From Copper to Fiber Bandwidth Service A guide to whether it makes sense to go with fiber optic bandwidth and how to find it.
By: John Shepler
The bandwidth solution you’ve had for years is running out of capacity. It’s worked well for you, but now you have no real choice but to upgrade to something faster, more reliable, lower latency, more consistent or all of the above. How about fiber? You’ve always had twisted pair copper or cable. Does fiber make more sense for the future and… can you afford it? Let’s look at some key questions and answers for making this decision.
What Can Fiber Do That Copper Can’t?
The real beauty of fiber isn’t necessarily what it will do for you today. It’s the virtually unlimited upgradability down the road that is unique to fiber. Every copper technology runs out of capacity at some level. Technology advancements have expanded copper’s capability and extended its life. However, technology advancements have also expanded fiber capacity beyond what most of us can fathom needing.
I Have a T1 Line Now and Love It. Can’t I just Add Another T1?
You bet you can. The process is called bonding. It makes 2 T1 lines act like a single line with twice the bandwidth. You can bond T1 lines up to 10 or 12 Mbps, which is about the entry level for fiber. One limitation is that you have to get all your lines from the same provider to bond them. A more serious limitation is cost. You may find that 10 Mbps fiber is a lot less expensive than 10 Mbps bonded T1.
What About Ethernet over Copper?
EoC is a competing technology to T1 and uses the same twisted pair copper. You can get higher bandwidths at lower cost than T1, but the technology is distance sensitivity. For 10 to 50 Mbps, you need to be geographically close to the office supplying your service. For higher bandwidths, say 100 Mbps and up, it’s rare to find EoC available. At 1Gbps, it’s pretty much fiber all the way.
Don’t Cable Companies Offer Fiber Bandwidth over Cable?
Yes and no. Yes, you can get hundreds of Mbps, perhaps even Gbps, bandwidth over the same coaxial cable that brings in hundreds of TV channels. This is relatively inexpensive service, but it is a “shared” bandwidth that varies with the number of users online. It’s strictly Internet access, not private line, and has no performance guarantees. For demanding business operations, the Cable companies offer competitive fiber optic service using their core transmission networks. This grade of service is similar to what you get from telecom companies.
OK, But Isn’t Fiber Hard to Get?
Not any more. The first fiber technology, called SONET, is a telephone company product and has been both expensive and limited in availability. A newer technology called Ethernet over Fiber is offered by a wide array of competitive carriers, including many traditional suppliers. Nobody is buildingout copper plant anymore. It’s yesterday’s news. All of the new network construction is fiber and there is a race among carriers to capture the business market
Where is Fiber Available?
Ethernet over Fiber and SONET are both readily available in major metropolitan areas. Fiber is also often available in suburban areas and smaller cities. There is a big push right now to replace T1 lines with fiber to increase the bandwidth of cell towers from 3G to 4G and, eventually, 5G. That is extending metro fiber networks out into the countryside where they haven’t been before. Eventually, fiber will be everywhere.
What About Now? Where Can I Get Fiber?
Your best bet is to be located in an already “lit” building. That means the building has fiber optic service installed and operating. Once the terminal equipment is in place, adding another customer in the same location is trivially easy for the carriers. If you can’t be in a lit building, you’ll need to be near enough that construction costs are minimal. It’s those long distance runs that need new fiber installed that get expensive.
Note: A popular option for companies that find fiber construction costs too much to consider is to locate their high bandwidth equipment, such as servers, in a colocation data center where multiple fiber options are readily available.
So, Where Are These Lit Buildings?
Lit buildings and nearby fiber optic services can be easily located using the Telarus GeoQuote search engine (below on this page). This is a tool specifically developed to quickly locate existing fiber services. You can find out in seconds what’s available in your area with no commitment.
Great, I’ve Found Fiber Service. Will It Cost a Fortune?
You may be shocked to find how affordable fiber optic service is today. This isn’t consumer grade FTTH (Fiber to the Home). It’s a business grade service that is installed at commercial locations. Bandwidth generally starts at 10 Mbps, which is the same speed as traditional Ethernet. If you’ve had your T1 line for many years and haven’t negotiated a lower priced contract, you may find that you can get 10 Mbps fiber for about the same price. Yes, you’ll pay more for Ethernet over Fiber than today’s T1 lines or low cost business cable broadband, but you can also expect higher performance.
How Much Bandwidth Makes Sense?
Many smaller businesses can get by with 10 Mbps Ethernet over Fiber. High tech or medium size operations will want 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet. Nowadays, Gigabit Ethernet is well within reason for companies that need highly responsive cloud applications or make extensive use of video. Municipalities and school districts often find that Gigabit Ethernet or GigE is exactly what they need at a reasonable price point.
How Easy Are Upgrades
Legacy T-Carrier (T1, T3) and SONET (OCx) services can take a long time to provision because each bandwidth level has a unique interface. Ethernet over Fiber is designed to be easily scalable. You install a port with the maximum speed you expect to need (usually 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps). Then you pick the bandwidth you want to start out with. Often a quick call to your provider is all it takes to increase or decrease bandwidth within hours or days. Some services even let you make the changes yourself through a Web browser.
What’s the Maximum Bandwidth Available?
It’s not likely you’ll ever run out. Gigabit Ethernet service is common. So is 10 Gbps now. In some locations you can get 100 Gbps business bandwidth. That level will become more widely available in the future, as more bandwidth intensive requirements demand it. If you are a really high bandwidth user or have special protocol or security requirements, you might consider wavelength service. Each fiber can carry dozens of wavelengths. Each wavelength transports up to 10 Gbps.
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