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Comparing 150 Mbps Ethernet to OC3
Cost and performance tradeoffs for fractional gigabit Ethernet and SONET fiber optic bandwidth services.

By: John Shepler

Once DS3 bandwidth at 45 Mbps isn’t enough anymore, it’s time to take a look at higher service levels. So, do you make the jump to OC3 at 155 Mbps or take a look at competing Ethernet services? It can be worth your while to do the comparison. Let’s see why.

Fiber Works For Both Ethernet and OC3
Once you start moving into higher bandwidth services, you are looking at fiber optic delivery. Yes, in rare situations you may qualify for 100 Mbps or higher Ethernet over Copper or fixed wireless microwave service. For these to work you need to be very, very close to the provider’s office and, in the case of microwave, have a clear line of site from your building to theirs. For everyone else, it’s fiber optic cabling. Fiber can transport Ethernet or OC3 equally well. So, how do you choose?

The Construction Cost Factor
One big factor in your decision may be the cost of construction. If there is fiber running nearby, but not yet installed into your building, there is a certain one time cost involved in trenching the fiber and its conduit underground or bringing in the fiber cable overhead. Oddly enough, in densely packed downtown business districts, the cost of fiber construction can be higher than it is out in the burbs. Why? It’s because the available conduits may be all full or hard to obtain and the expense of tunneling under major roadways can be a deal breaker.

Construction Costs Might Be Waived
Don’t be discouraged by the possibility of high construction costs until you get competitive quotes for fiber optic service to your building. Each situation is unique. The cost for installing similar service to buildings across the street from each other can vary wildly. It’s also possible that you may get your installation for free or at a big discount. Some fiber providers are aggressively building out their networks. If they want your location, they may foot the bill for construction or at least part of it. The more bandwidth you need, the more attractive your situation is. If you are in a multi-tenant building, it could be worth your while to get together with other tenants and offer a much larger bandwidth requirement to lure potential service providers.

Lit Buildings Have Advantages
Another possibility is that your building is already “lit” for fiber optic service from one or more carriers. Let’s say that someone in your building is already leasing OC3 bandwidth from a telecom carrier. That carrier has already gone to the expense and trouble of bringing in the multi-strand fiber cable and installing termination equipment. They’ve hooked up the other end to their metro fiber network running nearby. How much trouble is it to also provide you with OC3 fiber optic service?

Adding Another Fiber Customer Is Easy
Unlike copper cables, fiber optic bundles can support nearly unlimited bandwidth. It’s a matter of setting their add/drop multiplexers to bring enough bandwidth into the building and demultiplex it into separate services for each subscribing tenant. As you can imagine, the construction costs will be minimal, perhaps even complementary.

The same is true if there is already high bandwidth Ethernet over Fiber service installed in the building. The Ethernet service provider has done all the hard work. They can easily add you to the network rapidly and at minimal cost.

Capital Cost vs Lease Cost Tradeoffs
This may be the deciding factor. If one service is already installed and the other is not, the capital cost factor can outweigh other advantages. What if both services are in the building? Then it becomes a more level playing field. In general, Ethernet service is less expensive and easier to scale than SONET services, such as OC3. There is also a service called Ethernet over SONET that uses traditional SONET ring networks to carry the newer Carrier Ethernet protocol. That means a legacy carrier may well be able to offer you either OC3 or 150 Mbps Ethernet at an attractive price over already installed infrastructure.

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