For such an important and popular service, MPLS is easily misunderstood by many.

That’s why we wanted to provide you with some insight into how it works and why it’s such an important player in the voice and data world.

What is MPLS?

In order for companies with multiple locations to communicate and share information, they need some kind of interconnection between them. MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) is a secure, cost-effective way to make this happen.

MPLS is a protocol that directs and carries data through high-performance networks from one network node to the next using labels. You could consider MPLS as a point-to-point service through “the Cloud”.

It enables your service provider to build a tunnel-like connection across their network between your locations, providing you with a virtual network instead of a bunch of physical wires running between locations. When data leaves your location and enters the service provider’s network, it’s given a label that tells it where to go and what path to take to reach its correct end point.

In the recent past, if you wanted this type of connectivity, you would have had to get a point-to-point T1. If you had multiple sites, you would have had to get multiple point-to-point T1s all coming back to your main site. This could get very messy very quickly, but it was a solution that worked for the time period.

However, with the growing demand for better and faster solutions that could deliver more bang for the buck, MPLS was born.

A Dynamic Service that Provides QoS

In this instance, “Dynamic Service” refers to multiple types of data traffic traversing the same connection. That’s it. Think FiOS, think Comcast — they deliver TV, Internet, and voice all over the fiber, or Coaxial cables, that go to your home. This is exactly what MPLS delivers, just with a twist.

In your office’s LAN (Local Area Network), your company is able to maintain QoS (Quality of Service), meaning you’re able to give higher priority to a particular type of data traffic, such as voice and video, that needs to get to its destination as quickly as possible.

Think about it this way: Since voice and video are real-time applications and do not operate well when delayed, these types of data generally have top priority usage of the bandwidth. The next tier of priority is critical data applications, such as your ordering system. You want this to have bandwidth priority over someone streaming music for fun. The lowest priority would then be the public Internet traffic.

Why? Let’s face it — if your MSN page loads a few seconds slower than usual, it’s no big deal. But, if your image and voice are delayed over a video conference when you’re trying to close a million dollar deal, or you’re helping an already-angry customer on the phone and your voice is breaking up, you have a big problem.

Once data travels out of your office’s LAN, QoS is not necessarily guaranteed.

With MPLS though, you’re able to continue QoS of your data even as it traverses the service provider’s network. The service provider’s network can look at every single packet of data as it comes in, determine what type of traffic it is, and, based on the pre-arranged application requirements you set with the service provider, take action based on whether it’s priority data or not. This enables you to continue to allow specific data, such voice and video, to flow unencumbered through the connection in priority over other data applications, such as mail and internet traffic.

QoS is what makes the combination of different types of data streaming over a single connection reliable and attractive to many businesses as it allows for maximum usage of the bandwidth you purchase. If voice or video is not in use, the other data applications are free to use the entire circuit.

In the past, businesses would have to separate voice and video from their other lower priority data traffic by using another circuit or statically assigning bandwidth to each service. Thanks to MPLS, that’s not the case any more.

Clearly, MPLS is a great solution for a multiple-site company looking to remove some older more costly solutions. But there are many MPLS configurations available over various types of connections. So make sure to use ETA’s vast knowledge base when deciding what type of solution, whether MPLS or not, is right for your business.

Simply contact us by clicking on the “Reach Out Today!” form to learn more.