“Dark fiber” sounds like something out of a spooky horror movie, but in reality, it’s a lot tamer than it sounds. So, what is dark fiber, and can you use it to get even faster download speeds?
Let’s explore the dark fiber network and how you can put it to use.
What Is Dark Fiber?
Dark fiber is when a fiber-optic connection isn’t being put to use. It’s called “dark fiber” because fiber-optic connections carry light signals to and from their destination.
As such, dark fiber doesn’t have any light signals going through it, making it dark. This is the opposite of “lit fiber,” when a fiber-optic cable is in use.
Dark fiber goes a little further than just “fiber that isn’t being used,” however. For example, if everyone on your neighborhood’s fiber-optic network stopped using the internet all at once, it doesn’t become a dark fiber network.
To be truly “dark fiber,” the cables need to have no devices on either side of them. It’s not just unused; it’s unconnected and waiting for someone to come along and put it to use.
For instance, imagine a highway. You can get on the highway at one location and get off at another. However, in the wee hours of the morning when cars aren’t using it, the highway doesn’t stop becoming a highway; it’s just dormant for now.
Dark fiber, on the other hand, is if someone added an extra lane to the highway. This lane doesn’t come from anywhere or go anywhere. To top things off, it’s cordoned off and can’t be used for overtaking. It’s just there, unused, unconnected to anywhere; that’s what dark fiber is like.
Why Does Dark Fiber Exist?
It sounds a little wasteful that we have fiber-optic cables underground, unused, and unconnected to anything. However, dark fiber exists because companies actually want to reduce the amount of waste and cost associated with laying fiber-optic cables.
When a company wants to lay cables, buying the cables make up a small part of the expenditure. The most expensive part is digging up the ground, laying the cable, then covering it all up again.
As such, when a company lays down fiber-optic cables, they will cram in as many cables as they can before sealing it up again. They’ll do this even if they know that the cables they’re laying exceed the usage amount for that area.
By doing this, the company is protecting itself from potential expansion in the future. If the demand for fiber-optic connections increases, the extra cables can pick up the slack. Given that fiber-optic is one of the more popular internet access technologies, this is a likely scenario.
As such, installing more fiber than what’s needed is a lot better than having to dig up the ground again and add more cables every time demand increases. However, if the demand doesn’t increase, you’re left with cables that aren’t attached to anything; hence, how dark fiber is made.
What Is Dark Fiber Used For?
Fortunately, some companies put good use to dark fiber. In fact, dark fiber is in a unique position that makes it highly desirable for some.
The Problem With ISPs
For instance, take a large business. If that business has an online presence, it will want a stable and reliable service to handle its customers properly. It may also want to send huge amounts of data from one office to another.
In this situation, the business can go through an internet service provider (ISP), just like how you go through one to get your internet. However, if a business wants to send a lot of data through the ISP, they may be hit with huge service charges.
Regular consumers like you and I use an ISP because they set us up with everything we need to get connected. You can technically make your own ISP, but there’s a lot of expenditure in setting up and maintaining the infrastructure. This is why we pay an ISP a monthly fee to do it for us.
Where Dark Fiber Comes Into Play
But what about businesses? After all, they have the money and skillset to create their own connection and skip the ISP altogether. Of course, they need unused fiber to do this, which is where dark fiber comes into play.
A company can lease out some of the dark fiber, then hook up their own devices to either end. They can then use their expertise to create a system that connects every office and then to the internet, thus avoiding an ISP altogether.
In the highway example above, it’s like if a company decided to use the unused lane and set up ramps that lead to and from their offices. They could then use this lane to transport goods and workers at their leisure.
In fact, remember when we said that the lane is cordoned off from the rest of the highway? That means only company traffic can use the lanes; nobody else can use them without permission. The company’s lanes are spared from any traffic jams that happen on the main highway.
Similarly, a dark fiber connection can give businesses a fast, high-speed connection that isn’t congested by general traffic or overloaded ISP servers. This makes them highly desirable for someone who wants a connection all to themselves.
How Companies Lease Out Dark Fiber
If you’re interested in using dark fiber yourself, you’ll need to find a dark fiber provider for the country you live in. Some examples include Fibroptic for the UK and Lumen in the US. However, there are plenty more companies, some of which you can find in the Dark Fiber Network Community.
Typically, these businesses have a dark fiber map that lets you see where the fiber is and lets you pick your business’s closest spot. You can then enter arrangements to get your own fiber-optic connection.
Please note that we talked about this from a business standpoint rather than an individual one. That’s because leasing your own fiber-optic cable is an expensive and complicated process that only a business should really attempt.
As stated on Fibroptic:
Dark fibre could be the right solution for your business but it is not like buying a managed service. You are investing in leasing an asset that has to be maintained and in the worst case scenario – such as builders cutting through cables – repaired. Under these circumstances the outages might not be easy or fast to fix. You’ll need the right SLAs in place.Put simply, your dark fibre is a high tech cable from one point to another. It is designed to connect offices to offices, data centres to data centres or offices to data centres.
Fibroptic says that if you do lease out fiber from them, you’ll need to organize the devices on either end of the fiber, add internet connectivity by yourself, create a failsafe system, and pay taxes on the cabling. Not an ideal solution if you want to boost your Netflix stream speed!
A Useful Tool… If You Know How to Use It
Dark fiber can provide high-speed, low-latency connections to those who use it, but it takes a lot of work to set up and maintain. As such, it’s best for business use and not really feasible for one person who wants higher speeds.
If you want faster speeds, it may be better to get fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP). While it is a costly solution, it’s more realistic for someone to achieve in lieu of a dark fiber connection.
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