WAN or Wide Area Network bandwidth is how you connect from your business to other businesses and your customers. For the sake of simplification, we’ll include MAN or Metropolitan Area Network connections along with WAN. What they have in common is that they start where your LAN leaves off.
WAN bandwidth has always been the domain of telecom companies. You don’t have your own WAN. You lease what you need from a service provider. What’s changed recently is that many competitive providers have come into the WAN marketplace to compete with incumbent telephone companies and traditional long haul networking providers.
Perhaps the most popular of all WAN services is the T1 line. It’s been around for half a century and comes in various flavors. A basic data T1 offers 1.5 Mbps symmetrical bandwidth with full duplex. You can get a point to point private line to connect two business locations or a dedicated T1 Internet connection for business broadband. T1 lines are also popular as telephone trunks for PBX phone systems. The original T1 telephone line supports 24 business phone lines. The newer ISDN PRI offers 23 phone lines plus Caller ID and faster switching.
The direct competitor to T1 is Ethernet over Copper. EoC will typically give you twice the bandwidth for the same money. Most popular is 3x3 Mbps Ethernet running at 3 Mbps in both directions. Where available, the price is generally the same as a 1.5 Mbps T1 line. Ethernet over Copper is easily scaled up in bandwidth, so you can order 10 Mbps, 15 Mbps, 20 Mbps or higher bandwidth over twisted pair copper telco wiring. T1 lines can also be bonded to increase bandwidth up to about 12 Mbps at the most. The one limitation is EoC is that it is a distance sensitive technology that is mostly available in metropolitan areas where you are located close to the central office where your telco wiring terminates.
Another WAN option that is becoming popular with smaller businesses is business Cable broadband. You may be able to get 100 Mbps x 10 Mbps service for the same price as a T1 line. While these speeds are impressive, note that the service is not symmetrical. The upload speed is only a fraction of the download speed. That works well when you are using it to access the Internet for email, Web browsing and video downloads. Cable broadband is an Internet connection. However, you can set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for two Internet connected locations so that you can transfer files much like a point to point T1 line. Also note that Cable bandwidth is shared, not dedicated. Your bandwidth will vary considerably depending on what other Cable users are doing online.
Higher speed WAN bandwidth requires fiber optic lines. DS3 at 45 Mbps is generally transported on a fiber optic line, although your connection is via coaxial cable. Both traditional SONET and the newer Ethernet over Fiber are available if your building is lit for fiber. Once the fiber is in place, you can easily get anywhere from 100 Mbps on up to 10 Gbps for business applications. Carriers themselves often use 10 Gbps and 40 Gbps fiber for their network backbones.
Wireless connections are also possible. Low bandwidth fixed wireless uses 3G and 4G technology and is popular for retail credit card verification. Higher bandwidth fixed wireless can replace DS3 and Fast Ethernet wireline services but is generally limited to downtown business districts. Satellite broadband works where no other service is available.
For really wide area connectivity, consider an MPLS network. These have regional, national and international connectivity. You can get nearly any bandwidth you require and connect dozens, hundreds or thousands of business locations securely.
With all these options available, how do you choose? The best way is go through a telecom broker that represents dozens of different carriers and has an application that makes it easy to get pricing quickly. The GeoQuote tool from Telarus, Inc. does just that. For many options you can get WAN bandwidth pricing and availability instantly online. Other services will be manually quoted in short order to meet your requirements. With that information in hand, you can do the price/performance tradeoffs and choose what make the most sense for your particular situation.