Hybrid what? You may have heard of this as Cable broadband for business. A lot of home based businesses successfully use Cable broadband to manage their websites, access information on the Web and send and receive email. But try to order residential service for a business location and you’ll get turned down flat. That’s because residential broadband is priced for single homes and apartments with few people accessing the service and probably no-one online most of the day. Knowing that, some business owners incorrectly assume that you can’t get Cable run into a business. But you can.
So, what’s available and why the funny name? HFC or Hybrid Fiber Coax refers to the technology used to deploy high speed Internet access, telephone service, and Cable television. You know that Cable TV and Cable broadband are called that because of the coaxial cable that provides the connection to the network. When Cable systems were first deployed, they were constructed from various size coaxial cables. What’s happened in recent years is that the long connection from the Cable office or the “head end” where the signals are picked up and run for miles to various neighborhoods has been replaced by fiber optic cable. The last few hundred feet or so are still copper coaxial cable, also called coax. The result is a system that is a hybrid of fiber optic cable and coax cable known as Hybrid Fiber Coax or HFC.
Why go with a hybrid arrangement rather than just make it fiber optics all the way? It’s mostly a matter of cost. While fiber has a far larger capacity, there is a lot of coax already in the ground. The interface connection at the premises, either a Cable modem or set top box, is much less expensive than the termination equipment needed for fiber. Don’t count that coax down and out yet, either. With digital signals, there is more than enough bandwidth for triple-play services to small and medium businesses as well as consumers.
With an already built-out infrastructure and a high number of users to cover costs, you might expect that HFC services are lower in cost than most telecom services available for the SMB. You’re right, they are. But you need to know the performance tradeoffs to make a smart buying decision.
One excellent use for HFC is broadband Internet access when employee use is primarily Web browsing and email. That includes information research, making purchases, doing simple banking, messaging customers, providing a WiFi hotspot and so on. If most of what you do is similar to the way you use a computer at home, HFC should work just fine. You select a bandwidth tier that offers enough speed to work efficiently and still saves you money over other options. Typical bandwidth for smaller businesses goes up to 15 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload, although some Cable companies are offering speeds as high as 50 or even 100 Mbps.
You’ll likely be able to get a high speed Internet solution that meets your needs with a lot more bandwidth than a T1 line offers and for a lot less money. But beware. T1 lines are dedicated bandwidth that stays a rock solid 1.5 Mbps all the time. Cable bandwidth is shared among all the users on the Cable and can vary all over the place. That’s one way they hold the cost down. If you are running high traffic ecommerce servers or using business processes that expect constant bandwidth, you might find the speed variations not worth the cost savings. Otherwise, you might be quite happy with both the performance and reliability of HFC broadband.
Another service that Cable companies have gotten into is business telephone, essentially VoIP. One big difference between this service and simply running a third party VoIP service over your broadband connection is that the Cable version never transits the Internet. The voice packets travel over the cable network and are then terminated to the public telephone network by the Cable company or a telephone service provider. By doing it this way, the HFC operator has more control of things like latency, packet loss and network congestion to ensure decent voice quality.
Finally, HFC offers Cable TV channels. After all, that’s why the network was built in the first place. Businesses with waiting rooms, like automotive service centers and doctor’s offices, can put business Cable TV service to good use.
Have you been frustrated by your current choices in network services? Why not compare prices, availability and service features of HFC, T1 and Ethernet so you can make the best buying decision? You may be surprised by the range of options available.
Note: Diagram of coaxial cable construction courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.