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Cityside Networks: South OC Fiber Push

Rod Hanson is appalled at the level of internet speed available in Orange County.

“It’s crazy that we don’t have fiber down every street in this country, let alone in Orange County,” Hanson told the Business Journal.

“During COVID, it became obvious how poor the infrastructure is in this country. It’s obvious there’s a need for updating the infrastructure to fiber.”

Hanson, a 30-year veteran of the telecom industry, wants to change that through his 2-year-old firm, Cityside Networks LLC, which is doing business as Cityside Fiber, an Irvine-based company that’s installing fiber-optic infrastructure networks throughout Orange County, from data centers to homes and businesses.

Fiber internet is a broadband connection that can send data as fast as about 70% of the speed of light.

Cityside Fiber promises speeds of 1 gigabits for both downloads and uploads at $80 a month; 5 gigabits is available for $295 a month and it may be able to offer 10 gigabits or more for customers who need low latency—or the time between a user request and completion.

It plans to begin offering service to customers in early October.

$100M Backing

Cityside Fiber has raised more than $100 million from SDC Capital Partners LLC, a New York-based digital investment firm with more than $4 billion in assets under management.

“The Cityside team has a long and successful track record of building and operating fiber networks in Southern California, and we are excited to be partnering with them to bring transparent, competitive internet services to California’s residents and businesses,” SDC Partner Alexander Kelloff said in a February statement when announcing the investment.

Crown Castle

Hanson’s history in the industry includes being the owner of RealCom Associates LLC, a wireless site development services company acquired in 2012 by services company Smartlink LLC.

For almost five years, he was the West Region’s vice president and general manager of Small Cells and Fiber, a then new technology system at Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE: CCI).

Crown Castle is a Houston-based company with 40,000 cellphone towers spread across America, approximately 120,000 small cells in use or scheduled to be built and approximately 85,000 route miles of fiber. It ranks No. 7 on the Business Journal’s annual list of telecom companies published on Sept. 11.

Hanson left Crown Castle in 2020 amid the pandemic and met at a Starbucks to discuss a new venture with Jonathan Restivo, a colleague from a prior company.

“We were very familiar with the poor infrastructure and poor customer service,” said Restivo, who is the company’s chief development officer. “We saw the opportunity in Orange County to create a strong, robust presence.”

The industry has a history of over promising and under delivering on speed and service, according to Hanson.

­5G Complications

While telecom companies often tout the latest fifth generation, or 5G, for cellphones, it is not yet delivering to its true potential, Hanson said.

“Wireless companies trying to roll out 5G were running into some big problems,” Hanson said.

“5G only works if there is the infrastructure in the ground. You must have fiber to deploy 5G. Because there’s a lack across the country, it’s really slowed down 5G rollout.”

The biggest internet providers in Orange County have only so much capital to spread over a national footprint which has limited their investment here, Hanson said.

These providers cannot provide fiber for the entire route and often rely on copper wires, which are far slower, for the last mile to the house, he says.

“That’s the biggest difference between us and the cable companies,” Hanson said. “Ours is 100% fiber all the way to the Wi-Fi router in a home or business.”

85% Fiber Lack

Cityside Fiber began in South Orange County because about 85% of its residents lack access to fiber.

“Orange County is an affluent area – people can write a check for $80 a month,” Hanson said. “The demographics are very positive. We know the area. While it’s a difficult market to build in, it’s also an advantage. Once you spend the money to be here, it’s a much more defensible area.”

The idea for Cityside Fiber is to build fiber infrastructure city by city, starting in Tustin and Dana Point.

“It’s not just about faster internet,” Dana Point Mayor Mike Frost said in a May statement when Cityside Fiber broke ground. “It’s about building a stronger foundation for our city’s success with a partner that is dedicated to our community.”

Micro-Trenching

Cityside Fiber is using a relatively new method called “micro-trenching” where it cuts a two-inch wide by 16-inch-deep trench on city streets.

It’s also considering a newer method that may only require a half-inch-deep cut. It then lays the fiber and seals the trench.

It has arrangements with power companies to utilize their poles and conduits as well. It will also have a wholesale product available for Internet companies to lease.

“We can build from the home all the way to the data center,” Restivo said. “That gives us a tremendous opportunity for all sorts of future use cases along that path.

“Once we lay that foundation, we’ll be able to support not just a better residential internet experience, but enterprise, wireless, and smart city applications that aren’t possible without the continuity of fiber connectivity we are developing.”

After it builds its network in Orange County, it plans to expand into other markets.

The company currently has 36 employees, and expects that figure to be 50 by the end of the year, Hanson said.

“We’re trying to leapfrog with fiber, which gives you 30 to 50 years of runway in terms of speed,” Hanson said.

“The beauty of fiber is that it’s expensive to deploy but it’s really almost unlimited in the amount of speed and data that can flow through fiber.”

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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