Intelligent Investment

Investing in the Future: Fiber Infrastructure is Critical for a Digital World

December 12, 2023 3 Minute Read


Robust fiber networks are at the center of today’s data center market, helping to power streaming services, autonomous vehicles, AI and other data-intensive applications, and improving the utility of many types of real estate, from offices to warehouses to shopping centers.

Many well-established markets have kept pace with growing fiber needs, but require density improvement to achieve faster, more reliable connectivity. Meanwhile, a lack of robust fiber networks is an impediment to data center growth in many emerging markets.

The fiber landscape in most emerging markets is drastically different than in most mature markets. This connectivity gap is illustrated In Figure 1, provided by FiberLocator.

Figure 1: 2023 Fiber Route Mileage (mi)

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Source: FiberLocator, Q4 2023.

Developing adequate fiber in underserved regions requires "middle-mile" and "last-mile" fiber infrastructure expansion.1 U.S. government programs such as BEAD (Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment) and smart grid initiatives are investing billions to improve nationwide connectivity and accessibility. Several emerging markets are already reaping the rewards of public fiber infrastructure investment:

  • Central Washington: Grant County built out their own Grant County Fiber Network to help draw hyperscaler interest.
  • Salt Lake City: Utopia Fiber was built as a public access network that became the de facto backbone network for connectivity in the region.
  • Des Moines: State and municipal fiber development paved the way for a major hyperscaler establishment, demonstrating power of collaboration.
  • Omaha: Municipality conduits and aggressive partnerships with fiber development firms brought interest from major hyperscalers and developers.
  • Austin: With surging data center growth befitting its ‘Silicon Valley of the Southwest’ nickname, rapid fiber expansion is ensuring Austin remains at the digital frontier.
1 Fiber can be categorized as “long-haul,” “middle-mile” or “last-mile.” “Long-haul” fiber are long distance cables, “middle-mile” fiber is routed off major highways and railroad train right of ways and “last-mile” fiber connects directly to the building, facility, home or data center.

With more data being transmitted across fiber infrastructure, mature markets must also advance their digital transformation. As shown in Figure 2, fiber mileage increased substantially in cities like Northern Virginia (32%) and Chicago (76%) from 2018 to 2023. Critically, already-immense fiber route capacity has grown much further. Today, it is possible to accommodate two to 25x more strands of fiber per mile than five to 10 years ago. A two-inch fiber conduit historically held hundreds of strands of fiber but now holds thousands of strands–a 16-fold capacity increase.

Figure 2: Mature Markets: 2018 vs 2023 Fiber Route Mileage (mi)

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Source: FiberLocator, Q4 2023.

Overall, investing in fiber infrastructure can attract new data center development, as well as unlock the transformative power of the digital economy for other real estate assets. Addressing fiber deficiencies will help enable emerging markets to capitalize on the digital age’s opportunities, foster innovation and drive regional economic growth.

Deploying fiber is complicated, time-consuming and expensive, but failing to address this need will leave rural areas behind as the digital age advances.

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