Date: 17th November 2017
With the fastest internet technology in the world now available to businesses across Yorkshire through Exa Networks and their partnership with CityFibre, we thought this would be the perfect time to explore what dark fibre is and how the connectivity can revolutionise the digital capabilities of companies – and make anything possible.
The internet forms the foundation for the operational ability of many businesses, slow or unreliable connections can severely impact how well a company is able to function. With everything from the way we communicate, research and operate to how we advertise being increasingly dependent upon the internet, there is an integral need to make sure that the service we are receiving is as effective as it can possibly be. Indeed, 94% of SMEs believe that a reliable connection is critical to the success of their business. So for something so key, why do we settle for anything less than the best?
Unfortunately, it’s easy to do; and something many of us are guilty of – with just 1 in 8 businesses reporting that they are ‘very satisfied’ with their broadband provision. However, with phrases such as ‘superfast’ and ’next-generation’ often used to describe the latest internet technology, it can be easy to dismiss the newest development as just another flash in the pan – something that will be replaced by the next faster, more powerful, service in a couple of years – and won’t drastically improve the way a business works.
This is where dark fibre changes things.
In the same way that the arrival of broadband transformed a business’s digital ability following dial-up, dark fibre opens up a brand new world of potential – one that won’t be surpassed in our lifetime (and we don’t say that easily)!
So, what is dark fibre?
A fibre-optic cable is made up of super thin strands of glass, or more commonly now; plastic polymers, each less than a tenth as thick as human hair, data is converted to pulses of light which is beamed down the strand and converted back to data at the receiving end. Originally developed in the 1950s for endoscopes, it was in the 1960s that engineers developed a way of using the technology to transmit telephone calls at the speed of light – well, nearly, in a vacuum the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second, it slows to about two thirds of this in a fibre-optic cable (around 125,000 miles per second), data is now carried via fibre in the same manner.
Dark fibre is essentially an optical fibre infrastructure that is not limited by the constraints of traditional telco services.
Using fibre as opposed to traditional copper brings several benefits;
- Less signal loss – information travels about 10x further before needing amplification.
- No interference – There is no electromagnetic interference between optical fibres resulting in greater reliability and signal quality.
- Higher bandwidth – when comparing like-sized cables, fibre can carry far more data than copper.
- Future proofing – In the same way that speeds using copper went from 64kbps to 80Mbps available today, as the cost of technology reduces you can expect to see the incredible lab tested fibre speeds of 5,600,000Mbps (5.6Tbps) become commercially available over time.
As a result, fibre used as an internet connection is capable of accommodating all your business’s needs and potential needs. 5 years ago, the largest networks in the UK were running10Gb backbones, this is now the speed you can get directly to your business premises. Exa’s current network runs on a 100Gb backbone and we fully expect to see these speeds reach businesses in a shorter timescale.
But why is it called Dark?
Okay, we’re getting into semantics here, the fibre in the ground is the same for both ‘dark’ and ‘lit’ services. The difference is that an ISP like Exa lease the fibre as it is, in the ground, with no light passing through it. These ‘dark’ fibres can then be used to create networks.
Is Dark better than Lit?
By maintaining complete control of the light that passes through the fibres (and thus the bandwidth transmitted) means that bandwidths can be changed almost instantly for customers, even for short time periods (such as events where the demand for connectivity is higher than normal operating hours). Also, unlike lit services like GPON which use the same infrastructure, the light transmitted is not shared with other users, meaning that companies receive the headline speed, all the time.
Comparing services like DarkLight to GPON can be like thinking of Internet routers: Imagine if you connect one device to a WiFi network you can expect to receive near full performance from your router, connect 10 devices and the bandwidth is shared thus you will see your performance degrade, this is like the GPON model, DarkLight however, is similar to using an Ethernet cable connected directly to your router and turning of the WiFi signal so no-one else can use the bandwidth. This means that with an Exa Networks’ DarkLight service, your business will never have to install a new, higher capacity line, or assess if your connectivity technology is still suitable.
Should you increase employee number, your use of cloud services or rich media, the size of your downloads, uploads, or anything at all, your connection can be adjusted within minutes to provide the bandwidth increase you need; on both a temporary or permanent basis.
In fact, it’s difficult to overestimate the impact this type of connectivity can have – not just on individual businesses – but also on the cities to which it is introduced. From the ￡50m received in investments by early Gigabit-adopter Chattanooga to the elevation of Lafayette, Louisiana as ‘a sought-after location for the entertainment industry’ following its introduction of Gigabit connections, there is no limit to what these incredible internet services can make possible.