Kevin O’Connor believes fiber-optic technology is the next frontier for communications.
Sure, cities like Glens Falls already have broadband, or high-speed, connections through traditional copper cable.
But the CEO of Albany-based Tech Valley Communications, which is building a fiber network in the region, says the speed at which traditional cable carries data, television, Internet and phone service pales in comparison to fiber-optics. In fact, a fiber the width of a human hair can transmit more data than a heavy copper cable as thick as a soda bottle.
“It’s almost limitless in the amount of capacity; it’s only limited by the electronics you have on either end of the fiber,” O’Connor said.
Unlike copper, fiber converts information into light electrical signals, which are sent through tiny, clear glass strands.
It’s not only faster and alleviates common bandwidth problems, such as slower Internet connections during peak usage times, but experts say it’s less susceptible to hacking and weather events, like lightening.
Fiber is the driving force behind bundled services like Verizon FiOS, which combines television, phone and high-speed Internet. And it’s the reason cell phone providers can offer 4G networks — fiber transmits data to and from cell towers faster than copper.
As demand for ever-faster and more integrated communication increases, the race is on to grow the nation’s fiber network.
“It is the closest thing to the Oklahoma land grab I have ever seen,” O’Connor said. “There is a sense of desperation to get high-speed bandwidth and for companies like us to be the first ones there.”
In the greater Capital Region, companies are jockeying for a share of the emerging fiber-optic market.
Tech Valley Communications is spending $6 million to $8 million on 5,400 miles of cable in Warren County alone, part of a larger build-out in the Northeast. The local network will reach about 50 business customers, including Glens Falls Hospital.
In Saratoga County, another 5,000 miles of cable is in the works.
Likewise, Plattsburgh-based telecommunications firm PrimeLink is working on a fiber loop that extends from Exit 18 of the Northway into Queensbury, Glens Falls, Hudson Falls and Fort Edward. The network should go live within a month or two, and could serve 500 to 1,000 business customers.
According to PrimeLink President Greg MacConnell, fiber is the solution to the bandwidth constraints that many businesses face.
“The amount of bandwidth a business requires today is many times more than it was two years ago, and that was many times more than two years before that,” MacConnell said. “Fiber provides virtually limitless ability to satisfy those needs.”
For its part, Glens Falls Hospital says a reliable and fast connection is critical for data sharing, from medical records to X-ray images.
Its service with Tech Valley Communications will provide a more robust connection between the hospital and its physician practices, and allows the hospital to join a fiber network that links regional health care organizations.
“Health care entities are becoming more and more reliant on computer systems,” said Joan McFaul, the hospital’s chief information officer. “Electronic medical records is a huge thing, and the ability to share that information across individual practice sites and regions is more and more important.”
As for residential fiber-optic service, that may be a ways off for the local area.
AT&T bundles TV, phone and Internet with its fiber-based U-verse, but the program hasn’t arrived in New York, or the Northeast for that matter.
And while Verizon’s FiOS is available in select Albany communities, it won’t be moving north for a few years.
Company Spokesman John Bonomo said in New York, Verizon needs approval to install fiber from each municipality it enters, and that approval generally hinges on a 100 percent build-out requirement within five years. As a result, Verizon has to finish installing fiber in the 182 communities it has already entered before moving into new areas.
“That’s a lot of work that we’ve got ahead of us,” Bonomo said.