Facebook steps into fibre

24 June 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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As Facebook ramps up its wholesale offerings, network director Kevin Salvadori, discusses the company’s plans in the industry

2019 saw Facebook confirm its entry into the wholesale fibre market. Announced back in March, the company detailed its plans to sell excess capacity on fibre routes via a newly-launched subsidiary called Middle Mile Infrastructure.

“We intend to allow third parties — including local and regional providers — to purchase excess capacity on our fibre,” said Kevin Salvadori, director of network investments at Facebook, at the time. “This capacity could provide additional network infrastructure to existing and emerging providers, helping them extend service to many parts of the country, and particularly in underserved rural areas near our long-haul fibre builds,” he added.

Speaking exclusively to Capacity, Salvadori explained the rationale behind the company’s move into the wholesale fibre market, saying: “We are investing in new fibre routes in the US that connect our data centres and provide much needed resiliency and scale. We are happy to provide excess capacity to other service providers to extend their services.”

At the time of the announcement, Salvadori explained that the Middle Mile Infrastructure subsidiary would operate as a wholesale provider. Questioning him on the different operating models he was referring to, he expanded, saying: “We will not be providing services directly to consumers. Our operating model will be to support other service providers provide their services more broadly.”
It is still early days for Middle Mile Infrastructure and, according to Salvadori, the company is still very much focused on building its new fibre routes.

“Our focus is on completing these infrastructure builds. Then, we will work on providing capacity to other service providers,” he says.

Looking ahead Middle Mile Infrastructure is hard at work on establishing routes between Facebook’s data centres in Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.

“Those options include leveraging long-established partnerships to access existing fibre-optic cable infrastructure; partnering on mutually beneficial investments in new infrastructure; or, in situations where we have a specific need, leading the investment in new fibre-optic cable routes,” he added.

Facebook has been particularly active in the submarine cable space forming partnerships with numerous telcos and cable operators. Such projects include the 6,605km MAREA cable connecting Spain to the US. The HAVFRUE/AEC-2 cable, which links Denmark, Norway, Ireland and the US.

The Argentina to Brazil Malbec system and the recently announced Bay-to-Bay Express cable project connecting US to Singapore.
“We have many partnerships around the world to invest in network infrastructure to support the 2.7 billion people in our global community,” continued Salvadori. “We have already announced many subsea partnerships for Trans-Atlantic, Asia and South America projects.”

Unsurprisingly, Facebook’s demand for new fibre has grown exponentially and as such must “utilise all available tools to continue to power the billions of people that use our products and services,” says Salvadori. “We partner in an open, pragmatic way to develop scale infrastructure.”

To support this goal, Facebook has invested heavily in high-capacity fibre-optic routes to provide much-needed resiliency and scale in the face of surging capacity demands. Video as well as emerging technologies such as VR/AR, 5G and IoT will undoubtedly play a part in this, something that Salvadori says the company is actively preparing for.

“We believe in bringing more people online to a faster internet,” he says. “We work to support infrastructure that leads to that goal, including richer user experiences such as AR/VR.”

The position of OTTs and their entry into the traditional wholesale space has been disruptive to the say the least. As such, the relationship between the two has been nothing short of love-hate, with some even going as far as describing it as ‘frenemies’ (see page 32 of the June/July issue of Capacity Magazine). However, according to Salvadori Facebook comes in peace, describing carriers as important strategic partners.

“We do not compete with telecoms companies,” he explains. “They are very important strategic partners and we have a very strong collaborative partnership with them. The Telecom Infra Project with over 500 members is a great example of this.”

The Telecom Infra Project is a community of operators, technology providers, developers, integrators, startups and others that collaborate to build next-gen networks and technologies.

The industry is going through a period of transformation, through which a number of opportunities exist for those primed to capitalise on it, according to Salvadori.

“There is a real opportunity in the industry for partnership and establishing new networks, increasing connectivity, and improving resiliency.”