Denver -- Road Runner is beefing up its high-speed-backbone
capacity with a $10 million, three-year deal to use Qwest Communications International
Inc.'s national fiber optic network.
Road Runner said its own expansion -- both in terms of
customers and geography -- demanded that it seek further capacity to complement the
backbone that it has been assembling over the past three years, both on its own and with
"To cover the larger footprint and to get there
quickly, we need to leverage some partners like Qwest," said Stephen Van Beaver, Road
Runner's senior vice president of operations. "They have the links that we can
take advantage of right away."
Specifically, Van Beaver said, Qwest will add flexibility
and speed by providing more connect points, which Road Runner will need as it continues to
add customers in new markets and to add more advanced services to its product lineup.
The service reached the 180,000-subscriber mark in the
fourth quarter, and it was adding about 4,000 customers per week, with plans to expand
availability to 27 million homes by the end of next year from 7 million now.
Under a flexible pricing arrangement, Road Runner has
access to bandwidth at speeds of up to OC-48, or 2.4 gigabits per second. More important,
Qwest can provision additional capacity in 30 days to 90 days, depending on whether it
already has fiber where Road Runner needs it, or whether it must deploy and connect new
"The business is growing so rapidly that we needed an
incredible amount of flexibility in terms of being able to change various connect points
with Qwest and to increase capacity on fairly short notice," Van Beaver said.
"It's much different than a typical network, where you need six to nine months
to plan and build more capacity."
He cited Road Runner's expansion into a variety of
markets where it will need the new capacity provided by Qwest, including Time Warner Cable
systems in Florida, Texas, Ohio, San Diego and Charlotte, N.C.
Rival high-speed-data service @Home Network cited similar
factors in January, when it announced a 20-year deal to use two or more OC-48 lines from
AT&T Corp., significantly boosting its backbone capacity compared with the multiple
45-megabit-per-second lines that it previously leased from Sprint Corp.
The Qwest network, branded as "Macro Capacity
Fiber," is laid out on a bidirectional, line-switching OC-192 SONET (synchronous
optical network) ring architecture.
Using techniques such as wave-division multiplexing, the
company said, the network is designed for transmission capacity of up to 2 terabits per
Qwest plans to have 18,500 route miles in place nationwide
by midyear, with an additional 315-mile link from Memphis, Tenn., to Tulsa, Okla., slated
for year-end completion.
Van Beaver said Road Runner is still determining exactly
where it will link its 21 regional data centers with the Qwest backbone.
Road Runner's backbone -- a collocation backbone with
tier-one peering relationships to Internet-service providers -- is the product of networks
initially created by Time Warner and MediaOne Group Inc., which merged their
online-broadband businesses last June. Road Runner manages its own backbone, monitoring it
through its network-operations center, which enables it to expand the backbone more
rapidly than if it outsourced that function, Van Beaver said.
The relatively short three-year deal between Qwest and Road
Runner reflects the online service's desire for flexibility. Although he did not
discuss long-standing speculation that Road Runner might eventually merge its own backbone
with @Home's to create a blended nationwide infrastructure, Van Beaver stressed the
speed at which his business was evolving as a rationale for keeping the deal short.
"Because of changes in the marketplace, you don't
want to get into long-term relationships upfront," he said. "The nature of the
relationship might change depending on what the market does."
Road Runner is a partnership of Time Warner, MediaOne,
Microsoft Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp.