The fundamentals of dark fiber explained

Fiber optic networks are the future of internet infrastructure. These networks promise faster speeds, greater security and increased flexibility. Dark fiber refers to the “unlit” infrastructure — or fiber optic cables that currently aren’t in use by a carrier or service provider — that an end-user can lease, either short- or long-term.

With the potential benefits dark fiber offers — security, speed, flexibility — it’s unfortunate that more telecom companies haven’t yet adopted fiber optics as the standard for internet service.

Actually, quite a bit of fiber infrastructure was laid in the 90s. There were several factors working against the widespread implementation of fiber optics in the U.S., which included the deregulation of internet service that led to business mergers and a lack of competition among telecom companies.

As a result, the existing fiber optic infrastructure is currently either not used, or only used until the “last mile” — oftentimes, telecom companies close this gap with copper wiring. This practice negates the speed benefits promised through a dark fiber network.

The land of the free ranks a dismal 31st in the world for internet speeds. Similarly, the U.S. only has a 9.4% fiber optic penetration rate, ranking 18th overall. The U.S. is lagging way behind Japan’s rate of 72.6% and Sweden’s 46%. Fully implementing the existing dark fiber infrastructure available under many big cities is the key to faster speeds.

The difference between “dark” and “lit”

The main difference between “dark” fiber and “lit” services is that a dark network is infrastructure while a lit network is a service. With dark fiber networks, the customer purchases rights to the infrastructure — the fiber itself — and must provide the service themselves. With lit services, the customer rents the service, and has little to no control over the network itself.

Dark fiber offers the end-user complete control over their network, offering greater reliability, security and scalability. For a more technical explanation of the differences between dark and lit services, read Arch Fiber Networks’ “Dark fiber vs. lit fiber” guide.

The speed benefits of dark fiber networks

The average internet speed in America is 11.5 mbps (megabytes per second). The speed of fiber optic internet access? The standard is 1,000 mbps. Or 1 gigabit. Dark fiber offers speeds that completely dwarf that of the more commonly used lit services — watch this video to see a visual representation of the difference. Gigabit speeds mean faster video downloads and fewer disconnects on conference calls even with many network users.

Moreover, the multiple access points on lit copper wire and wireless services increases the risk of malicious interference and critical data loss. Closed fiber loops, however, are accessible only from a limited number of points. This creates physical-layer isolation and eliminates the need for firewalls and other protective measures, which is critical to those who must comply with strict security regulations.

As mentioned above, organizations with dark fiber have complete control over their network instead of outsourcing bandwidth to a third party. Purchasing rights to dark fiber allows for total control of the capacity and equipment over a private, secure network.

What does the future look like for fiber optic networks?

Fiber networks are the wave of the future. They are being fully implemented in many cities throughout the country, solving the problems caused by the slow speeds and thin bandwidths of lit networks.

Arch Fiber Networks is fighting stagnation. Dark fiber networks are a must in order to remain competitive as lit services are becoming more taxed with heavy data traffic. Infrastructure must grow and expand to meet the end-user requirements. This is good news for you, the end-user, as dark fiber can lead to decreased costs, increased speeds and enhanced security.

For more information on the benefits and technical aspects of dark fiber, be sure to download our Dark Fiber 101 guide below.