:11 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone I just looked at a map and the fiber routes looked like those we leased in the late 80s.

Is this really new cable or just cable not in use (dark) and/or disserted/abandoned?
tsat 12/5/2012 | 3:36:10 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone I am sorry I offended you Materialgirl. I will be more mature in my future posts.

bbasmdc 12/5/2012 | 3:36:03 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone Last time I looked both men and women had bottoms :-)

Materialgirl - do you think perhaps you may have over reacted? I'm pretty sure that neither Ray nor tsat meant any offense. I certainly did not pick up any sexist overtones in their remarks.

I think what Ray was getting at with his original question is, what did you actually mean by the term "sounds like a bottom"? I didn't really understand it either. I know that people talk about bottoms in markets - but both the IP and optical markets have been in continuous growth since 2003.

Please do not interpret these questions as bullying. I for one have read and valued your comments on these boards for several years.
mr zippy 12/5/2012 | 3:36:00 PM
re: Cox Builds a Backbone I agree, I wondered what the term meant or was referring to (and I'm from .au, where we're rather "creative" with the Queen's English.)
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