Metro networks go wide

Nontraditional carriers are bringing high bandwidth links to far-flung areas

MANs (metropolitan area networks) have been around for some time. Companies such as Yipes took advantage of the fiber glut in major cities to offer intracity connections with throughputs of 1Gbps or faster at low prices. For large enterprises with many offices or partners in a relatively limited geographic region, this type of connectivity can dramatically increase bandwidth while cutting WAN costs.

But for companies outside the city hub, these networks aren’t available, and traditional WAN interconnects have historically been the only option. In the past year or so, nontraditional carriers have been offering MAN-type services in relatively rural areas, effectively creating what can be called the RAN (rural area network).

Road Runner, the broadband Internet division of Time Warner Cable, is doing exactly this in select locations in the Northeast. During the course of its build-out in Maine and New Hampshire, Time Warner has significantly increased fiber availability in the towns and cities to which it provides cable TV and Internet access. For companies with several locations within the Road Runner footprint, corporate interconnect services are very attractive.

In some instances, Road Runner will drop raw fiber between locations for a set monthly rate, with bandwidth limited only by the hardware on either end. This translates to gigabit connectivity between locations in cities of 30,000 or fewer people. An alternative is to install Road Runner symmetrical corporate broadband services at each location and building, with VPN links between sites. Remote sites can connect to the datacenter and to one another on the Road Runner backbone, usually with only one or two network hops. The performance of this kind of self-maintained RAN is usually substantially better than that of a traditional WAN, offering speeds as fast as 4Mbps between sites at a price far cheaper than that of frame relay.

Road Runner isn’t the only game in town. By targeting small geographic regions, companies such as The Merton Group can apply for RUS (Rural Utilities Service) funding from the federal government to finance FTTP (fiber to the premise) build-outs in areas such as rural New Hampshire. When the infrastructure is in place, anyone wishing to handle billing and support duties can pay a fee to offer traditional ISP services across the network. Intranetwork traffic on such a RAN is not metered, making it possible to create VPN connections between nodes at speeds as fast as 1Gbps -- easily enough to support just about any application.

While several telcos are working on FTTP in test locations in the United States, these small companies are also pursuing the goal of superband access for all. It’s only a matter of time before access to fiber is as ubiquitous as it is to electricity.