Broadband competition is heating up as Comcast, America’s largest cable operator, announces an initiative to double bandwidth in many of its larger metropolitan territories, allowing the provider to better compete with Verizon’s FiOS offering. This is not only great news for consumers, but could also represent an infrastructure shift for many small and medium-sized businesses that do not have the budget for full blown, redundant, national private networks.

Many firms still need to replace old infrastructure. They are overpaying monthly recurring and usage charges on old ISDN BRI circuits as their backup or even their primary network connections to HQ. This type of infrastructure is costly and slow. Satellite offices failing over from their T1 or fractional T1 onto an ISDN circuit may be no better off than they would with no service at all. On top of that, many companies may be paying for T1’s where they could be paying much less for much more bandwidth, given that the site’s connectivity is less than critical.

In a related blog post about WiMax, I outlined how new wireless technology could change the way businesses look at their Wide Area Networks. That shift in conjunction with ever-increasing bandwidth speeds coming from big players like Verizon and Comcast could lead to increased savings, better performance, and higher quality network redundancy for many small and medium-size WANs.

The beauty of the broadband market is in the diversity. WiMax (wireless), Cable (coax), FiOS (fiber optic), and DSL (landline) all run on different media. No longer is your ISDN or DSL backup running on the same pole from the same telephone company point of presence as your primary T1 line. Failing over to a different type of service could mean less risk if a pole should go down within the last mile of your location. A few words of warning, however: diversity is not guaranteed except in the wireless realm, and provider private network circuits get the highest level of priority in the event of a failure. Despite this caveat, some low priority locations would certainly qualify as candidates for redundant broadband solutions, using a VPN to connect to HQ, versus private line connections to a provider cloud. An out of service condition on multiple infrastructures is highly unlikely and the savings potential is tremendous. Again, wireless will be the true game changer, but a world of options is becoming available for IT departments willing to invest in the research and effort to bring up and manage a location on a non-standard platform.

I’ll wrap things up by invoking some thought on potentially huge savings that will, again, add value to the network as a whole. Thus far, I have only focused on remote locations, but what about HQ? Many networks centralize Internet connectivity, allowing many sites to share a single high bandwidth Internet circuit such as a handful of bonded T1’s or a DS3. In some instances multiple, redundant, always-on, Internet circuits are configured, load balanced, and shared among all remotes. A less expensive alternative would be a dormant backup circuit brought into action by a failure on the primary. Why not load balance or failover to a 50Mb Comcast or FiOS circuit for a small fraction of the price?

The ideas laid out here may not be a reliable enough option for many companies but for those on a tight budget that does not allow for proper backups or any backups at all, solutions are on the way!
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David Pastore

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