Facebook, ever eager to get as many people in the world online as soon as possible, and with as good a connection as possible, has developed a way to cheaply deploy fiber lines along electrical grid infrastructure and says it plans to give startup NetEquity Networks a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to build fiber networks using this technology solution."
The web services giant says its "technology solution" combines "aerial construction techniques with a number of novel technical components," which are not specified by the company. Together, these techniques and components would, estimates Facebook, enable fiber deployment costs to be reduced to $2-3 per meter in developing countries.
"Following the electric grid, specifically the medium voltage grid, with fiber would bring fiber to nearly every cell tower and within a few hundred meters of most of the population," opines Facebook in this statement. "A fiber network built alongside the electric grid would also benefit the electric company by providing a more secure, high capacity and low latency communication network for smart grid purposes ranging from loss and diversion mitigation to distributed renewable integration."
So Facebook has developed the tech but, having seen how Google Fiber became a massive pain in the backside for its fellow online behemoth, doesn't want to get its hands dirty building anything.
Instead it has teamed up with San Francisco-based NetEquity Networks, which helped develop the fiber rollout model with Facebook, but which does not have any equity involvement from the webscale giant. NetEquity plans to use the technology to build wholesale, open access fiber networks in partnership with utility firms. That plan involves raising the initial capital for the construction, managing the build (including management systems) and bringing on board retail service providers that use the fiber infrastructure to provide services to end users.
NetEquity is headed up by CEO Isfandiyar Shaheen, who formerly ran a shared telecom infrastructure company called Towershare in Dubai before spending two years as a consultant and "entrepreneur in residence" at Facebook from late 2017 to mid-2019. In April 2018 he founded NetEquity Networks, which cites Facebook and EntryPoint Networks, a company that has developed network management, orchestration, authentication and virtual BNG (broadband network gateway) tools, as its partners.
NetEquity's mission statement sounds less like a business plan and more like a charity (in a good way), as it proposes:
Open access to the fiber
Fair and equitable pricing
Decreasing prices for capacity as traffic grows
Equal construction of fiber in both rural and lower-income communities and affluent ones
Shared benefits of the fiber network with the electric company
There's no doubt that open access networks is the way to go: That model is proving increasingly popular with the private equity community and helps to stimulate service-based competition while introducing new infrastructure options to markets.
But will running fiber along electricity grid lines prove acceptable to regulators and other government bodies? It seems unlikely that utility companies would turn down the opportunity to make more money from their existing grid structures, so economic potential (pent-up demand from customers with spending power) and regulatory clearance appear to be the two main hurdles that any resulting plans would need to overcome -- getting those two in the bag should at least have investors sniffing around the model.
Facebook says it has a "lot to finish in the next two years as we work toward our first major deployment." It'll certainly be interesting to see how the dynamics of this proposal play out.
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading, special to Broadband World News
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