In this episode of the Broadband Bunch, we speak with ZenFi Networks, President and COO, Enzo Clemente about network densification. Enzo shares his experience with designing and deploying broadband networks in large metropolis, he outlines some of the challenges with 5G permitting and provides advice to municipal leaders to be more fiber friendly.
Enzo Clemente: I began my career in telecom about 20 years ago. I’ve always been operationally focused and have specific discipline in architecting and building communications infrastructure, particularly fiber network systems. I’ve enjoyed working with governing bodies and utilities to get approvals and rights to install these systems within the public rights of way. That’s always been a pretty big challenge, but it comes with quite a bit of reward once you get that accomplished.
I suppose I’m most known for starting Cross River Fiber in 2011. Cross River was a New Jersey based fiber service provider that had a really keen focus on optimizing low latency fiber connections between electronic trading engines like NASDAQ or the New York Exchange in New Jersey. And essentially my job there was to create the shortest distance fiber paths between each of these sites so high frequency trading firms could have the ability to transmit market data and perform trades microseconds or so faster than their competitors who were on antiquated systems.
Three years later we partnered with Ridgemont Equity to fuel growth and provide bandwidth more broadly to large enterprises and carrier customers. And most recently merged with ZenFi Networks to create a regional platform to support the growth of mobile network deployments.
Enzo Clemente: We think of mobile densification as the deployment of mobile equipment and nodes just about everywhere and anywhere within close proximity. In New York City there’s a requirement for mobile access points on just about every street corner. In 2014 ZenFi Networks had the foresight and identified what would become today’s network constraint, which is to connect fiber to thousands of mobile endpoints in a dense environment. It became apparent that legacy fiber networks were built to solve a completely different networking problem. We often refer to that as backhaul connectivity, which certainly plays an important part in the fiber and connectivity ecosystem. But those connections would be between an enterprise business and data center locations. They would not necessarily be able to support the rapid growth of what we’re seeing now in the evolution of urban mobile densification.
In 2014 ZenFi Networks implemented what we call dark fiber 2.0 or a fronthaul fiber network. ZenFi Networks’ first major project was to construct this fronthaul network and connect thousands of the linked New York City kiosks. The unique characteristics of a fronthaul fiber network is the design to create fiber breakouts and access points in underground manhole systems every few hundred feet versus legacy backhaul networks, which would typically be accessed at a spliced enclosure about every thousand feet. Again, the right architecture is vital in maintaining time to market deployment and economies of scale.
The other thing is that while we’re building it with access, we also make sure that we upsize the cable count to support the demand. We have built cables that are anywhere from 432 count all the way up to 1728 counts. So, we are building a network that is compatible with the evolution of mobile densification, but it’s also backwards compatible, meaning it can easily support applications that were driven by legacy fiber networks in the past.
Pete Pizzutillo: There’s a lot of talk about 5G and the small cell architectures that some of the tier ones are trying to deploy. And there’s a lot of concern about the densification of those towers in metropolis, big metro areas. But it sounds like you guys have been dealing with this for five or10 years now. Maybe you give us some insight into what you’re experiencing from pushback from the community or maybe some regulatory issues that folks aren’t aware of that may kind of hinder some of that progress.
Enzo Clemente: We deal with it on a day-to-day basis. What’s interesting is that there are procedures in place for permitting and installing these mobile networks in New York City. We are a New York City mobile franchisee. There’s even a specific reservation process that gaining access to street utility poles to install mobile equipment such as radios and antennas. However, while there’s this interesting franchise and process, it’s far from being efficient. There are a handful of mobile franchisees today which are submitting hundreds and hundreds of applications as you can imagine. The city can’t keep up with the demand. So, you could tell with all this hype around 5G and the evolution of 5G, the landscape is becoming more and more crowded.
One of the things that is a bottleneck, is servicing each mobile end points with power. We have a dependency on the electric company to deliver metered service and that’s a major setback. Their priority isn’t to make sure that they’re providing dedicated meter power to thousands of communication nodes. Their priority is to make sure their direct consumers always have electric and their lights are working.
Our role is in our underpinning architecture, think of us as laying the foundational building blocks for a communications infrastructure. Our underpinning architecture is comprised of connectivity, space and power. Connectivity is our robust fronthaul fiber optic network with ease of access, convenient access and high capacity. Space is what we like to call citing solutions that would be on existing utility poles, rooftops what have you and edge co-location facilities. And essentially the spacing houses mobile radio as pole top antennas, compute and processing equipment. And I mentioned before, a big challenge is power. Power is our ability to work with utilities to source and deliver power to each and every connected point.
We plan and construct networks that provide a runway for tomorrow’s technologies. In this case, we talk about 5G. I say 5G is just not there yet. Most of what we’re doing and supporting today is 4G and LTE technology.