New Lightning-Fast Dark Fiber Network System to be Laid to Connect the Coasts

It’s not just the St. Joe Valley Metronet that’s big on the high-speed, dark-fiber optic technology that permits it to transmit massive amounts of data in the blink of an eye.

Soon, a company called Allied Fiber will connect the coasts via a similar system, which allows multiple carriers to “light,” or turn on, the dark fiber and control the waves of light on which the information travels.

The first stage of Allied Fiber’s lightning-fast system will link Chicago and New York.

And it will run right through South Bend’s renovated Union Station. The former railroad depot is a so-called “carrier hotel,” a high-security facility where numerous telecom firms operate and where transcontinental fiber converges and connects.

Metronet plays a vital role in Allied Fiber’s bid to link the coasts, as it too is a high-speed dark fiber network exceeding 50 miles, connecting dozens of South Bend-area businesses, hospitals and colleges.

Mary Jan Hedman, Metronet’s executive director, calls Allied Fiber’s decision to go through Union Station great news for the region.

“Thanks to Allied Fiber’s national fiber-optic network and Metronet’s corresponding local network, St. Joseph County will be an even smarter location for data centers than it was before,” says Hedman.

“Moreover, our low cost of power and general affordability make this area more attractive,” she says.

Allied Fiber’s plans to connect Chicago and New York via dark fiber are just the beginning of plans by Hunter Newby. He is a former executive with Telx, a carrier hotel firm that was created at 60 Hudson Street in New York City.

Newby, considered by some a telecommunications visionary, is now CEO of Manhattan-based Allied Fiber.

Taking advantage of railroad right-of-ways, he plans to eventually run fiber to Seattle, up and down the East and West coasts and to other key locations in the United States and Canada via interconnections to multiple long-haul routes along the way.

The system will make it easy to build direct dark fiber connections to cell towers, data centers, businesses and universities along the way.

“Basically, we are building the dark fiber structure that most emulates the interstate highway system with on-ramps, off-ramps and rest stops,” he explains.

He predicted dark fiber running from Chicago to New York will be turned over to customers in South Bend by summer of 2010.

“If South Bend wants to develop as a high-tech center, this will only help,” Newby says. “Moreover, you’ve already got the ‘local knowledge’ in Metronet. The combination of the two is incredibly powerful.”

The dark fiber model

Why is this vitally important to businesses and other entities?

Newby says there is a strong need for more dark fiber in this country, in order to keep up with ever-growing data-transfer demands that have resulted from the information revolution over the past two decades.

“There was enough earlier in this decade,” he says. “Not anymore. If there were, people wouldn't be complaining that they cannot get access. The dark fiber drought impacts wireless, education, government, enterprise as well as carriers of all sizes.”

This understandably is music to the ears of Metronet’s Hedman and Kevin Smith, president and CEO of Union Station/Global Access Point.

Hedman says she is pleased that the Allied Fiber project is based on a dark fiber “model,” which allows different carriers – not just one monopoly carrier – to access the high-speed dark fiber trunk.

“This will stimulate greater competition, and give businesses in our area more choices to access high-speed dark fiber service,” Hedman explained.

“It should also position St. Joseph County as a viable market to provide services because of the low cost, last-mile access created by our firm, the Metronet. As a not-for-profit entity, we were created as a tool to promote growth and attract new business to the area.” The Metronet is an initiative created by Project Future – an economic development organization of St. Joseph County.

Smith, who set up his carrier hotel in Union Station in the late 1980s, praised Newby for his vision of using ultra-fast fiber to connect the coasts and reach other locations throughout the United States, Canada and beyond.

“By going through Union Station, it will give access to our community to use those fibers for conveying digital services,” he says. “For high-tech companies that are considering locating here, this will give a very cost-effective means to go coast to coast and then connect to other low-cost carriers that go abroad.

“This means we will be on the worldwide super-fast hub, many times faster than typical ‘high-speed’ Internet packages for businesses and corporations,” he says. “It will help level the playing field. It’s kind of like having an international airport locate in your backyard.”

Creating a ‘virtualized Chicago’

Smith says he hopes traders and financial companies located in the Cermak Building in downtown Chicago will consider setting up parallel computing facilities at Union Station.

“Cermak, with 1 million square feet of data center, is the dominant player in the financial industry in Chicago,” says Smith, who noted that he has already held discussions with some companies about setting up shop at Union Station.

“I’m working directly with them to get a ‘virtualized Chicago’ based here,” he says. “I’m talking with them right now about being able to put short run fibers to the Union Station.”

Consequently, instead of co-locating in the Chicago suburbs, the opposite direction from New York, they could parallel compute at Union Station and be closer to Wall Street via Allied Fiber.

With Allied Fiber soon to be a player with its state-of-the-art dark fiber, it should make Union Station “very appealing” to Chicago traders and financiers, Smith says.

“This will allow us to touch more robustly all the assets in Chicago, as well as give a broader reach on a global basis for companies based here,” he says. “This is a very big deal.”

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