As a business owner/leader, you look for the best services to support your business. That means it’s natural to default to “I need fiber,” since it’s seen as the best service available. In many respects, you might be right. But not always. As with any selection, the “what” and “why” around the purchase make all the difference.
What is Fiber?
“Fiber” simply means fiber optic cables are used for your connections. It’s a fascinating technology, where data is enshrined in beams of light and sent across glass filament. Along the fiber path, you have diodes (semiconductor devices where the current flows) sending beams of light (lasers) along the glass, while receivers on the other end pick them up to be retransmitted by other diodes further in the route. Fiber cables can be very small, meaning you can house a lot of them in a smaller conduit connection. As an added benefit, since they use light, you have very little interference or “bleed” when laying cables next to one another. They also have minimal loss along the transmission path. This makes them great for long haul connections. In fact, fiber optic cables are used to cross our oceans between continents for this very reason!
To give you an idea where fiber connections stand on the “preferability scale,” simply look at all the large service providers. They choose to use fiber connections for their core network traffic and for their handoffs between other national carriers. This is partly because of its ability to handle extremely high capacity speeds and its survivability when deployed in fiber optic “loops.” You can physically cut the loop, and the light simply transmits the other way around. Since it moves at the speed of light, neither you nor any of your services even know something happened! This isn’t always the case, as some fiber runs aren’t deployed (for cost reasons) in a loop fashion to reach all office buildings. Sometimes the deployment is a spur with just one line reaching out off another fiber loop. Therefore, where the fiber gets cut has a dramatic effect on this survivability.
Let’s compare fiber to other “legacy” connections like cable (coaxial), copper ethernet, T-1’s, etc. To help illustrate the differences, we’ll use the highway analogy. Think of your Internet or data connection as a highway. The vehicles that use the highway represent your data.
When using fiber, the highway is the glass fiber optic cable. Given its size and using technology such as spectrum multiplexing, fiber gives you an extremely high number of lanes going in both directions. The vehicles using these numerous highway lanes are light emissions or lasers moving at the speed of light. But it’s not really the speed of a photon that makes it better…it’s the high number of lanes. This means even during rush hour, the traffic isn’t bothered by the increased volume. With so many lanes, things simply keep moving at preferred speeds.
Legacy setups, however, rely on copper or copper-plated wires (twisted pairs for T-1 and copper Ethernet services and a single copper or copper-coated wire for cable). These copper highways have only a limited number of lanes they can provide at any given time. The vehicles representing your data are now electronic signals transmitted and received on either end. Since it’s electronics-based, you have to account for “bleed” between cables that are too close together, shielding around the copper wires and signal loss as the electronic signal has to overcome the resistance of the copper wire. This means the signal has to be gathered up and retransmitted much more frequently. Your data can experience rush hour traffic since you have fewer lanes. This is especially true if the service you purchase is best effort, which entails almost all of your cable services. On a best effort service, the lanes available to you are also available to surrounding businesses or residences. This greatly increases the chances of sudden traffic jams, putting your throughput at the mercy of your neighbors.
In almost every measure, then, fiber optic connections are the preferred service. However, they usually carry a higher monthly price. This means you might not pay much more in terms of dollars/Mbps, but since you’re getting so much more in Mbps, your overall monthly invoice can be significantly higher. As we’ve stated before, you don’t want purchase more than you need.
As a rule of thumb, if fiber is available, we recommend it as your primary internet/data connection. Other mediums are much better in back up or redundancy roles due to their lower costs, but have lower dependability. In fact, we highly recommend any backup connection not be the same medium as your primary one for business continuity reasons to reduce the chances of losing both at the same time.
Trust us, as your allies in the technology industry, to give you the information you need without bias and without trying to sell you on a product. We’re here to help with your technology and communications needs.