Skip to main content

Complexities of the Middle Mile

Bridging the gap between the core of the internet and new broadband networks beyond metro areas will require construction of new middle mile networks. A combination of network design philosophies, software-defined networking (SDN), and new optical transport formats are introducing complexities that will make applications for NTIA’s billion-dollar Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant (MMG) Program challenging.

“The idea of the MMG is connecting the access networks being built for unserved and underserved areas to the internet,” said Rick Talbot, Principal Analyst at ACG Research. “Other aspects are to promote resiliency through the creation of network diversity and for the provider to provide symmetric gigabit Ethernet for anchor institutions like colleges, county governments, and hospitals.”

As fiber connectivity continues to grow and expand, NTIA wants to avoid single point of failure that plagued yesterday’s rural telephone networks and today’s broadband ones. “In the old days, you had rural towns with one main cable,” Talbot said. “If you had a flood that knocked the cable, the phones were out until the cable was repaired.

Today’s middle mile networks are required to transport a wide mix of traffic, including residential legacy and new broadband services, cellular networks, business services, and provide connectivity for anchor institutions – a far different approach from the separate and dedicated networks of a decade ago. SDN provides a much more flexible way to manage traffic of all types, but it requires network elements to have the ability for multidomain orchestration across multiple venders as well as multilayer orchestration across aggregation and transport hardware sourced from different vendors.

Network planners will have to choose between the complexity of multidomain/multilayer orchestration in a single network or the complexity of managing separate systems at remote aggregation sites requiring more “remote hands” technicians out in the field.

“You have the ability to put some equipment out there that does many different things,” said Talbot. “But if you have them from multiple vendors, you’re going to have to have this multidomain and multilayer orchestration. That’s a lot of software control and interfacing to get it to work, but that’s a complexity to consider rather than staffing all remote locations to support local telephone subscribers, home broadband, businesses, and all those different network needs with a higher degree of expertise. Are you going to put all those people out there who are manually managing those systems?”

Listen to the full Fiber for Breakfast episode with Rick Talbot on the Fiber for Breakfast Podcast to learn more about the complexities of Middle Mile operations.