There is a type of fiber optic service provider that doesn’t use telco facilities at all. That is the cable companies or MSOs (Multi System Operators.) The reason is that cable systems were all built from the ground up to serve a specialized market for television signal distribution to homes and businesses. In fact, most cable systems have been built from the ground up twice. The first implementation used large diameter coaxial cable to transport the combined TV signals picked up from over the air and satellite downlinks. The second implementation was an upgrade to use fiber optic cable for signal distribution to the neighborhoods, while keeping small diameter coax for the final connection.
This system is known as HFC or Hybrid Fiber Coax. Nearly everyone recognizes the 75 ohm coax and F type connector used for Cable TV work. What most people aren’t aware of is the extensive fiber optic infrastructure in place behind the scenes. The larger cable systems have thousands of miles of fiber optic cabling, some cables with 100 or more fiber strands. These cables run all over town and often between towns as well. Nationwide cable companies have nationwide fiber optic networks.
Television is the primary content transported by the cable fiber, but there is also a lot of telephone, Internet and point to point data traffic. Ever since television went digital, there is little difference with how you transport video and how you transport other services. It’s all bits and bytes.
The cable companies have recognized this and recently started marketing their capabilities to businesses. The low end services are delivered over broadband coaxial cable. Some of the most popular services are the shared bandwidth Internet access tiers up to 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. This service is priced about the same as a T1 line but can serve many more employees using the Internet. Cable broadband is often used to feed WiFi hotspots for restaurants, hotels and other retail locations.
Many businesses, especially larger ones, don’t want the variability and lack of guarantees associated with shared bandwidth services, even at bargain prices. They need rock solid symmetrical bandwidth and guaranteed parameters for latency, jitter, bandwidth, packet loss and availability. The other thing they need is higher bandwidth levels for connecting multiple business locations and cloud services.
Many cable companies are eager for this premium level of business. They’re now in a position to provide it with some unique benefits as well. One major benefit is complete diversity from the telecom system for redundancy needed for business continuity. If you want to protect your connectivity from outages, you need a redundant connection. If that connection goes right to the same central office as the main connection, you haven’t added much redundancy. A fire or equipment at the CO can take out both your connections. So can a cable break if both your fiber strands are in the same bundle.
You won’t have that problem if one of your fiber services comes from a telecom company and one from a cable company. They have nothing in common to be a single point of failure. If the whole town gets wiped out, you may still have a problem. But that needs to be addressed with geographical diversity from multiple business locations.
What can cable providers offer in the way of fiber optic services? Typically, you can get 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps Ethernet over Fiber that is MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum) compliant. That includes point to point private lines, dedicated Internet access and MPLS networks that interconnect multiple locations. Those locations can be in the same metro area or they can be scattered around the country. Many cable companies have NNI (Network to Network Interface) agreements with other companies so that traffic can be passed from system to system.
What is the interface to these cable systems? You can often get your choice of a copper or fiber handoff at the demarcation point in your building. One standard arrangement is for the cable company to install a Gigabit Ethernet port regardless of the bandwidth level you are contracting. That way, if you decide you want a higher bandwidth level they can turn in up by simply making a few keystrokes into the system. No hardware changes will be necessary until you want to move up to a 10 GigE port.
Do cable system fiber optic services make sense for your business? You may well benefit from these providers. Find out by getting competitive quotes for fiber optic network services that meet your business needs.
Note: Photo of fiber optic conduit spools courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.