Today’s demanding application push for higher and higher bandwidths. Right now 10 Mbps is considered entry level and most businesses need at least 100 Mbps WAN bandwidth to ensure that real-time (VoIP, videoconferencing) and latency sensitive (cloud connections) applications won’t succumb to degradation from network congestion at peak load times. Technology intensive businesses and medium to large scale operations can easily require Gigabit connections. Fortunately, they are easy to come by and relatively inexpensive compared to times past.
One major technology upgrade in the last decade is the standardization and deployment of Carrier Ethernet. This represents a major change in MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) and WAN (Wide Area Network) bandwidth. The legacy services are SONET/SDH, a TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) switched circuit technology originally developed for massive telephone trunking between central offices. Carrier Ethernet acknowledges the fact that packet switched traffic is dominant on networks worldwide. With Ethernet on the local networks, it seems logical to keep everything in the Ethernet protocol from end to end.
Carrier Ethernet can be transported on both copper and fiber lines. The lower bandwidth offerings are found on EoC or Ethernet over Copper. This is a twisted pair technology that uses the same installed cabling that supports T1 and analog phone lines. EoC typically starts at 1 to 3 Mbps and goes up to 10 or 20 Mbps, although there are special situations that will support 50 and even 100 Mbps Ethernet over Copper. These tend to be locations very close to the telco CO where the termination equipment is installed. Copper based Ethernet loses bandwidth capacity rapidly with distance.
Ethernet over Fiber is the logical solution for many, if not most, high performance applications. Bandwidth typically starts at 10 Mbps and goes up to 10 Gbps. Popular service levels are 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps. These mirror the LAN speeds of standard, fast and gigabit Ethernet.
There are factors that make Carrier Ethernet more affordable and more flexible than the longstanding SONET services. Numerous competitive carriers have deployed their own regional and national fiber networks independent of the public telephone system. They own the fiber and terminal equipment, including last mile drops to your building. This is a very competitive field right now and lease prices per Mbps have plummeted in recent years.
Another real cost savings opportunity arises from the easy scalability designed into Carrier Ethernet services. TDM based bandwidth is technically unique at each service level. T1, DS3, OC3, OC12, OC48 and other installations require specific terminal equipment. If you wish to upgrade to a faster service, you need different equipment installed. That helps drive costs and leads to long installation times.
Carrier Ethernet bandwidths are somewhat arbitrary. Everything works the same regardless of how much traffic is being transported. In other words, Ethernet is Ethernet. What’s important is the speed of the installed port at your location. It is the maximum capacity of the port that sets a limit on the bandwidth you can order. A Fast Ethernet port is good up to 100 Mbps. A Gigabit Ethernet port raises that ceiling to 1000 Mbps.
There is nothing that prevents you from operating your network connection at a speed less than the maximum port capacity. Fractional line speeds that are rate limited by the service provider have been available for other services, such as DS3 or OC3. There are cost savings available with these, but they are not nearly as dramatic as what you’ll find with Ethernet.
In fact, scalability is a big selling point with Carrier Ethernet. Many carriers offer bandwidth upgrades with only a phone call required. The additional capacity can be online in a matter of hours or days. That compares with weeks or months for equipment changes on older services.
This is where Gigabit Ethernet makes sense even if you don’t need that much capacity today. The idea is to install a Gigabit Ethernet port, which is commonly available with a managed router provided by the carrier. The output is a standard copper or fiber Ethernet jack. You can then place your initial bandwidth order at 100 Mbps, 200 Mbps or some other level that represents your current need. When you need more bandwidth, that phone call will get you 500 Mbps, 750 Mbps or one of many other increments. These fractional Gigabit speeds can be increased until you are at the full Gigabit capacity of the port.
Is Gigabit Ethernet still too restrictive? The answer, as you may suspect, is to order a 10 GigE or even 100 GigE port. That’s the practical limit today. As bandwidth demands continue to increase, carriers will upgrade their core networks to Terabit per second and higher speeds. Soon afterwards these speeds will be available to business or organization customers with highly demanding applications.
Are you being squeezed for metro and long haul bandwidth to support your organization? If so, it is well worth your while to look into the availability and cost of fractional and full Gigabit Ethernet services, and higher if needed.