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Fiber remains plentiful as Akamai builds private network backbone

Akamai said it continues to flesh out a global private network that it uses to transmit video and game data, stressing that obtaining dark fiber for the effort "hasn't posed a big challenge."

The comments are notable considering fiber remains a critical piece of Internet infrastructure, whether it's for cloud computing or 5G. And the fact that Akamai – a major content delivery network (CDN) operator – continues to build out its private network backbone using third-party fiber indicates the supply of fiber is at least keeping pace with demand, even amid COVID-19 Internet traffic spikes.

"It's an ongoing process. It's a big endeavor," said Dane Walther, Akamai's SVP and general manager of the company's media and carrier business units.

"Having our own backbone affords a range of performance enhancements for our customers and Akamai, which vary by use case," the company explained. "Ultimately, it means we hit fewer links that are shared with other companies' traffic. This makes a difference for networks that have limited peering capacity to our traditional transit providers but have lots of direct capacity with us. We can also operate our network to a much higher level of reliability thanks to greater visibility into the connectivity picture."

Akamai began constructing its private fiber backbone roughly three years ago. The effort involves the company purchasing unused, "dark" lines of fiber from the likes of CenturyLink and Zayo for its exclusive use. Walther said Akamai first began purchasing fiber in major US cities to connect the servers it uses to store game and video content, and then expanded the effort across cities and, eventually, countries.

The company confirmed it now commands a private backbone throughout North America, Europe and parts of Asia. "We're continually assessing, planning and connecting new cities and geographies as they meet our targets," the company said, though it declined to provide any financial or operational metrics around the effort.

Akamai is one of many companies purchasing lines of fiber for exclusive use. T-Mobile, Amazon and others do so too in order to ensure that their Internet traffic won't get bogged down while crisscrossing the public Internet.

But, to be clear, the relative availability of fiber hasn't stopped vendors from building new fiber lines in specific areas. For example, Verizon is building more than 1,000 miles of fiber per month across 60 cities, while CenturyLink and others are also building out fiber networks in select locations.

Those fiber networks are often viewed as the "backbone" of the Internet because they connect cities and towns across the country and the world to each other and to the data centers where most of the Internet's information is stored. "Access" networks like 4G or cable often connect directly to real, live users, but then route those users' traffic onto core fiber networks in the backbone.

Akamai, for its part, uses its CDN – which includes its private network coupled with its software and servers – to quickly deliver offerings like streaming video or video game downloads.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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