UPN Strives to Boost Local Economic Expansion

February, 19 2012

By JODI FUSON / For the Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2012 12:00 am

Unite Private Networks has 150 route miles of fiber optic network throughout Lincoln, but Stuart Howerter, vice president for enterprise markets for the Lincoln office, said there is room for more.

In fact, without more companies like Unite, Lincoln’s economic growth will be limited, he said. Unite’s strategy is to start with large anchor customers, like school districts, and expand its network from there.

Lincoln Public Schools, the University of Nebraska, State of Nebraska, Duncan Aviation and Ameritas all are local customers.

“Our goal is to provide customers with their own private network to connect to any entity they would like to,” Howerter said.

Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., Unite specializes in providing fiber optic data communications networks and related services to schools, government, carriers, data centers and enterprise business customers in 19 states. Services include dark and lit fiber, private line, metro-optical ethernet, internet access and other customized solutions.

Dark fiber refers to fiber optic strands that are not currently in use, contrasted with “lit” or active fiber.

“We build a metro network in rings to provide better reliability,” Howerter said. This simplified design allows for less disruption of service.

“We’re creative,” he added. “The advantage we have is we’re building these networks new and can build with greater resiliency and diversity.”

Unite’s approach to forming networks is unique, too. It forges local partnerships and uses its customers’ existing conduits, which in turn lowers customer costs. The company, which has 11 employees in its Lincoln office, recently partnered with the Lincoln Electric System and county and city governments on a project to connect downtown offices to the new county jail on West O Street.

Tom Starr, senior lead technology analyst for Ameritas, said when the Lincoln insurance company first used Unite about eight years ago, it could provide significantly more bandwidth at a significantly lower cost than other carriers could. Ameritas relies on Unite for lit fiber between its Lincoln offices and its affiliate in Cincinnati and dark fiber for a metropolitan area network (MAN) between buildings in Lincoln.

“That allows them to control their own destiny between those sites,” Howerter said.

Ameritas continues to see the benefits of working with Unite as it upgrades equipment.

“On the same fiber cable we replicated server disk storage off-site for disaster recovery purposes, at very high speeds,” Starr explained.

There is no change to the fiber or monthly cost either, Starr said.

Unite’s standard practice of using redundancy allows private networks to switch between two paths instantly if there is a disruption. Unite created such a system between Ameritas’ two Lincoln sites and its Cincinnati affiliate in 2009.

Unite recently completed an upgrade of its internet and intercity backbone networks.

The next step is to bring a so-called carrier hotel — a central location where all businesses and carriers can connect communication providers — to town, Howerter said. “By bringing in more local carriers, it will drive competition, which in turn should mean lower prices, better connectivity and more economic expansion.”

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