Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Fiber, Fiber, Everywhere You Dig

Fiber optic cable is something that we have in abundance. Well, a certain type of fiber optic cable. It's the cable that was buried by the mile and seemingly forgotten. Now there's a treasure hunt underway to rediscover all this hidden potential bandwidth and put it to good use.

The history of buried fiber treasure goes back to the buccaneering pirate days of the late 20th century. Some of those pirates are back in the news and getting the justice they deserve. Others were never pirates at all. They were simple fortune seekers, Ninety-Niners, out to make their fortune in the great telecom gold rush. Using backhoes in place of picks and shovels, they salted the Earth with rich veins of refined silica strands. Then they covered the trenches they had made and left their treasure dormant.

But why would anyone go to that much trouble and never capitalize on the massive capital and labor invested? "Irrational exuberance" is the term Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan uses to describe those heady days of the 1990s. Most of us would say that the telecom carriers "just got carried away." There was a belief that the booming technology sector would be able to gobble up all the bandwidth the carriers could provide and still want more. But when the boom went bust, what was left is politely called a "global fiber glut."

Perhaps it won't be a glut for too much longer. Business, including the technology sector, is not only recovering but changing in its needs. The latest hot trends of offshoring, voice and data convergence, and supply chain integration all have huge appetites for bandwidth.

Massive amounts of bandwidth translates to fiber optic links. Copper tops out at the T3 level of 45 Mbps. Satellite, long haul microwave and local point to point wireless is lucky to do that well. If you want to move Gigabytes and Terabytes of data around town or across the country you really need to send it via fiber optic cable.

Your choices in fiber optic transmission come down to leasing bandwidth on existing fiber circuits, buying or leasing dark fiber strands, or burying your own fiber network. Within a business park or corporate campus, trenching your own cable runs makes sense. But when you leave your own property it gets very expensive very fast.

Dark fiber is those rich veins of silica hidden underground by the tens of thousands of miles. Fiber strands are so small that 100 or even 1,000 fiber pairs may have been buried in the right of way during the buildout process. Now, even that massive potential bandwidth has been multiplied by Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM). This means beaming more than one laser down a fiber strand. Each laser is set to a different "color" or lambda.

There are two flavors to WDM. CWDM or Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing uses typically 4 to 8 different lambdas. Each lambda is independent of the others and carries as much data as a single laser would send down the fiber in the original transmission plan. DWDM or Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing uses tighter tolerance equipment to pack 16 to 64 or even 128 lambdas per fiber pair.

You don't have to own the entire fiber cable. You can lease individual fiber strands or individual lambdas on a CWDM or DWDM system. On "lit" routes, you can also just order bandwidth by the DS0 or 64Kbps channel, including T1 (1.5 Mbps), T3 (45 Mbps), OC3 (155 Mbps) up to OC192 (9.95 Gbps). Some carriers also offer Ethernet (10 Mbps), Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (1 Gbps) and 10 GigE (10 Gbps). It all comes down to how much bandwidth you need and how much it is worth to you.

If you are need fiber optic carrier levels to support your business requirements, find the best prices on high speed bandwidth in your area with our GigaPackets service.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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