Monday, April 21, 2014

Fiber Makes the Upgrades Easy

By: John Shepler

Fiber optic bandwidth has long been a standard of business connectivity, especially for applications requiring extreme line speeds. The good news now is that fiber service is becoming available to more and more business locations. IT managers and other executives are increasingly faced with the choice of whether to continue embracing their legacy copper wireline services or make the upgrade to fiber optic service. Let’s see what helps tilt the balance in favor of fiber.

First of all, Fiber is the Future
You can easily read the signs that point in this direction. Fiber optic bandwidth has gone from being an extremely expensive option to being price competitive with copper on a per Mbps basis. Bonded T1 and Ethernet over Copper will only take you so far in satisfying an accelerating need for MAN and WAN bandwidth. When copper runs out of capability, fiber is often the only solution.

Copper Asset Retirement
You’ll also notice the media stories of how carriers are either phasing out their copper assets or planning to do so. The change has been slow in coming because all that buried and overhead copper is already paid for. However, maintenance is not free. Corroding copper wires result in frequent truck rolls. Some of the justification for holding onto the copper plant is the preponderance of legacy analog phone lines plus T1 and ISDN trunks that use the same twisted pair lines. As carriers transition from circuit switched to packet switched architectures, those analog and TDM circuits start to fade away.

Ethernet over Fiber
The new juggernaut is Ethernet over Fiber. It’s a combination that meets a lot of needs. Fiber provides the bandwidth capacity. Ethernet offers its inherent support for IP networking. Ethernet also has some new standardized services available. E-LAN or Ethernet LAN service is becoming the easiest and most cost effective way to link multiple business locations in a meshed any-to-any communications architecture. The designed-in ease of scalability with Ethernet over Fiber is a huge boon for companies that want to minimize their costs in an uncertain business climate.

SONET, the Legacy Fiber
The legacy competing fiber service is SONET, a technology designed by and for the phone companies. SONET has predetermined bandwidth levels that include OC-3 at 155 Mbps, OC-12 at 622 Mbps and OC-48 at 2.4 Gbps. The terminal equipment is specific to these levels, so changes require truck rolls for the carriers to swap out customer premises equipment and perhaps make engineering changes to the network. Delays of weeks and months for system changes are not unusual.

Ethernet Scalability
Ethernet over Fiber doesn’t operate at fixed bandwidth levels. Instead, there is a maximum bandwidth capability determined by the installed port speed. Popular port options include 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet, 1 Gbps Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gbps 10 GigE. The beauty of this arrangement is that you can install a Gigabit Ethernet port, but only order a couple hundred Mbps of initial bandwidth. When your line starts to reach its capacity, a simple phone call to your provider can double or quadruple bandwidth in a matter of hours or days. No hardware changes are needed.

Ethernet Cost Advantage
You should also be aware that Ethernet over Fiber usually has a cost advantage over SONET. Competitive carriers with their own IP core networks can completely bypass the incumbent telephone companies and give you point to point or dedicated Internet connections. You may well find that you can get twice the bandwidth for the same money that you pay now or cut your monthly telecom bill in half.

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