August 1, 2011 Bandwidth, Ethernet, Network Connections When shopping for an Internet connection, businesses often have to take many factors into account – budget, bandwidth, reliability, location, type of data traffic and more. Though this is challenging enough as it is, figuring out which type of connection is best for your business can be made even more difficult due to the overload of information and options out there. So, to help you cut through all the hype, check out this comparison of Broadband, T1 lines and Ethernet, the three predominant types of Internet and voice connectivity. Broadband Internet Access Broadband Internet (often just referred to as broadband) is a high speed connection that transmits/receives data at a rate of 256 Kbps or more and allows for a continuous connection to the Internet, one which you do not have to log on to or sign into a carrier to access. One of the reasons broadband is so popular is because the speed of the connection allows for simultaneous downloads to complete quickly, streaming media to come through uninterrupted, and pages to load almost immediately. On top of that, broadband can utilize existing telephony/cable infrastructure, which helps reduce price (though final price does vary depending on which Internet Service Provider (ISP) is available in your area and the type of broadband you choose). ISPs offer broadband download speeds that range from 256 Kbps to 60 Mbps, but the speed you actually experience can be impacted by many factors, including your computers’ processing speed, the area you’re located in and the policies your provider has in place to manage its network. When deciding on a provider and connection, take into account where you’re located in regards to the phone or cable company’s central office, because the distance may influence the type of broadband your business is able to utilize, thereby effecting the download speed you experience. In general, the term Broadband represents four different types of connections – Cable, DSL, FiOS and satellite: Cable – Broadband Cable Internet (such as Comcast Business Class Internet) uses existing cable lines in or around your office building to bring you Internet access. Cable lines are already present in many areas since companies and residential locations often utilize Cable for television services. This type of broadband requires a cable modem to be installed at your location, which can either be leased or purchased based on the agreement between you and your provider. The drawback to Cable is that you share Internet bandwidth with all the other Cable Internet subscribers in your area. If there is a high number of Cable customers in your particular area, the amount of bandwidth available to you decreases, making the connections slower as the system tries to accommodate the needs of each user in the network. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) – Like Cable, Broadband DSL uses lines already in and around your office building. However, instead of cable lines, DSL relies on telephone lines. While this results in voice and Internet data travelling on the same line, a barrier between the two types of traffic is configured so they do not interfere with one another, enabling your business to use the Internet and operate on the phone at the same time. For businesses located in a city or high population density area, DSL is a good choice because you will have your own subscriber line, instead of sharing bandwidth like Cable subscribers. But, DSL connection works better when you are closer to the provider’s central office. As a result, this is not a great choice for businesses in rural locations or those far from the central office. FiOS or FiOS Equivalent – FiOS is a broadband connection that uses fiber optic cables to provide high speed Internet access. This service revolves around an existing infrastructure of fiber optic cables comprised of extremely thin glass fibers. Data is sent over these lines through laser light pulses, and, as a result, transmission over significant distances does not impact the quality of the signal as it would other types of broadband. Though fiber optic networks have been used by cable and telephone companies for some time, copper twisted or coaxial cables were traditionally used during a section of the route of a fiber service connection. However, with FiOS, the data delivery process is conducted entirely through fiber optic cabling. This difference is key because fiber cabling is resistant to cross-talk and electromagnetic interference, which is not a characteristic of all cabling. The main drawback to FiOS is that fiber optic infrastructure is expensive to install, so the service is largely limited to locations where fiber optic cables exist already. Satellite – Unfortunately, DSL, Cable and FiOS are not available everywhere, particularly in rural areas. For those businesses that cannot get DSL, Cable, or FiOS, Broadband Satellite Internet is an alternative. With broadband satellite, requested data travels from a transmitting/receiving station at your business out to an orbiting satellite, then down to a transmitting/receiving station at the service provider’s location. From there, it’s routed to the Internet, and the resulting data is sent back from the service provider’s station to the satellite, where it’s then transmitted to your office’s station.Though satellite Internet is faster than dial-up, it does have a degree of delay not seen in DSL, Cable or FiOS. Additionally, satellite Internet is generally the most expensive form of