Monday, February 28, 2011

Is DS-3 Bandwidth An Endangered Species?

DS-3 has long been the go-to telecom service for companies needing moderate amounts of bandwidth for dedicated Internet access, file transfers and video transport. It’s been steadily coming down in price as more providers compete in the network bandwidth space. But even if costs are a fraction of what they were a decade ago, DS-3 may be in its twilight years. What could be causing that?

What will Ethernet do to DS-3?The seeds of change were sown when data packets replaced digitized voice as the primary traffic on the world’s networks. Now video is arguably demanding the lion’s share of available bandwidth. What’s true for data and video, and increasingly voice, is that packet switched IP networks are the new bandwidth services of choice.

DS-3 connections offer a symmetrical bandwidth of 45 Mbps. Delivery is most often over a fiber optic cable, although there are short range fixed wireless solutions that are popular in densely populated business districts. The user handoff is via a pair of coaxial cables, one for transmit and the other for receive. This hints at the copper legacy of DS-3.

There’s a lot you can do with 45 Mbps, especially in medium size companies. It’s a big step up from the closest related technology of T1 lines that run at 1.5 Mbps each. These can be bonded together to give you 10 to 12 Mbps, but that’s about it. From there you move up to DS-3 at 45 Mbps. The next step is to OC-3 SONET fiber optic service running about 156 Mbps. As you can imagine, there are big pricing level jumps that accompany the bandwidth jumps in these legacy telecom services.

What can possibly threaten the dominance of an entrenched technology like DS-3? It’s the rise of Carrier Ethernet service in recent years. It’s actually been more like a tsunami lately. The popularity of 50 Mbps, 100 Mbps and higher Ethernet bandwidth has been surging for two important reasons. First is availability, second is price.

The term Carrier Ethernet is used to describe a range of services from local Metro Ethernet to long haul networks with national and international footprints. All of these services are extensions of the familiar switched Ethernet protocol that runs on nearly every business LAN. In fact the handoff is a simple Ethernet connector, such as the ubiquitous RJ-45.

Why Ethernet? It just makes sense to use the same technology that is running on the majority of networks today. Interfacing is easy. There are no protocol conversions involved. Network services such as level 2 LAN extensions are readily available. Both point to point and multipoint options are standardized service offerings.

Ethernet is more scalable and more quickly scaled than competing telecom services, like DS-3. You can get lower bandwidth Ethernet service in levels such as 2 Mbps, 3 Mbps, 5 Mbps, 10 Mbps, 15 Mbps and 20 Mbps delivered over twisted pair copper. These can replace higher priced fractional DS-3 services delivered over fiber.

Higher speed Carrier Ethernet services, including the popular 50 Mbps, 100 Mbps , 250 Mbps, 500 Mbps, 1,000 Mbps and 10 Gbps levels are delivered using fiber. The equipment tends to be more automated than legacy telco gear, allowing rapid changes to customer bandwidth without having to change equipment or wiring.

More than anything else, though, what’s endangering DS-3 bandwidth is the lower cost of Carrier Ethernet. How would you like to get 50 Mbps Ethernet at a lower cost than 45 Mbps DS3? Would you be impressed if you found out you could get 50 Mbps Ethernet for half the price of your old DS-3 connection? What if you could get 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet service for less than the cost of that DS-3 connection? How long would it take for you to make the switch for more bandwidth at lower prices?

The price you pay has a lot to do with availability of services for your particular business location. The only way to know for sure is to get the latest competitive quotes for both DS-3 and Ethernet. Then make your decision. You may be surprised by how much WAN bandwidth has changed recently.

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