Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Lure of Fiber Lit Buildings

By: John Shepler

The mantra of real estate is “location, location, location.” That mantra is being joined by a new mantra for business, “fiber, fiber, fiber.” Everybody wants it and, sooner than you think, everybody will have it. The only question is: “Will they get it in your building or the one next door?”

White light burst blue skyscraper iPhone 6 caseWhat’s So Special About Fiber?
Fiber optic telecommunication lines used to be a niche service for special applications. You’d find them at Internet Service Providers, Fortune 500 companies, scientific labs, video production companies and the like. Only the most technically demanding and well funded operations got fiber. They might even choose to locate closer to where fiber POPs (Points of Presence) were already in-place to minimize construction costs.

This may still be true if you require enormous amounts of bandwidth for your data center or minimal latency for processes like high speed trading. In those cases, the best solution might be to pack up your gear and move it to a “carrier hotel” or “colocation center.” Even when you do that, however, you still have the problem of how to connect your offices to the data center. Yesterday, a few T1 or DS3 lines might have provided this connection. More and more, though, only fiber will do the job now.

Call It a Utility
We’re rapidly approaching the time where fiber optic bandwidth will be on the same level as electricity, water, sewer and gas. Companies just won’t consider locations that don’t provide these basics.

Here’s why. Today’s business operations have become highly automated. Paper documents are disappearing as fast as they can be shredded. Typewriter? What’s that? Everybody has a PC on their desk, a smartphone in their pocket, and probably a tablet to carry around in lieu of a yellow legal pad. Productivity is the name of the game, and that means data moves through the organization in bytes, not printed characters.

The demand for fiber has been pushed to critical proportions by the mass exodus from local data centers to cloud service providers. That means that all that data that used to flow on high speed copper and fiber lines to the data center down the hall now has to go cross-country to get to the new data center in the cloud. This requires much higher MAN and WAN bandwidths, but also low latency to enable interactive business applications and real-time services such as VoIP telephony and video conferencing.

How Much Bandwidth is Enough?
Entry level bandwidths for smaller companies and independent professional offices is now about 10 to 30 Mbps, up from a few Mbps a decade ago. Most medium size companies can make good use of 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet today and will soon need 1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet. In fact, Gigabit Internet access is becoming the new ISP standard for both businesses and consumers. Those large and unique applications? They require 10 Gbps and 100 Gbps services.

Fortunately, fiber handles these bandwidths with ease. Copper telecom lines drop off rapidly above 10 Mbps, even with the new Ethernet over Copper transmission technology. If you want 50 or 100 Mbps, you better be located very near to the telco office. The exception is cable broadband, which can go as high as a Gigabit (1 Gbps). The actual cable is only used for the premises connection. The rest of the network is fiber.

Fiber Bandwidth Options
The two major competing technologies for business fiber are SONET and Ethernet over Fiber. SONET is the older, more established, technology developed by the phone companies. Ethernet over Fiber is rapidly replacing SONET because it is more easily scalable and less expensive.

Scalability is important because you never really know how much bandwidth you are eventually going to need. You may start out at 10 Mbps and quickly find you need to up that to 50 or 100 Mbps. Later, you’ll want to take that up to 500 or 1,000 Mbps. Ethernet over Fiber allows you to start off paying for just what you need and then increasing the bandwidth level as needed. No equipment changes are needed as long as you have a port that can handle the highest bandwidth you require.

Getting a Fiber Lit Building
“Lighting” is the term used to describe having fiber installed and turned-up or “lit” by one or more laser sources. Once you have lit fiber in the building, it is generally easy to get all the bandwidth you need. Fiber, itself, has nearly unlimited capacity and can serve many users in the same building.

Competitive carriers are now at a fever pitch to find suitable buildings that are un-lit and get their facilities installed before someone else. Generally, a building is lit by only one competitor, who is there for the long term. All tenants contract with the carrier for the service they desire.

If you are a building owner, it is highly desirable to offer fiber optic bandwidth service as one of the utilities. You’ll need to have the suites wired (with fiber) that connects with the telecom room. Then each tenant can order what they need and pay the bill, just like with other utilities. Some building owners have found it advantageous to order very high bandwidth service themselves and then portion it out to the tenants at a profit. In effect, the building owner becomes the service provider.

Are you a building owner or tenant looking for fiber optic bandwidth service? You can find out quickly and easily if your building or one nearby is already lit with fiber. If not, it may well be worth your while to get your facility lit or work with a carrier as a group to get fiber service installed.

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