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E-commerce — from Amazon, eBay, UBER, you name it — is widely accepted in consumer markets. Yet when it comes to high-end technical services such as metro fiber connectivity, e-commerce is still in its infancy.
Well, that’s about to change. At the Metroconnect 2017 conference in Miami, I met two fiber entrepreneurs, Ray LaChance of ZenFi and Vincenzo Clemente of Cross River Fiber, who are teaming up to bring e-commerce convenience and transparency to the New York City and North New Jersey fiber market.
ZenFi supports wireline and mobile fiber users up and down Manhattan. Cross River Fiber, meanwhile, has a similar business serving 400 route miles in New Jersey. Together they have built a common web ordering platform, zxc.solutions, providing a cross-connect capability serving the larger metro area. Ray and Vincenzo discuss all the details:
|Dan Baker, Editor, Top Operator: Cross-connecting under the Hudson River sounds like a splendid idea. How was this idea born across your two companies?|
Vincenzo Clemente: Dan, Ray and I have had a great relationship across many years and several companies in the business. So we decided it was high time we took our businesses to the next level. That’s why we joined forces with an aim to disrupt an NYC/NJ metro fiber market that’s gotten commoditized in the last few years.
Let’s face it, data center connectivity as a service is no longer unique. In fact, our competitors sell that against us all day long. So offering a cross-connect between our two networks made sense.
The ZenFi network connects to 10 or so colos in New York. And those networks connect to 15 or 20 colos on Cross River’s network.
For the user, getting connected is done very simply across our common web platform: zxc.solutions.
The user just picks two colos on the map, and then a dropdown asks you what service you want to buy — dark fiber or different grades of Ethernet.
You read the terms and conditions, pay for it with a credit card, and it’s provisioned within 15 days.
|How is provisioning actually done? Is there software underneath this ordering platform?|
Ray LaChance: Actually no, Dan. Remember this is still layer 1 and layer 2 connectivity. It’s not going up the stack.
What makes it all work is all the pre-provisioning we’ve done. When an order comes through, we usually only need to put in a patch at a data center — similar to a cross-connect.
As you can imagine, New York City is not the easiest city to provision. In fact, the city’s conduit system was chartered back in 1899 and all the big avenues in Manhattan have many ducts running north and south.
Trouble is: after so many decades, the conduits are running out of capacity. You’ll be shocked to see the manhole system in Manhattan. You need to be clever to take full advantage of the little duct space you’re given.
Now at ZenFi we built in a technology that allows us to do 90% lateral T-splice off our cable at every manhole location. That saves us enormous capex and opex as opposed to backtracking to a special splice point 3,000 feet away.
So it’s that kind of provisioning skill that allows us to fast deployment at low cost.
|Why do you feel big network users and wholesalers in the NYC/NJ area will gravitate to this platform?|
Clemente: Dan, it’s not so much the web platform (that’s very straightforward). What our users really love is the ease of doing business the platform enables.
To be honest, getting connectivity in the region today is a hassle — users look forward to it as much as buying from a used car dealer. There’s no standard pricing: everything must be negotiated — and lots of paperwork is involved. Maybe you call three different carriers to get quotes, and depending on the time of month, those quotes can be very different.
So the first thing you notice on our website is we publish our prices openly. And that’s just unheard of in this market. A customer can also cancel service in 30 days. Traditionally the standard is a one year term — though often the lowest term you can get is three years.
The amount of bandwidth you buy is flexible too. You could buy one capacity in April and change it in May without a penalty. So this is disruptive because we know this transparency is exactly what end users are looking for.
|Now the platform is just a few weeks old, so who are pushing your marketing to?|
LaChance: We’re mainly reaching out to guys who don’t know us. Maybe they are an enterprise who took a rack or cage in a colo to connect to AWS. Our platform is different: it changes the way a user buys regional transport. So the message is: “Hey, there’s a simpler and better way to connect, so check us out.”
Now our current customer base has already seen what we’ve done and they’re excited about it.
We also aim to get the attention of the big players. Equinix, Digital Reality and Telx have their own ecosystems. We want their salespeople to know that connecting Equinix in New Jersey to Telx in New York is an option.
|Well, good luck with the platform: sounds like a splendid way to add value. And congratulations on collaborating as well: it’s rare to see two independent operators teaming up like this.|
Clemente: Thanks, Dan. Actually it would be great to see this kind of collaboration become a trend.
Bigger operators will look at this at being disruptive, but the smaller guys in different geographic areas may say this is a good concept. We welcome the idea of companies joining this effort.
Version one of the platform — connecting in the greater NY/NJ metro area — seem like the logical first step. We may also evolve the platform and expand to services offered in data centers too.
But at this early stage, we need to focus on telling end users: “Hey there’s now a different way to procure these connections”.
Copyright 2017 Top Operator Journal