For those that are interested in the price, this link is interesting.
"One kilogram of exotic glass feedstock can be expected to produce from 3 to 7 kilometers of fibers in under an hour in microgravity, under optimized conditions. At a nominal cost of $88K/kg, the launch costs for the preform and spool (estimated to be 2 kg) combined with the landed costs for the filled spools would be approximately $176,000.
The current low-end market price for ZBLAN fibers is $150/meter. Therefore, even at today’s lowest market prices, a kilogram of ZBLAN launched to space could be sold on Earth for between $450,000 and $1,050,000.
However, the real value of microgravity will be in producing ZBLAN and other exotic fibers of exceptional quality. Today, these custom fibers are sold between $300/meter and $3,000/meter. At current market prices, a preform launched to a fiber manufacturing facility in orbit could yield from $900,000/kg to $21,000,000/kg."
That didn't seem feasible - my first guess was that you couldn't possibly use something that you need to bring to space to cross the Atlantic. My gut was that the math would put it somewhere above the economic output of the planet. But when I stopped guessing to actually do the math, that 5,000 km multiplied by $300/meter is 'just' $15B. Still just one fiber, and still a lot more than the $300M that a traditional cable costs, but it could be done.
Still a nice chunk of change, but order of magnitude less.
Relatively recently, there was a new cable laid to go from Halifax, VA to London at about 4,500km. For this cable, they paid about $300M to shave milliseconds.
If you can have a cable to span that same distance using 1/20 the repeaters you should in theory save even more time.
4,500km of ZBLAN fiber is roughly 500-900kgs (5 - 9km/kg). Using the #s I have seen before quoted from Made In Space ($2M/kg), that same cable would notionally cost between $1 - $1.8B.
While I can't answer whether there are companies that really would be willing to pay 3 - 6X the price for the better performance... I suspect there might be especially given the faster speed + higher bandwidth.
If a Falcon 9 can launch 22,800 kilograms (according to Wikipedia) for about 90 million dollars (I think that was about the price of a launch if I remember correctly), then that comes out to ~$3948 per kilogram. There would be additional costs of delivering the payload exactly where it's supposed to go and dropping the finished fiber back to Earth, but in volume the price per KG seems like it could be a lot less than the quoted price (if there's a market for ZBLAN that's big enough to justify).
In extremis this sort issues blinds people to asteroid mining; there’s only so much demand at a price.
This is a great toe hold though, I doubt there’ll be enough demand to fund and run an orbital industrial facility, but it could play a part in that.
If a portion of all this surplus capital that is sloshing around the world could be profitably directed to space then momentum will build.
Somehow I'm more impressed by the fact that they can pull optically clear fiber in a box the size of a rackmount case than that they will do it in orbit.
I guess in orbit it's constantly falling.
Also the pictures of the fibres are interesting, it’s hard to be sure but my mk1 eyeball estimate is that the magnetic process fibre looks slightly inferior in terms of even surface consistency. Which is a very subjective measurement but if they were of identical quality I would hope the paper author would do a better job of highlighting that fact.