SVG Sit-Down: Zayo Group’s Brown Talks Future of Fiber

Based in Boulder, CO, bandwidth-infrastructure provider Zayo Group has spent the past seven years drastically expanding its fiber network through a series of acquisitions and dark-fiber installations throughout the country. In building out its now 81,500-route-mile fiber network, the company has quickly built up its reputation in sports-video production, providing fiber pipes and media services for high-end sports broadcasters and content distributors, including ESPN’s ESPNet fiber backbone and the NBA’s new 10-gig HSAN2 (high-speed arena network).

SVG sat down with Zayo Group Media & Gaming Product Lead Alex Brown to discuss the company’s role in supporting the NBA and ESPN transcontinental operations, the continued expansion of its fiber network, and Zayo’s ambitions to grow its presence in live sports production.

How is Zayo looking to continue to build out its fiber network to better service its media, entertainment, and, more specifically, sports clients?
We are always building … our fully owned network. This company, over the last seven or eight years, has grown at a rapid tick, both through acquisition and through organic growth. One of the reasons that we’ve been able to grow so quickly through organic growth is our appetite for builds. We think that we are fairly unique in the telecom and bandwidth industry in that we are willing to build but in a very thoughtful way.

We do not build freely and completely speculatively, but we pride ourselves on being very creative with deal structures, and the internal communications is such that we are not a bureaucratic company. We are not your typical telecom structure. I think the culture of the company is much more in line with what you would see in a tech startup than in a typical telecom company, which allows a lot of interaction and collaboration within our product groups. Therefore, we are able to come up with unique and creative ways to make sure that a build isn’t speculative.

Zayo played a big role in the NBA’s construction of the new HSAN2 fiber network to connect all the league’s arenas and serve as the backbone for its new centralized replay system. Can you provide an update?
From a top-down level of looking at that project, we think it’s just a fantastic use of fiber and bandwidth. We are extremely proud to be a part of that and enabling their replay center, which is a really cool [facility]. We love partnering with organizations that are able to use bandwidth for new and innovative purposes, and we think that it’s an amazing example of what is to come in the future.

We built an entire video NOC [network-operations center] for the NBA [network] in Tulsa, OK. We had a telecom NOC for a while, but, when we wanted to make sure that we could provide what the NBA wanted, we built out what we are calling the VNCC [Video Network Control Center] to monitor everything. The whole NBA network is dual diverse, and the VNCC allows us to monitor it all with hitless switching. We understand that this has to be 100% up all the time during game-time scenarios.

How are you looking to leverage your client wins with ESPN, the NBA, and others to expand your sports-specific business in the near-term?
The faster we have built and bought our network over the years, the more any solution can be fully owned, or almost fully owned, by us. In the past, specifically in sports video, we have been more of an enabler. We have provided media services for seven years, but, for the most part, we have been selling the big pipes to ESPN and to a lot of the big [clients], and they’ve been laying their own media-service routers on top. There’s no change there; we are continuing to do that, but the strategic product group that we’ve created over the last year or so has allowed us to focus even more on entities that aren’t necessarily quite as savvy. We can provide that extra layer of media services to them. The NBA has been our flagship deal in this group, where we can now move forward and collaborate with the rest of the sports-video industry.

In addition, we all know that a lot of sports video is sent over satellite and there are a lot of logistics involved. Historically, the price point of fiber has almost been too high to be able to use it [on a regular basis]. But we are getting to a time when that’s not as much the case.

At the same time, there are organizations that have the money to invest in fiber. A trend that we see in the future, starting with leagues like the NBA, is a really creative use of fiber on a level that we haven’t seen in the past. I think we are going to hit the price point where it might be more beneficial to use fiber over satellite in many cases, not necessarily just for things like broadcasting but also consolidating processes at headquarters. That is where we are already positioned to enable the market. It’s part of the evolution of the industry right now.

Much has been said about the pressure 4K-video distribution could put on contribution infrastructure. What role do you see Zayo playing in this transition?
We are very well-positioned to be able to offer [4K services] because fiber is essentially unlimited bandwidth; it’s really all about the equipment that you put on the ends.

We recently rolled out a 100-Gbps network, and there aren’t very many providers that have a 100-gig network. It’s not like we started down that road years ago in order to provide video for the media industry or sports video, but it certainly is positioning us very well. We are basically in a situation where we can say, Whenever you guys want to put this on our pipes, we’ve got them ready, because we own the assets. We think owning the assets is going to be key to the future of the industry. We own the glass, so the fact that [4K] is coming and seems to be generating a lot of interest can only benefit us.

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