How to pick the provider for a solid Ethernet WAN

Not all Ethernet-based WAN circuits are created equal; be sure to ask these questions when shopping for a carrier

In my post last week, I discussed how Ethernet-based WAN services are typically delivered to your premise, and I touched on some caveats. While the type and quality of your last-mile connection options are typically the most important points to determine early on, the middle and long-haul distance of the connection are by no means insignificant.

Let's say you have two offices you want to connect with 100Mbps service. If you're lucky enough to find that both sites are near fiber and a carrier can deliver the 100Mbps EPL (Ethernet Private Line) -- essentially a point-to-point circuit -- you're looking for, you might suppose there's not much else to worry about. After all, you're probably paying $800 to $1,200 per month for an item that might have cost an order of magnitude more in the previous generation.

However, a wide range of features may or may not be available to you depending upon whether the carrier has designed its network to support them -- and how many carriers are involved in delivering the service. Here are a few important features to look for if you're considering leveraging Ethernet-based services for your WAN.

Are multiple providers involved?
The first question to ask a carrier is whose service will actually deliver your circuit. Within the telecom world, it's incredibly common for carriers to wholesale last-mile links to their backbone network. For a circuit that's not entirely "on net" (delivered by a single provider's network), a number of concerns may arise.

For example, if you live in Northern New England, your incumbent local exchange carrier (the company that owns the copper PSTN lines on the telephone poles) is most likely FairPoint. If you decide to buy a T1 to plug into an MPLS mesh from a national MPLS provider such as Windstream, keep in mind that Windstream won't hang new wires to all the poles to your building.

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