By: Dennis Thankachan
As utilization of the public cloud grows and solutions like SD-WAN and VoIP overtake legacy communications products, good connectivity has grown more important than ever. More and more network engineers are opting for higher bandwidth connections and instituting more stringent standards on redundancy to support these needs.
Unfortunately, identifying on-net / near-net dedicated internet access (DIA) providers and soliciting pricing while determining your optimal configuration hasn’t gotten any easier. Providers aren’t the fastest or friendliest bunch, and there isn’t a ton of information on the web about how to procure circuits effectively. In this post, we’ll help you better understand the key focus factors for a new circuit purchase.
This is the easiest one to pay attention to, but unfortunately the hardest to gather information on as providers are notoriously guarded about their pricing.
For one, note that bandwidth pricing is deflationary, so any price you’ve paid for circuits two years ago should go down several percentage points today. Here is some data on DIA pricing that I’ve consolidated that’s current.
Second, understand that price directly correlates with competition - the more providers on-net the better, and the more quotes you solicit, the more bidding power you have. Sometimes wholesalers and aggregators like Granite can also resell you bandwidth at a lower cost than the underlying carrier would. When you have multiple quotes, you can better understand the “market” at a given address and negotiate more effectively. Of course, gathering a ton of quotes is laborious, so utilize web-based tool or agent to save time.
Do you have requirements for uptime? What about latency, jitter, and packet loss? An SLA from a provider will often guarantee uptime >99% of the time and some response time on repair requests (4 hours is typical). Although anything with a 99 in front of it seems awesome, be sure to compare SLAs in detail - are they providing 99.9% availability or 99.999% availability? Are there SLAs around other aspects of connection quality like latency or jitter (and do you need those)? Do you need a certain response time guarantee in case of issues? Simply ask for a carrier’s MSA that outlines details on SLAs to ensure that they can meet your needs. When disaster strikes, a good understanding of your carrier’s contractual responsibilities will help!
One potential test you can run is to call a potential carrier’s NOC / Customer Service line BEFORE signing up to get an idea of what experience will be like. Some carriers consistently hit 60-second mean time-to-answer intervals consistently.
Sometimes carriers will quote you pricing when they’re not even the owner of the underlying circuit, and some carriers operate on a 100% wholesale model where they don’t operate any fiber in the ground. If this is the case, it’s worth knowing that the carrier you’re dealing with doesn’t own the fiber in the ground, as this can cause problems if maintenance is required. Be sure to ask if there’s an underlying carrier that owns the circuit you’re being quoted, and if so how the interaction between the wholesale and underlying carrier works.
Transport / Capacity
Unfortunately there is still tons of copper in the ground and some carriers will still try to sell it to you as if it were fiber. It’s important to understand the type of underlying circuit purchased (copper / coax, fiber, or sometimes wireless) and how that could impact connection quality. Cable companies will sometimes push to sell you DIA on coax.
Further, if you ever intend to upgrade your capacity, make sure that adequate capacity on the route is available to support future requests. We’ve seen users start with 1Gbps circuits attempt to upgrade to 10Gbps only to find that capacity isn’t there.
Finally, make sure you’re getting a synchronous connection when you buy DIA and that upload can scale up with download bandwidth if that’s needed.
DIA often takes 45-90 days to install, so make sure you’re planning ahead so you don’t get into a bind regarding timelines. If a provider is “on-net” at a location, we’ve seen installs happen in 15-20 days, but this is a best case scenario that you can’t plan for. When a provider is “near-net” and a site survey is required, plan for a 60-120 day install. Be sure to ask if any construction is required, as this can throw any timelines in the trash if mismanaged. When requesting quotes, ask for best case and worst case timelines based on the address and take everything the carrier provides you with a grain of salt. A great price is worthless if you can’t get internet access installed!
Physical / Network Diversity
Most DIA circuit implementations we see have a redundant best-effort circuit installed in lockstep to ensure uptime and potential failover capacity. If you’d like redundancy, make sure you take both physical and network diversity into account.
From a physical standpoint, you’ll ideally have two circuits with different routes and entry points into the building. This can help you ensure that you don’t have a single point of failure to hit both circuits. This may be difficult at many addresses (some only have one point of entry), so wireless backup is a potentially useful option here.
From a network diversity standpoint, it may be worth understanding a provider’s backbone elements and peering. Tools like PeeringDB and ASRank can be useful for this. Different peering relationships and a lack of shared backbone can help avoid exposure to a major downtime event.
Router / Hardware
The last point to ask about is a simple one but could cause frustration if not understood well. Will the carrier provide and manage a router? If not, you’ll want to ensure you purchase compatible gear and have a plan in place if a router issue occurs. Some providers will charge for this. Often, even if a router is provided for a fee, provider gear will be terrible so you’ll likely want to opt for your own gear for optimal performance.
Also, make sure that the carrier providing service is handing off / interfacing with LAN gear in a way that’s compatible with your hardware. Most carriers will allow SMF, MMF, and electrical interfaces. If it comes time to turn up service and they’re handing off SMF and you have an electrical ethernet card in your router, the installation will be pushed out and need to be rescheduled. We’ve had this happen before and it’s mighty frustrating - so be sure to know!
About the Author:
Dennis Thankachan is the founder and CEO of Lightyear, a web platform that helps businesses comparison shop for network services (dedicated internet access, WAN solutions, VoIP, managed services, etc.). He regularly writes on various IT infrastructure and telecom topics here. Dennis is based in NYC.