It’s no surprise that fiber optic networks are expanding. Some of this expansion is prompted by American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that appropriated $7.2 billion to expand broadband access across the country. Rural areas that have been largely ignored by commercial interests are especially targeted. With funds available for middle-mile fiber runs, competitive carriers are taking advantage of the opportunity to expand their networks.
While fiber is being trenched through the countryside to provide broadband delivery to Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) that serve sparsely populated areas, even more fiber is being routed through metropolitan areas to hookup businesses of all sizes. Government incentives aren’t needed here. Businesses hungry for increased bandwidth either foot the bill for hookups to metropolitan fiber networks or commit to service levels that justify carriers to “light” their buildings for fiber service.
Why the interest in fiber optic connections? It’s not just mobile bandwidth that’s straining at the limits. T1 lines may have been all the bandwidth a small or even medium size business needed to handle email, general web browsing and communication with its website servers hosted elsewhere. Now, 1.5 Mbps seems a bit quaint and inadequate for all the smallest operations. What drives business now is cloud connections, Software as a Service, video conferencing, hosted VoIP and other bandwidth demanding applications.
The transition from 3G to 4G wireless also means that cellular carriers themselves are strained for fast enough backhaul connections. T1 lines works great to connect towers that handled voice calls. When users expect 10 or 15 Mbps of broadband service, fiber optics look like the ideal solution. The cost of construction, once a show stopper, becomes another part of the upgrade investment that’s paid once and offers almost unlimited upgrades for future needs.
Cloud computing is a major attraction for many businesses who find that pay-as-you-go is much easier to justify than requisitions for million dollar data center improvements. No need for racks and racks of servers, the environmentally controlled building to house them, the backup power generators, or the round-the-clock technical staff to keep everything running smoothly. Outsourcing that to a cloud service provider gets rid of those headaches, but adds a new one. How to you connect to the cloud? Low bandwidth, high latency connections will bring your operations to a grinding halt. What you need now is high bandwidth along with low latency, jitter and packet loss as a backbone to your virtual servers on the other side of the country. That means fiber optic lines and probably two of them for redundancy.
Fiber technology hasn’t been static during this expansion. Until recently you had a choice of SONET services from OC3 to OC12 and perhaps OC48. That was it. Now, Ethernet over Fiber is coming on strong as a direct competitor. Carrier Ethernet more closely matches the LAN networks that feed it. It is more scalable to meet changing business needs. Best of all, Ethernet services tend to cost less, often considerably less, than equivalent SONET fiber optic services.
But, wait! The era of copper is far from over. Just when carriers were thinking about decommissioning their twisted pair copper to let it corrode in the ground or be sold for scrap, Bonded T1 and Ethernet over Copper gain favor as business bandwidth options. While a single T1 line may be too constrained for many uses, multiple T1 lines can be bonded into a single larger bandwidth service up to 10 or 12 Mbps. Ethernet over Copper (EoC) technology uses the same twisted pair bundles as bonded T1, but a more advanced modulation scheme. EoC bandwidth is distance sensitive, but can easily deliver 10 or 20 Mbps to most businesses and 30, 50 or even 100 Mbps for short runs. Continuing development incorporating wireless techniques such as MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) for crosstalk cancelation is pushing the limits of copper into the hundreds of Mbps and even to a fiber-like Gigabit per second bandwidth.
The next decade of bandwidth is likely to be dominated by massive fiber optic build-outs for fixed locations, such as office and industrial parks, along with copper solutions to bridge the gaps where fiber doesn’t yet connect. Wireless is clearly headed for a common 4G LTE nationwide infrastructure. Compatibility will be built into portable and mobile devices, perhaps as prolifically as WiFi is now. There may be some surprises in store, such long range and interconnected WiFi hotspots or whitespace transmitters as wireless competitors, high bandwidth satellites covering rural areas better than spotty fiber and cable construction, and the development of much higher microwave frequencies (60 GHz and above) and even infrared mesh networks as new service options.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this speculative look into what’s likely to happen in the next 10 years or so, as our appetite for higher bandwidth Internet and private network connections demand satisfaction. There are many good options available right now to support your current business needs. You may not even be aware of how much development has been going on in your area to increase service levels and reduce costs. This would be an excellent time to get competitive options and quotes for business bandwidth services.
See what's available now in the way of T-carrier and Ethernet copper, SONET and Ethernet fiber, fixed wireless and Hybrid Fiber Cable (HFC). Get instant bandwidth pricing up to 1 Gbps and fast quotes on other services.
This has been a 5 part series on bandwidth. If you’ve missed any part of it, you can access Part I, Part II, Part III, or Part IV to catch up at any time.