There’s nothing that stifles productivity and raises your blood pressure like too little bandwidth. You wait and wait and wait for websites to load, for the cloud to give you the requested documents, for any sort of collaborative effort. Video breaks up or buffers. VoIP phone calls distort or hang up completely. It’s a miserable existence. What’s more, no amount of processor power or RAM memory will make the problem any better. You simply have to increase your network bandwidth to match the need.
What’s a Good Target Bandwidth?
That’s hard to say. Not to be coy, but how much you need is really determined by what you are doing. There’s also a matter of what quality of bandwidth you are using, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Classic T1 lines are about pooped out. They still have merit for point of sale terminals, small office telephone & casual Internet use, and rural areas where choices are few. You can stave off obsolescence by bonding T1 lines together to get up to 10 Mbps, but that gets expensive. Once you need more than 10 Mbps, what will you do?
The Fiber Option
We’re headed for an all-fiber world. Seems like it would be a good idea to get on-board sooner rather than later. The beauty of fiber is that it isn’t technically limited… at least not much. With multiple fiber strands and wavelength division multiplexing, you’ll be hard pressed to run a fiber cable out of capacity.
Fiber has other benefits, too. In addition to eliminating the bandwidth ceiling (you can get up to 10 Gbps in most areas and 100 Gbps in some major markets), the new Carrier Ethernet services are highly scalable. Legacy SONET fiber optic services require a unique interface for every service level. The same equipment won’t work for OC-3, OC-12, OC-48, etc.
Ethernet over Fiber is designed differently. It works more like the Ethernet on your LAN. It’s the port capability that sets the upper limit. Everything below that is available and easily changed. For instance, you can start off at 10 Mbps, move up to 100 Mbps and then to 1000 Gbps if you have a Gigabit Ethernet port for your WAN (Wide Area Network) service.
How difficult is it to change bandwidths? Almost trivially easy. Most service providers will do it within hours or days of your phone call. Some are providing browser based control panels so you can adjust your bandwidth up or down as desired. The future may be something like this or an intelligent system that monitors your traffic levels and automatically decides what bandwidth to order up.
Why 10 Mbps is a Good Entry Point
To gain the benefits of fiber, you have to at least get the fiber installed. This is called “lighting” your building. What’s actually being lit are the fiber strands themselves with laser light. If you are in a multi-tenant building, the fact that the building itself is lit almost guarantees that you can get fiber bandwidth service even if you aren’t the one who had the fiber installed.
So, if you’ve run out of juice with your T1 lines, either can’t get or don’t like the way cable broadband performs, and wouldn’t consider satellite because of the limited capacity and huge latency issues, entry level fiber may be a good way to go. Remember, you want to get a foot in the door so you have that ease of upgrade later.
What’s a good number to start with? Unless you are used to high bandwidth WAN connections, a 10 Mbps ethernet over fiber connection is pretty attractive. For one thing, it’s a huge jump from a 1.5 Mbps T1 line to 10 Mbps. Yes, you can keep bonding T1 lines to get the same 10 Mbps, but you’ll pay a lot more than for the same bandwidth over fiber. That’s because copper lines are priced per line. Each line has a limited bandwidth. The bonding process simply combines their capability, but you pay for each and every T1 line.
Isn’t Fiber Really Expensive?
That used to be true when the only fiber in town was the SONET fiber optic service run by the local telephone company. The newer Ethernet over Fiber services are highly competitive and don’t necessarily use telephone company lines. Many carriers are now in a frenzy to be the first to light buildings with their own fiber networks so they can garner all the businesses that are ready to move up to fiber bandwidth.
Here’s an example. T1 lines have come down in cost, but you’ve long been able to get twice the bandwidth or 3 Mbps for the same price using Ethernet over Copper. Now, Ethernet over Fiber can give you 10 Mbps for not a whole lot more money. In fact, if you’ve had the same T1 contract for many years, you may be shocked to find out that you can have fiber for the same monthly cost.
It only gets better as you go up in bandwidth. The lease price per Mbps of Ethernet bandwidth over fiber gets cheaper as you go from 10 to 100 to 1000 Mbps. The price doesn’t jump nearly as much as the bandwidth does. It’s a bit like the kind of volume discounts you are used to getting when you buy just about any product in quantity.
Quality of Bandwidth
There’s bandwidth and there’s bandwidth. T1, SONET and other traditional telecom services are called dedicated, symmetrical bandwidth services. That means you have the line all to yourself and the speed is the same in both the upload and download directions. That’s true for private point to point lines and Dedicated Internet Access.
Ethernet over Copper and Fiber are the same way. It’s your connection to do with as you please and there are no usage limits. You can shove as much traffic down those lines as they’ll take and the price is the same each month.
The beauty of this arrangement is that your bandwidth is rock solid dependable, never varies, and you’ll get the same consistent performance to or from the cloud or whatever you are connected to. Dedicated connections give you low latency, jitter and packet loss for high application performance.
Contrast that with lower cost shared bandwidth arrangements like DSL, Cable broadband, Satellite and Cellular wireless. These almost always have much higher download speeds than upload and your available bandwidth will vary depending on who is sharing the line with you at any given time. Yes, you can get more Mbps for your bandwidth dollar, but it isn’t the same quality of bandwidth. If you are a very heavy user, you may also have to contend with "fair use" limits. Go over and you'll face additional charges, reduced bandwidth or even service cancellation.
Do You Need to Start at 10 Mbps?
Certainly not. The reason that 10 Mbps is so popular is that it is replacing lower bandwidth services like T1, and is plenty for smaller operations. Most medium size or larger offices and anybody involved with video production or distribution will want to start at a much higher level.
Fast Ethernet at 100 Mbps is very popular with businesses who are moving to cloud services or have multiple employees working intensively on the Internet. Gigabit Ethernet at 1000 Mbps is really more affordable than you might think and pretty much makes bandwidth issues disappear for many companies. Larger companies are starting to move to 10 Gbps as their bandwidth standard and 100 Gbps is the new “top of the line” WAN bandwidth service.
Remember, what’s really important is that you get an Ethernet port installed that has the growth capacity you’ll be needing. Even if you start at 10 Mbps, you’ll want a 100 Mbps minimum size port for future growth. Some carriers are installing Gigabit Ethernet ports as a matter of course. They know that it won’t be long before you’ll call up wanting it.
Are you ready to ditch the old telecom standard copper bandwidth services for the advantages that Ethernet over Fiber offers? Are you just curious about what’s available and what it costs? It is well worth your while to take a few minutes and do a quick check for fiber optic service in your area. An expert consultant is available to help match the right solution to your particular situation.
Note: Products with the low bandwidth caution sign shown on this page, along with many other computer and networking themes, are available through the Gigapacket Tech Gifts Store.