Workshop on NREN Controlled Fibre

Friday 24 October, 2003
UNI-C Offices, Copenhagen, Denmark


The Workshop on NREN Controlled Fibre was arranged as part of the series of mini-symposium for TERENA General Assembly members. In contrast with previous workshops on optical networking this event was specifically focused on the economic and business aspects of NRENs controlled fibre infrastructures, rather than exploring the technological aspects.


Meeting Report

The Netherlands

Erik-Jan Bos from SURFnet opened his presentation by remarking that the next generation of SURFnet is intended to be a SURFnet owned fibre-optic infrastructure with the Gigaport being a central feature. The Gigaport Next Generation Network combines the interests of 50 universities, research institutions, academic hospitals, companies and related institutions that have committed themselves to jointly research, design, build, operate and use the research network until 2007.

SURFnet has invited tenders for the new infrastructure but found traditional operators responding with high prices. For the district of Den Haag a construction company specializing in work for the telcos responded offering to connect local sites. The service being installed by SURFnet will generally be Giga-Ether over fibre using a single fibre pair, with the intention to offer light paths to customers in the timeframe of 2007/08. The fibre to be installed is to comply with G.652 or G.655 with 70Km or less between regeneration or equipment nodes. This design ensures that a future upgrade to 40Gbps will be technologically practical.

In common with other countries the availability of fibre in the Netherlands is uneven, with some hot-spots and some barren areas such as the highly rural north of the Netherlands.

Traditional operators are reported to be unhappy about the future development of SURFnet in this way as they see a reduced role for themselves, however the legal opinion given to SURFnet is that the proposal does not infringe any telecommunications regulation since the community the network will serve is a "Closed User Group".

The business model adopted for the network is for a managed dark fibre network for a fixed period of 15 years and writing this cost off over the first 4 years with equipment costs being written off over three years. In addition there is a fibre maintenance cost payable on an annual basis. The initial fibre infrastructure is expected to be of the order of 3000Km with up to a further 1000Km being added during the project. The project is expected to connect an increasing number of urban fibre-optic networks, known as GigaMAN's. SURFnet has produced very detailed documentation of this approach in the form of a cook-book which is available (in Dutch and English. In brief, the economic break-even point for installing a dark fibre ring in a city occurs after four years when there are 6 or more customers connected by 2Mbps leased lines.

The Czech Republic

Jan Gruntorad presented information on the CESNET fibre network in his presentation entitled Customer Empowered Fibre networks (CEF). He explained that they had been able to obtain cross-border fibre between the Czech Republic and Poland. The CESNET experience however is that it is generally too expensive for NRENs to buy lambdas. It appears to be more economically advantageous to go for dark fibre and install your own termination and routing equipment. In his presentation he gave the economic findings in some detail with cost comparisons of buying lambdas versus implementation at 2.5Gbps and 10Gbps in Central Europe. The lambdas might become cheaper per unit if bought in quantity, but pricing information for this possibility is not currently available.

Jan explained that CESNET uses a similar costs write-off model to SURFnet. In contrast with SURFnet, CESNET prefers to use the more powerful RAMAN amplifiers (rather than Erbium Doped Fibre-optic Amplifiers EDFA devices). Although the amplifiers are more expensive, the approach permits links of 235Km to be achieved with no intermediate amplification or regeneration (A technique known as Nothing In Line or NIL). CESNET is very pleased with the results they have achieved and have only suffered one outage due to a fibre cut in the last 4 years.

Jan closed by saying that he thinks there should be a stronger focus of Customer Empowered Fibre Networks, and indicated that CESNET will host a meeting on the topic in Prague in March 2004.


SWITCH has installed Gigabit Ethernet over about 1200Km of dark fibre which has been leased from a range of sources including fibre along the railways, roads and power lines. SWITCH view the fibre as a reliable long life infrastructure with highly predictable costs. Urs explained that ASCOM undertake onsite monitoring around the clock, but SWITCH is itself responsibly for diagnosing and fixing problems. SWITCH has contracts for repair but the complex contractual arrangement took a lot of negotiation and can in some instance result in shifting of blame between the various contractors.

Urs gave a detailed breakdown of costs and issues and these can be found in the presentation. In summary, the capital costs are high, but they lead to a low recurrent cost. The SWITCH experience is that by doing it yourself, one get almost unlimited bandwidth for approximately the same costs as leasing links.


Michal Przybylski of Pionier explained that they have been able to benefit in Poland from collaborating with the telcos. In particular he mentioned joint ventures where Pionier owns a portion of the infrastructure (generally 16 fibre pairs) and the telcos own the remainder. He reported that Pionier has selected DWDM as the transport technology.

In terms of problems he cited the difficulty in obtaining permissions for installing local loops which can sometimes take up to 6 months.


Erik-Jan Bos pointed out that until recently the telcos had been extremely reluctant to sell fibers but now an active market is developing. This will be to the advantage of NRENs. The threat of being able and willing to install your own infrastructure is a great bargaining chip when dealing with high-price telcos.

The issue of international fibre links was raised in the context of GN2. On highly competitive routes with many telcos such as London-Paris, the balance of economics between installing your own and leasing will be very different than on underserved routes. Poland and the Czech Republic have demonstrated the effectiveness of the concept and maybe this approach can be replicated elsewhere.

It is clear that the European Commission Structural Funds can be used to improve communications infrastructure if that is agreed as a national priority.

Delegates were asked if their NRENS have or are planning to install/lease fibre. The following summaries were given:

  • Netherlands, SURFNET - leases and plans to own national infrastructure soon
  • Czech Republic, CESNET - owns fibre infrastructure
  • Switzerland, SWITCH - leases fibre infrastructure
  • Poland, PIONIER - owns fibre infrastructure
  • Luxembourg, RESTENA - lease fibre from the Telco in Luxembourg and is currently in negotiation with the government about fibre along roads
  • Ireland, HEANET - talking to the electricity company about using their fibers, also about to sign a contract with Dublin city council about the fibre within the city of Dublin
  • Slovenia, ARNES - has an open tender for fibre
  • Portugal, FCCN - is exploring the possibilities for leasing fibre in Portugal - talking with lawyers about what they can do - interested in the local loop. The Portuguese railway operator has fibre
  • Serbia Montenegro - has fibre infrastructure
  • United Kingdom, UKERNA - looking at the options and are defining a model
  • Slovakia, SANET, have 1370Km of dark fibre - leased from railway, Orange and some small parts from others, There is an international fibre link from Bratislava to Vienna, a dark fibre link to the Czech Republic. A Dark Fibre connection to Poland is also planned for installation in the next year. More information from SANET.

Delegates agreed that it is vitally important for the NRENs to keep exchanging information regarding the installation, operations and ownership models for NREN controlled fibre.

John DYER, November 2003

Further information

For further information contact John Dyer at the TERENA Secretariat.