broadband Internet available because it cannot take advantage of the same amount of existing infrastructure as DSL, Cable and FiOS. One key point to consider when looking at broadband is that there’s no Service Level Agreement (SLA) as there is for point-to-point connections, such as T1 lines. Without an SLA, which defines the level of service being sold to a customer, there’s no guarantee of performance and no guarantee of time to repair when the service goes down. For this reason, many businesses employ broadband as more of a complimentary connection to a point-to-point service, rather than the main connection. T1 A T1 circuit is a dedicated point-to-point line from your business’ network to the telephone company’s central office and then to the ISP. This fiber optic or copper line can carry data at a rate of approximately 1.5 Mbps. In addition to a single T1, carriers have the ability to provide customers with bonded T1s. For each T1 in the bond, the speed of the connection increases by 1.5 Mbps. So, for example, if you have two bonded T1s, your connection speed is approximately 3 Mbps. If you have three bonded T1s, the connection travels at 4.5 Mbps, and so on. A T1 line is often a good fit for a small or medium sized business needing broadband Internet service for twenty to fifty Internet users. The monthly cost of such a line is typically based on distance from the nearest central office, but is generally higher than that of Cable or DSL. T1 lines are popular with businesses because they provide the same type of “always on” Internet access as other types of broadband but have very few incidences of lost connections since they connect straight to the provider. And, if the service does go down, T1s have a Service Level Agreement (SLA), unlike broadband. With an SLA, there’s a guarantee of performance, a latency guarantee, and a guaranteed time to repair if the service goes down. Aside from data speed, reliability and the presence of an SLA are possibly the most important differences between a T1 and broadband connections. Ethernet Years ago, T1 lines were the most widely used Internet connection. However, Internet demands are growing so rapidly that T1s aren’t able to handle the bandwidth capacity as easily as they used to. That’s why many businesses are turning to Internet over Ethernet. Traditionally, Ethernet could only be utilized within one company’s network. However, with the expansion of Ethernet into the carrier world, a company’s locations across the state, across the country, and even across the world can connect through the Wide Area Network (WAN). This connection provides a transparent service that bridges LANs in separate locations together as if they were one network, thereby maximizing your LAN/WAN resources. On average, Ethernet service is delivered to a customer with a minimum speed of 10 Mbps (which, to compare, is more than six T1s bonded together) and can go all the way up to 1 Gbps and beyond. This high level of bandwidth comes at a relatively low cost since Ethernet cables and equipment are inexpensive, and well-defined industry standards make installation collectively simple and economical throughout the industry. In fact, the cost structure is generally lower than that of a T1. Like T1 lines, Ethernet service comes with a Service Level Agreement (SLA), which outlines exactly what level of service is being delivered to the customer and provides guarantees of performance and mean time to repair in the event of downtime. In general, there are two types of Internet over Ethernet: Ethernet over Copper (EoC) – EoC uses bonded copper lines to deliver Internet service. Even though the reliability of EoC and bonded T1 circuits is much the same, pricing is lower for EoC. Ethernet over fiber – While EoC uses copper lines to deliver Internet service, Ethernet over fiber uses fiber lines to deliver Internet. Though cross-talk and electromagnetic interference can be a consideration when setting up cabling for an Internet connection, particularly when that connection operates at high speeds, fiber lines are resistant to these types of interference. So, fiber can provide much more reliable data transmission when working with Gigabit speeds. However, a drawback to fiber cabling is that it can have a higher initial cost. More than One Connection Because we rely on the Internet for everything, – voice, email, research, web conferencing and more – and the demand for Internet-based applications is only growing, no business can afford to be cut off from the Internet for any significant amount of time. To ensure continuous connectivity, most businesses today have a combination of the connections discussed above. In fact, ETA often works with businesses for which it’s cheaper, in the long run, to maintain dual connections with a form of automatic failover instead of experiencing and resolving an outage. How can you investigate what kind of combination of broadband, T1 and Ethernet services would benefit your business? Through personal consultation with an ETA expert or through checking out ETA’s Internet Uptime PoweredUp!TM, which keeps your Internet connection up and running by transparently combining multiple Internet links (T1, DSL, Cable, etc.). Though this was just a quick glance at some of the most commonly used business Internet connections, we hope it provides you with some insight into what’s out there. If you have any questions or want to learn more about any of the features we talked about above, please contact our experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.