Can the switch to the dark side of fiber speed up your Internet connection?
“Dark fiber” sounds like something out of a scary horror movie, but in reality, it’s much more submissive than it looks. 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 use it.
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What is dark fiber?
Dark fiber is when an optical fiber connection is not in use. This is called “dark fiber” because fiber optic connections carry light signals to and from their destination.
As such, the dark fiber does not receive any light signal, making it dark. This is the opposite of “fiber on” when a fiber optic cable is used.
However, dark fiber goes a step further than simple “fiber that is not used”. For example, if everyone on your neighborhood fiber optic network stops using the Internet all at once, it does not become a dark fiber network.
To be truly “dark fiber,” cables must not have any devices on either side. It’s not just unused; it’s disconnected and waiting for someone to come and take advantage of it.
For example, imagine a highway. You can take the freeway at one point and get off at another. However, in the wee hours of the morning when cars are not using it, the freeway keeps turning into a freeway; it’s just dormant for now.
Dark fiber, on the other hand, is if someone added an extra lane to the highway. This path does not come from nowhere nor go anywhere. To top it off, it’s cordoned off and cannot be used for overtaking. It’s right there, unused, not connected to anywhere; this is what dark fiber looks like.
Why does dark fiber exist?
It seems a little pointless that we have fiber optic cables underground, unused and not connected to anything. However, dark fiber exists because companies actually want to reduce the amount of waste and costs associated with laying fiber optic cables.
When a company wants to lay cables, purchasing the cables is a small part of the expense. The most expensive part is digging the ground, laying the cable, and then covering everything.
As such, when a company lays fiber optic cables, they pile up as many cables as possible before sealing it again. They will do this even if they know the cables they are laying exceed the amount of use for that area.
By doing this, the business protects itself from potential expansion in the future. If the demand for fiber optic connections increases, additional cables can take over. Since fiber optics is one of the most popular Internet access technologies, this is a likely scenario.
As such, installing more fiber than needed is much better than having to re-dig the ground and add more cables each time the demand increases. However, if the demand does not increase, you end up with cables that are not attached to anything; hence, how the dark fiber is made.
What is dark fiber used for?
Fortunately, some companies are making good use of dark fiber. In fact, the dark fiber is in a unique position which makes it highly desirable for some.
The problem with ISPs
For example, take a large corporation. If that business has an online presence, it will want stable and reliable service to properly manage its customers. He may also wish 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 you do to get your Internet. However, if a business wants to send a lot of data through the ISP, it may face huge service charges.
Regular consumers like you and I use an ISP because they have us set up with everything we need to connect. You can technically create your own ISP, but setting up and maintaining the infrastructure is very expensive. That’s 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 the skills to make their own connection and ignore the ISP altogether. Of course, they need unused fiber to do this, which is where dark fiber comes in.
A business can lease some of the dark fiber and then connect its own devices to either end. They can then use their expertise to create a system that connects every office and then to the internet, thereby avoiding an ISP altogether.
In the highway example above, it is as if a company decides to use the unused lane and put up ramps that lead to its offices. They could then use this route to transport goods and workers as they pleased.
Actually, do you remember when we said the lane was closed off from the rest of the highway? This means that only company traffic can use the tracks; no one else can use them without permission. The company lanes are spared from traffic jams on the main highway.
Likewise, a dark fiber connection can provide businesses with a fast, high-speed connection that is unencumbered by general traffic or overloaded ISP servers. This makes them highly desirable for someone who wants a connection with themselves.
How companies rent dark fiber
If you want to use dark fiber yourself, you will need to find a dark fiber supplier for the country in which you live. Some examples include Fibroptic for the United Kingdom and Lumen in the USA. However, there are many other companies, some of which can be found in the Dark Fiber Network community .
Typically, these companies have a dark fiber map that lets you see where the fiber is and lets you choose the location closest to your business. You can then make arrangements to get your own fiber optic connection.
Please note that we talked about this from a business perspective rather than an individual one. Indeed, renting your own fiber optic cable is an expensive and complicated process that only a business should really try.
As stated on Fibroptic:
Dark fiber may be the right fit for your business, but it’s not like buying a managed service. You invest in leasing an asset that needs to be maintained and in the worst case – like builders cutting wires – repaired. Under these circumstances, failures may not be easy or quick to resolve. You will need the correct SLAs in place. Simply put, your dark fiber is a high tech point-to-point cable. It is designed to connect offices to offices, data centers to data centers or offices to data centers.
Fibroptic says that if you lease fiber to them, you will need to organize the devices on each end of the fiber, add internet connectivity on your own, create a fail-safe system, and pay cabling taxes. This is not an ideal solution if you want to increase the speed of your Netflix stream!
Dark fiber can provide high-speed, low-latency connections to those who use it, but it’s labor-intensive to set up and maintain. As such, it’s best for business use and not really doable for someone who wants higher speeds.
If you want faster speeds, it may be better to use fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP). Although this is an expensive solution, it is more realistic for someone instead of a dark fiber connection.