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Service Provider Networks / (none) / View from the Edge:

Turnabout is fair play for CLEC collocation

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In the ongoing high-stakes drama to see which competitive local exchange carriers survive and which ones die, at least one carrier has hit on the idea of turning the old headache of collocation to its advantage.

For years, the word "collocation" has meant something akin to "pain in the neck" to CLECs. They have scraped, clawed, whined, cajoled and sued their way into incumbent carrier facilities to collocate their circuit switches, loop extension equipment and other telecom gear.

But today the word "collocation" also can mean "hot new opportunity" to any CLEC that has the ability to think outside its own traditional world. That's because there's so now much more stuff for groups of carriers to locate together - notably Web servers, Web acceleration gear and all other things Internet - though not necessarily any longer in old-fashioned telco central offices.

At least that's the way Chicago Focal Communications apparently sees it. Why should a traditional CLEC offering access lines like Focal pass up the current rage for rack space in hosting centers, carrier hand-off points and specialized third-party data centers? And why not try to make a little money doing it rather than being the one paying out for collocation?

In September, Focal turned up its first collocation space in Chicago, and has since opened new spaces in Philadelphia and San Francisco offering services up to and including private peering. They're branded the "Focal Internet eXchange," or FIX, a name basically meant to conjure up the notion of "fixing" the Internet (a name I might have shied away from because of the multiple positive and negative connotations of "fix," by the way). This week, Focal scored a mild public relations coup by announcing that content-distribution king Akamai has agreed to deploy its servers in the existing FIX centers.

Now as an independent local carrier, Focal is right in the middle of the current CLEC financial tailspin with a typically terrifying CLEC stock chart (down to about $8 from a March high of $85). And one announcement from a company as universally voracious for network-edge space as Akamai isn't enough to pull Focal out of its current fix (see what I mean about the name?).

But there's a certain irony about Focal in particular taking this approach. Focal is part of the generation of competitive carriers that proudly called themselves "smart-build" CLECs. That meant they weren't going to spend millions or billions on fiber-to-the-customer like the original group of pre-Telecom Act CLECs that have since been absorbed into the major national carriers.

But "smart build" has turned out to be a double-edged sword, as it has meant they have paid through the nose to rent other carriers' facilities, dramatically cutting down on operating margins. Recent moves by Focal to obtain long-term fiber rights and, now, to host collocation on its own terms represent a recognition that to own facilities is to control your destiny.

There's more information about Focal's strategy in a combination Webcast and slide show that's available on its Web site:

Also, you can see our past reports about third-party, or "neutral," collocation providers at

Finally, if you haven't had a chance yet, check out Network World Fusion's current online forum on some of the service problems that Bell giant SBC has been suffering, particularly in its Ameritech territory. The forum is raising a lot of edge-related issues about DSL installation and provisioning, and if you have thoughts about these, of course feel free to jump in


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