Lighting the way Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2009

If you anticipate your business growing over the next 12 to 18 months, now is the time to consider moving from a copper-based service to fiber optics for your data transmission needs.

“If you see your needs growing, fiber is the only way to go,” says Chris Hibbs, senior manager, engineering, for InsightBusiness. “If you need the bandwidth to be there all the time, you need it to be reliable and you need the speed to be there, you’re going to need fiber.”

Smart Business spoke with Hibbs about how moving to a fiber optics system can help you run your business faster and more efficiently and how the system can grow with your business with minimal hassle and expense.

What are the benefits of fiber over more traditional services?

Traditionally, upstream bandwidth is limited with cable modems and DSL, as there is much more bandwidth available to download data than there is to upload. That’s fine for businesses that are only using a data product to pull down data from the Internet, do research or run a small point of sale system that doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth.

Those mediums are also known for having fluctuating speeds depending on factors including traffic congestion and how far you are from a central office (in the case of DSL).

Fiber, on the other hand, has a dedicated connection, not a shared line, so it’s not subject to fluctuations in speed. Fiber has a committed information rate, with the same bandwidth for both uploading and downloading.

If you require a lot of upstream bandwidth, or up and down, and need it available every time you make a request, or you use delay-sensitive applications, jitter-sensitive applications or videoconferencing, then you need the bandwidth right then and there and can’t wait half a second or even 300 milliseconds for that bandwidth to become available like you may with another broadband product.

How can fiber save time and headaches as a business grows?

The biggest thing is that it’s massively scalable. Whether you’re buying a 10 Mb product or a 100 Mb product, your provider installs a 1,000 Mb fiber optic pipe, which is then throttled down to meet your needs. Then when you need more bandwidth, you can easily get more. It’s already installed.

With copper-based services, you can add T-1 lines and go from 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps to 4.5 Mbps, etc. You can keep adding T-1 lines, but at 6 Mbps, you now have four plugs going into your equipment. Then the technician from the phone company has to show up on site, sometimes add another card, add another cable, schedule that work, then you have to make sure your equipment has enough plugs to take that second, third and fourth T-1 cable. And sometimes you have to buy another card, and those parts aren’t cheap.

With a fiber optic product, the customer doesn’t have to change out ports, schedule time for a technician to come out or buy new equipment. It’s very convenient. You just pay an additional monthly rate for the added bandwidth, but there is no additional installation fee and no additional equipment you have to buy to accept that circuit because you’ve already got that circuit. And bandwidth only gets more economical as you buy more.

That bandwidth can also be increased on a temporary basis. For example, if a business wants to pull everything off from an old data center and push it down to a new one, it can increase its bandwidth so it doesn’t have to physically move its servers. That way they don’t have to change interfaces.

How can using fiber help keep a business up and running 24 hours a day?

First, many fiber customers have a dedicated number just for them that goes to engineer level people, not to a traditional call center. Also, if it’s 3 a.m. and your DSL modem is broken, good luck getting help. But if your fiber breaks down, you’re going to be able to talk to someone right away who has the ability to remotely access the box at your location to run diagnostics to try to figure out what the problem is and what is the quickest way to find resolution for you.

In addition, boxes are monitored 24-7 and alarms go off at the provider if it loses contact with the box at your business. Then troubleshooting begins immediately. Very often, the provider knows before the customer does that it’s having a problem.

How can fiber make a business’s connection more secure?

Security is a relative statement talking about which data transport is better than another, as the major two factors for transport security are physical security and monitoring. Physical security is important, no matter which broadband product is chosen by a customer, so the customer needs to make sure that their switches are physically inaccessible to others.

It’s pretty easy to come in, pull the connection from the customer switch and tap off of that if it’s easy to get to. But with fiber, the provider and the customer are directly connected, so if someone pulls that fiber from the switch facing your network, the provider gets an alarm. At that point, it’s going to be pretty obvious that someone installed a line between the two and that line can be halted.

CHRIS HIBBS is the senior manager, engineering, for InsightBusiness. Reach him at (502) 410-7357 or