Pick DIA for Higher Internet Performance The tradeoffs between shared and dedicated Internet access and how to choose.
By: John Shepler
The Internet has evolved from a curiosity to a utility. You would no sooner give up your Internet connection than you would turn off your electricity or heating. Yet, the Internet remains a frustration. The business advantages in using it are immense. If only that link was more stable and reliable. Well, it can be. Let’s see how.
Internet vs Internet
The Internet isn’t the same for everyone. Is that shocking, considering all the recent debate over net neutrality? We keep hearing that every Internet connection is just like every other one. So, how can it be that some users get better performance than others?
The highest performance of the Internet, which really is neutral, occurs on the network backbones. This is the extensive web of fiber optic cables that span the globe. These links feature high bandwidth with low latency.
Your connection up and down to the Internet backbone is another matter. One company’s traffic may not get prioritized over another’s, but there’s no law that says everybody has to get as much as they need whenever they need it. There are Internet connections and then there are Internet connections. They are definitely not all the same.
Cost vs Performance In The Last Mile
“The Last Mile” is the name of your connection to your Internet Service Provider. Note that you are connecting to a provider and not the Internet directly. Only the highest level of network operators, called Tier 1 networks, actually have direct connections with the Internet backbone. They also have arrangements called “peering” that mean they share traffic with each other on a no cost basis. Everybody else pays to get to the Internet.
What you are paying for is the cost of the actual fiber, copper wireline or wireless link from the ISP to your location plus another fee for access to the Internet. There is a huge variation in both price and performance in those last mile connections. As youmight suspect, the least expensive options have compromises that might affect your operations.
What Affects Connection Performance?
There are various factors that come into play in the last mile. First is the nature of the link itself. It can be traditional twisted pair copper used for DSL or T1 lines, coaxial copper used by Cable companies, fiber optic strands, two-way satellite, point to point microwave, or 3G or 4G cellular.
Bandwidth is limited on copper infrastructure because the lines can only handle so much speed over distance. Cable has more available on coax. Any wireless technology is bandwidth limited, although the point to point microwave links can rival fiber if you have a direct line of sight between the provider and your building. Satellite and cellular are quite limited and generally have a monthly usage limit that you don’t see on wireline and fiber.
Satellite has a special issue regarding latency. The “bird” is parked in geosynchronous orbit and radio waves can only get up there and back down so fast. That results in hundreds of milliseconds of delay or latency that you can’t do anything to improve.
Another major effect comes from the way the line is used. It can either be for exclusive use, called dedicated, or it can be multiplexed among many users, called shared.
The Most Important Key to Better Internet Performance
You might think that dedicated vs shared is almost a moot point because the backbone of the Internet is inherently shared. That’s true and the reason why the highest performance option is to get off the Internet completely and use a dedicated point to point link between two locations. A direct connection to your cloud provider is an example. Another is a dedicated line between your own data centers.
What about connecting to other companies or the general public? That’s where the Internet is a must. In practice, you can make this work quite well with a judicious tradeoff of cost vs performance.
As long as you have enough bandwidth, you’ll see the most benefit by choosing dedicated over shared connections. The lower priced services are that way because they are shared. What the ISP does is buy a dedicated Internet connection and then use a multiplexer to allow dozens or hundreds of customers to access that connection at will. The cost of the ISP's dedicated connection is spread out among many users to offer a lower price.
Consumers aren’t going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a month on their own dedicated connections no matter what the performance improvement. Businesses have a choice. If you mostly use the Internet for email, browsing websites, and maybe backing up your PC to a cloud service, and low cost is critical to your budget, then something like business cable broadband can be your best compromise. This is especially true if what you are doing isn’t all that time critical.
Should You Go Dedicated?
Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) is generally the best tradeoff for most businesses between the high cost of a private line and the performance limitations of theInternet. You treat it like any other business expense. There is a value to be gained as well as a price to be paid. DIA minimizes the limitations of the last mile connection. DIA is even better if you can connect with a Tier 1 or Tier 2 Internet Service Provider. T1 lines work well in rural areas, Ethernet over Copper gives you more bandwidth in-town, and fiber is best of all.
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