The shift from lease to build in long-haul optics continues.

Last fall, Cox Communications and Suddenlink separately began taking greater ownership of their optical links by installing opto-electronics from two relatively new players in this space.

In Cox’s case, the lead vendor has been Infinera; in Suddenlink’s, Huawei. Business case The thinking behind Suddenlink’s build vs. lease decision in west Texas had three pieces, according to Larry LaFreniere, vice president of engineering and technical operations for the MSO’s West Region: distances and the regional fiber market, headend economics and carrier sales opportunities.

With spans between the region’s five cities – Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland, San Angelo and Abilene – ranging between 120 and 180 miles and lease providers being few and far between, Suddenlink was looking at long deployment timelines and high circuit costs for going the leased route.

As for headends, LaFreniere said that consolidation wasn’t feasible on leased lines, but was a must-do. "Instead of having to purchase five times the headend gear, we’ll just purchase it once and transport those signals all around the ring."

Suddenlink’s interest in carrier sales mirrors the scarcity of providers. LaFreniere pointed to the Texas Tech University system in his region as one of several potential customers currently leasing circuits, and awaiting an alternative provider with its own backbone. Proposals, skeptics The timeline on this 957-mile deployment stretches back to April 2007, when Suddenlink corporate executives asked the West Region to figure out how to link those five markets. Budget approval came in June.

In July, Suddenlink began vetting 16 proposals for electronics. "As soon as vendors saw the distances, a lot of them fell out," said Omar Sandoval, regional director of engineering for West Texas.

LaFreniere and Sandoval also wanted to start quickly, before winter weather hit, which increased the number of doubters they encountered.

"There was a lot skepticism out there that thought (A) this won’t get funded, and (B) even if you get funded, you can’t do it at that cost and (C) you can’t do it in that time frame, either," said LaFreniere.

To power this fiber network and help them meet their goals, Suddenlink chose Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer with large global reach, but until this deal, with no reported deployments in the North American cable space.

Sandoval said that Huawei "had some fabulous distances that they could hit, without amplification or re-generation, which saves us money."

Other pluses were speed to market, a North American headquarters in Dallas and keen focus on the details of Suddenlink’s particular situation. Construction began in October, with the first links being lit in December 2007 and January 2008. Suddenlink announced its completion in May. Cox deploys Infinera For its part, Cox began shifting from a leased to built backbone last September.

Details appeared in a paper for the Cable Show co-authored by Cox Director, Transport and Access Engineering, Dan Estes and Infinera Cable Sector Marketing Director Gaylord Hart.

Some of the same thinking driving the Suddenlink build applies to Cox.

As Estes and Hart note, a consolidated number of interexchange carriers (IXCs) and increasing bandwidth needs translated into steadily rising costs on transport that Cox had been leasing since the demise of @Home in 2001.

In an interview, Estes said Cox’s goal was "building (the backbone) to be very reliable, very flexible … almost on an on-demand basis."

Among the advantages of the build, which is scheduled for completion in Q3 this year, are faster provisioning, better troubleshooting and advanced performance monitoring, Estes said. Two primary products envisioned for the backbone are an Ethernet wide area network (EWAN), multiplexed data and 10 Gig point-to-point connectivity.

Cox is not alone in adopting Infinera’s optical-electrical-optical technology. "We’re using them in other regions in our footprint," said Suddenlink’s Sandoval.

Infinera Spokesman Jeff Ferry said that their photonic integrated circuits are carrying live traffic in four of the top five U.S. MSOs.

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