The legacy high performance telecom service at the 100 Mbps level is OC-3. This is a fiber optic bandwidth service delivered over SONET, the Synchronous Optical NETwork. OC-3 bandwidth is actually 155 Mbps. The next step higher is OC-12 at 622 Mbps and the previous step is DS3 at 45 Mbps. DS3 is often delivered over an OC-3 connection, multiplexed with other services.
SONET fiber optic services are popular because they were first to be deployed by the telecommunications carriers. The TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) technology is directly compatible with T-Carrier services such as T1 and T3. Many Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN) and nationwide fiber optic backbones run on SONET rings that offer a redundant path with automatic failover. This protection scheme gives SONET a high reliability as well as very high bandwidth capability.
A newer competing fiber optic service is Carrier Ethernet. Unlike SONET which needs an interface card to do the protocol conversion between the telecom standard and network standard, Carrier Ethernet is directly compatible with the switched Ethernet running on your LAN. You know that 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet is a standard LAN speed. It is also a standard for Carrier Ethernet. With Fast Ethernet on both your LAN and WAN, there is no “speed” bump when files are transfered to other locations over the WAN connection.
Ethernet has its standard speed levels of 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 1000 Mbps and 10,000 Mbps, but it is also highly scalable. If you want to move up or down the SONET digital hierarchy, the jumps between bandwidth levels are large. Ethernet can be set up to deliver just about any bandwidth level up to the maximum speed of the installed port. For instance, if you have a 100 Mbps Ethernet port installed, you can easily get 20, 50, 75 or 100 Mbps as well as other levels in-between. Increasing bandwidth is often no more difficult than placing a phone call to your service provider. The change can be made in as little as a few hours. That doesn’t work with SONET. The provider will need to roll a truck to replace the interface card in their edge router before you can use the higher speed.
If you expect to need higher bandwidths, it probably makes sense to have a 1 Gbps Ethernet port installed. You can start off at 100 or 200 Mbps and then scale-up as your bandwidth needs increase. The advantage of this is that you only have to pay for the bandwidth level that you are actually using. You retain the option to quickly increase bandwidth when justified by increased business activity or additional needs.
What if there are no fiber networks nearby? In rare instances, it is possible to get 100 Mbps Ethernet over Copper. Eight pairs of twisted copper telco wire are used to deliver Fast Ethernet to business locations very near the central offices that have EoC equipment installed. This is most often the case in business districts of large metropolitan areas.
Another high bandwidth service available downtown in major metro areas is 100 Mbps fixed wireless service. This is a licensed line-of-site point to point microwave system with a small antenna installed on your building. Like Ethernet over Copper, high bandwidth fixed wireless has limited transmission range. It can be very useful if it is too expensive to provision fiber optic service across a major highway or a river.
There’s another 100 Mbps service that is suitable for businesses that can use a shared bandwidth asymmetrical Internet service. You typically get 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload and your bandwidth varies constantly. Even so, for undemanding tasks like email, web browsing, downloading video clips or providing a free WiFi hotspot for your customers, Cable business broadband may be just the answer. The cost is similar to a T1 line, making this option very affordable for businesses of all sizes.
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Note: Photo of night traffic courtesy of Pekka Tamminen on Wikimedia Commons.