To say that we live in a connected society sounds like belaboring the obvious. It’s seems clear that everyone, and especially everyone in business, has pretty much claimed their piece of the bandwidth pie. But… not so fast. We’re not ALL connected the way we need to be. There are pockets of broadband wasteland out there that are still starved for bandwidth. If you find yourself in this situation, what hope is there?
Yes, Virginia, There IS Broadband
Earlier in the century, there were islands of broadband access and vast areas where dial-up access was all that was available. That situation has pretty much reversed. Today, there is almost nowhere you can’t get at least some broadband Internet access. It’s just a question of what type of broadband service is available and how much you are going to pay.
Fiber Optic - The Cadillac of Bandwidth
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We’re heading toward an almost all-fiber world. There really isn’t anything else that has the capacity of glass fiber strands. Try sending 10 Gbps down a copper pair. That’s only going to happen within a building. That signal is certainly not going to make it across town. The same 10 Gbps is child’s play for fiber. One strand with one laser can provide that bandwidth. You can easily multiply that by 10 to 100 times using WDM or Wavelength Division Multiplexing.
You might think it’s fiber, fiber everywhere and not drop to drink. Actually, it might be not a drop to be had. Fiber really is everywhere. That long country road? There’s a good chance there’s fiber buried in the utility right of way. Highways, railroads and pipelines are popular routes for fiber conduit. The reason most of this fiber is invisible is because there are few drops, or places to connect with all that fiber.
That’s changing. What’s happening is that both consumer and business applications have become more bandwidth intensive. The cloud? You don’t dial-up into the cloud. You better have a decent bandwidth connection or you’ll wish you kept those servers at home.
The Fiber - Mobile Connection
Another big driver is mobile broadband. Feature phones are pretty much extinct. Everybody has an iPhone or an Android. Now they’ve got to have a 4G LTE smartphone. The latest apps and streaming content demand 10, 20 or 30 Mbps of bandwidth. In the future, even that capacity will seem like dial-up.
What’s fiber got to do with mobile? What gets transmitted from the towers has to get to the towers in the first place. That’s where fiber comes in. The T1 lines that have traditionally fed 2G and 3G cellular don’t have the capacity for 4G and the 5G to come. Carriers have long since realized this and have have been in a building frenzy to get fiber to the towers. In-town that’s no big deal. Out in the boonies? It’s a major construction project. No matter, there is a lot of fiber going in the ground and connecting to cell towers here, there and everywhere.
The end result is two-fold. One, wireless broadband speeds are going up like crazy (wireless is becoming the fiber for portable and mobile applications). The other benefit is that the actual fiber is becoming available in many, many more locations.
What Fiber is Available?
The ancient standard in fiber optic connectivity is called SONET. It’s far from obsolete, since many if not most long haul networks run over SONET rings. SONET makes a great backbone, but it’s often not the best connectivity for business.
The newer standard is called Carrier Ethernet. It’s an extension of the Ethernet that runs on your LAN. Because they are on the same technical standard, you simply plug your LAN into the Carrier Ethernet WAN and your network connects across town, to another state or around the world. Connect to the Internet using fiber and you have high speed access to your employees, suppliers and customers.
Carrier Ethernet comes in two flavors. Ethernet over Copper is the low speed standard. It runs on twisted pair copper and is good for 10 Mbps or so. Ethernet over Fiber starts at 10 Mbps and goes up to 10 Gbps and beyond. That’s the advantage of fiber Ethernet. It’s pretty hard to run out of bandwidth no matter how big your company grows.
Another advantage is scalability. You can start out at 10 Mbps and go to 100 Mbps or 1000 Gbps any time you want. The fiber can handle it. If you install a fast enough port, chances are that you won’t even have to replace equipment. Just call your provider and request a bandwidth increase.
What If There Still Is No Fiber?
Don’t write off fiber until you’ve gotten a new set of quotes. The fiber footprint for every carrier is changing daily. Just because you got turned down last year doesn’t mean you are still in the middle of nowhere. But… sometimes you still are.
For smaller or less bandwidth demanding businesses, such as small retailers and some farms and ranches, the trusty T1 line may still get the job done. You get a solid 1.5 Mbps up and down. That’s certainly good enough for email, much casual web browsing, and even online ordering. Video? Not so much. But, maybe that isn’t your critical need.
The beauty of T1 lines is that they are available nearly everywhere you can get a landline phone. They can also be bonded to double or triple your bandwidth. In some cases, 10 Mbps is entirely possible. That’s about the limit. Prices per line are a fraction of what they used to be, so you might find T1 is your most affordable option.
Can We Ditch The Wires?
Wireless is also more of an option than it used to be. Those same cell towers that are powering 4G smartphones can also feed a fixed receiver at your location that will give you broadband over your LAN. Today, most businesses are within good signal range of at least one cell tower.
For a lot of applications, bandwidth won’t be your problem. Usage will be. Wireless is a scarce resource, so even the so called “unlimited” plans have “fair usage” limits. If you go over, you’ll pay overage charges or have your service rate limited or cut off. Even so, many businesses are still not Internet-intensive and can get their online jobs done without going over, say, 10 GB per month.
Bird Is The Word
If you are so out in the woods that nothing else will work, there’s always satellite. Yes, you do need to be able to peek through the trees to see the southern sky. Yes, you do need to power the satellite equipment. If neither of those is a big problem, you can get broadband service for sure.
Satellite broadband used to be something of a joke. Bandwidth was pitiful and usage limits were paltry. Newer generations of bigger, higher power satellites have made a lot of those problems go away. You can get decent broadband levels, although nowhere near fiber capability. Still, 5 to 15 Mbps is reasonable for many businesses. Like cellular, there are usage limits on satellite and 10 GB per month is not untypical, although there are higher usage plans available. Once again, this is for web access and email, not video streaming.
The other issue you should be aware of is latency. The big birds are flying some 23,000 miles up there and it takes even a radio wave a half-second or more to get up, down and back again. Latencies of 500 mSec to 1 Sec or more mean that telephone calls over satellite are more like two-way radio conversations. You have to wait your turn. The same is true for video conferencing. Expect other cloud services to be similarly sluggish over geosynchronous satellite broadband.
What Flavor of Broadband Will Satisfy Your Bandwidth Appetite?
Options available to many locations include fiber, T1, cellular wireless and satellite. One of these should be usable for your applications. In many cases, you have more than one choice. Sometimes even cable broadband or high speed fixed point to point fixed wireless service are additional options. How do you know what’s available? It starts with a no-obligation quote from multiple service providers that you can request in just a minute or so.
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