Ubiquity leans into fiber’s flexibility for open access deployments

Ubiquity, one of a growing cohort of open access network providers in the U.S., looks to maximize the flexibility of fiber while expanding its footprint across five states.

The company last week announced it launched open access networks across Carlsbad, California and Mesa, Arizona, building upon its existing footprint in southern California and Texas’ Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin metro areas.

But it’s also heading farther east, unveiling a brand-new market of Omaha, Nebraska (including Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is right across the state border).

Greg Dial, Ubiquity’s managing director and chief revenue officer, said Ubiquity typically focuses its builds in “high-growth suburban areas,” especially in areas “where there isn’t fiber.”

Dial said in an interview with Fierce,“In the center of Omaha, you have some fiber providers, but if you look at the periphery of Omaha, almost as a general rule it’s 0% fiber, right?” 

Founded in 2019, Ubiquity considers three criteria when choosing expansion markets; the percentage of fiber in the market, the relative density between homes and the overall size of a market, “to figure out what we’re comfortable in building.”

“Everything we’re doing is 100% through private funding. None of this is public money,” said Dial, adding the company hasn’t asked cities it’s working with for money or leveraged any government programs, “not to say we wouldn’t do that in the future.”

Another key component of Ubiquity’s deployments is “build[ing] a lot of relationships with the cities themselves.”

“Being upfront about…we’re here to invest private money to build the network,” he said. “It’s super important we build these relationships because the cities are essentially doing the permitting [and public rights-of-way].”

Combo of lit and dark fiber

As to the technical side of deployment, all of Ubiquity’s networks offer tenants either a connection to dark fiber or lit fiber. Mesa will be the first market in which Ubiquity will simultaneously deploy lit and dark fiber to serve residents and businesses.

The choice between the two fiber options is really up to the provider, Dial went on to say.

Smaller ISPs, for instance, “tend to prefer a more kind of a curated model or more of a direct network build model, where we would build all of the active electronics.”

“And essentially, we have what we call demarcations,” he said. “And on those demarcations, we say ‘look, we will do everything in a lit scenario up to the side of the home.’ And then you go and sell that customer, that customer is owned by you.”

Some providers – perhaps a larger or regional player – may opt to take a dark fiber network and “light it themselves,” depending on the resources they have available.

“They may already have a network team that’s in the area, and it’s easier for them to extend their network by using our fiber and they may already have network gear…installers, things like that,” said Dial. Whereas a smaller ISP could take the network Ubiquity built and “just provide the router at the end and manage that customer.”

“It really just depends on how much or as little they want to do on the network build side,” he added.

Ubiquity has a mixture of tenants leasing its fiber and is also undergoing trials with “some larger Tier One providers.” The two main tenants the company’s been public about are Ting Internet and FiberFirst, the latter poised to become the anchor tenant in Omaha.

Co-opetition, not competition

Dial noted there’s “a lot of momentum” in open access networking, as some larger operators are finding it more efficient to use third parties for buildouts.

Having said that, he doesn’t consider other open access providers as competition, given they “don’t overbuild each other.” Rather, it’s a competition between fiber and legacy technology like DSL and cable.

“I personally root for open access providers, because if we’re not overlapping with them, while our model is different, we’re doing what I would consider a larger scale,” Dial said.

He added Ubiquity is focused on working with “a particular set of partners” rather than have a “software-based type solution where we have many types of software-integrated ISPs.”

“I would say this is more ‘co-opetition’ if you will, where I always root for people that have similar business models, as long as we don’t overlap.”

Asked why he thinks it’s taken more time for open access networks to take off in the U.S. as opposed to other countries, Dial pointed to land mass as one obstacle.

“The amount of capital it takes to cover companies in Western or Eastern Europe is a lot less than what it would take to cover land areas in the U.S,” he said.

Also, the U.S. has “very strong incumbent players,” as opposed to say Europe where there might be “one or two major players” in a market.

The open access model is hardly a novel development in the U.S. In the tower space, for instance, “25 years ago everybody did build their own towers…it’s kind of weird to say that people didn’t use common towers back then,” said Dial.

Further, building open access networks can be a little more expensive than traditional buildouts. But he said the U.S. has had a “fair amount of capital funding” available for these networks.

“Frankly, now I think you have the need, right? The market is now understanding the difference between some of these legacy copper, cable-based networks and fiber and you know, what the real differences in performance are,” Dial added.