What is ‘Dark Fibre’?

Dark fibre is a term that we’ve all been hearing lately, but what does it mean? What is ‘dark fibre’? Simply put, dark fibre refers to fibre optic cables (for a leased line, for example) that have been laid, but which aren’t transferring data. There’s no light passing through the cable, so it is, quite literally, dark. It’s similar, in a way, to ‘HD ready’ televisions; even if you don’t yet want or need HD programming, you have the technology available to make use of high definition if you decide to change your mind in the future.

Why Do Dark Fibre Networks Exist?

Fibre leased lines are still a relatively new concept, which means that availability can be a concern for businesses. Businesses are able to have a leased line cable installed, but unless there is already an existing network, there can be some construction costs — and a fair amount of time — involved in the process. With demand for leased lines increasing, we’re starting to be a little more proactive, and if a fibre optic cable needs to be laid, it is likely that a second cable with be laid simultaneously where possible, for use in the future. This minimises the work involved, and can help to reduce costs, too.

What’s the Plan for Dark Fibre?

There’s two possible uses for dark fibre networks. Firstly, internet service providers like BT and Virgin Media may look at purchasing these cables in the future to meet demand. Secondly, businesses themselves may consider purchasing the cable for operation of their own private leased line.

A Lucky Mistake

Interestingly, the dark fibre industry emerged quite by accident. Previously, companies would pay for more cables than was necessary in an attempt to future proof themselves and protect against potential overcapacity. However, as the amount of data that was able to be carried by an optical fibre steadily increased over the years, these backups became largely obsolete. It was this abundance of unused cables that sparked what is arguably one of the sector’s biggest and most promising advancements: dark fibre.

Dark Fibre Availability

It is anticipated that access to dark fibre networks will soon become easier in the UK thanks to new Ofcom regulations which stipulate that BT must enable competitors to utilise their dormant cables. This would allow more internet service providers to offer affordable leased lines for their customers.

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