Generally, the dark side refers to Darth Vader and other not-so-good things. Leave it to the communications industry to turn something dark into something powerfully marketable and profitable—dark fiber.

Fiber optics is defined as the transmission of light through fibers made generally of glass or plastic. This is how communications is transmitted––at the speed of light.

Sounds simple enough, but the whole premise is based upon light. So, how does darkness come into play?

The dark part of the nomenclature is the simple fact that portions of the fiber optic cable, usually strands, are not “lit”—they have not been terminated nor activated.

Any contractor, especially one with a conscience is probably wondering why there are so many extra fiber runs lying around. Who would take the time and expense to pay for additional runs with only the long-shot hopes of being able to sell it to an end-user one day? But, that is business: Planning for future revenue.

The plan seems to be on track since dark fiber has become the hottest solution to businesses’ growing demands for increased ability to transmit large quantities of both Internet and voice traffic. The newest contracting subset has become to lease out dark fiber.

Back in the early 1990s, many companies began to run massive amounts of underground fiber optic cable to answer the growing demand for increased bandwidth and enhanced data transmission rates. Then, many remembered that initial installations are less expensive and less time-consuming than having to go back and add to a previous installation. Many chose to go ahead and lay some extra cable and take a chance on the future.

Good move. According to published reports by both Cambridge Strategic Management Partners and McKinsey & Company, the market for reselling dark fiber will reach $10 billion by 2006. Not a bad way to supplement a core business. Reports on the amount of available dark fiber allude that upwards of thousands of miles are lying dormant throughout the United States.

Bell and large telephone companies are the largest owners of dark fiber, probably because they could afford it. When the large telecommunication providers split up and were forced into open competition, they began the trend by leasing out the dark fiber to their competitors. Again, that’s business.

There are smaller companies that play in this market. An electrical contractor can lease out some lines and then sublease them out to clients as an added product offering.

Many end users have found that leasing dark fiber is a cost-effective systems solution. It has become the new way to expand a network. Even though upon first glance it may seem as if you are buying leftovers, that’s not quite the case.

By choosing this option, businesses have realized benefits such as:

• Fixed Costs—Lease rates remain constant regardless of how much bandwidth the company taps into.

• Security—This type of network extension essentially creates a VPN (Virtual Private Network) as opposed to tapping into a public ISP (Internet service Provider), which allows all subscribers to access the same connection. This is a boon for the security side of systems since it helps lower the risk of others having access to your internal data.

• Lower Initial Cost—Since the majority of the work has already been done, companies just have to pay the dark fiber owner to “turn on” the connection. This can easily translate into big savings. In technical terms, the only upfront cost would be to terminate the strands and run a connection into the facility from that main termination point–– something that is done everyday, something that contractors can do with one hand tied behind their backs.

• Flexibility—This is increased because of the extensive bandwidth capabilities inherently built into such systems. Once an end-user has this type of setup, they have greater expansion possibilities.

Some may think that this is just a passing fad like many other ventures in the communications industry, but the premise makes complete sense. Companies nowadays rely so heavily upon their communications systems for just about every aspect of their respective businesses that it is no surprise most of the copper networks out there just cannot handle the workload.

When companies find themselves craving more transmission capabilities, many fear the mighty budget will stop them short. By utilizing some of the ample dark fiber available, they can realize benefits that were once only available to those with Microsoft-sized budgets. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com