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Full Speed Ahead

Full Speed Ahead

When considering a city’s infrastructure, strategic implementation of roadways, buildings and transportation systems comes quickly to mind. But another type of infrastructure exists that is just as important though much less obvious to the naked eye. Internet infrastructure exists across several platforms in the Columbia market, and as the city and the world become more mobile-focused, the landscape of underground cables and wires snaking through town will continue to evolve. Businesses must consider a multitude of factors before relocating and deciding if and where to expand. Internet service providers that can supply businesses with the networks they need to be competitive and effective serve as the gatekeepers to faster Internet speeds and database management among employees and offices.

But this begs the question: Just how fast can the Internet go?

Weather, Internet traffic and geographic location all have a hand in answering this question, but a specific business’s method of use is dependent on its Internet service provider. Mediacom spokeswoman Phyllis Peters cites 1 gigabit per second as a speed surpassing even their most competitive business speed, 105 megabits per second, which has been available in Columbia and Jefferson City since February of this year.

“Like most cities, the Internet infrastructure in Columbia has access to large networks that can provide one Gbps or more,” says Robert Olson of Quantum Wireless Internet. “However, the last mile facilities connecting the customer to those networks have varying capabilities and costs.”

The “last mile” Olson refers to is the leg of telecommunications that actually reaches the customer directly.

“The quality and capacity of a particular customer’s access to the Internet is dependent on the capacity and characteristics of the connection from the customer’s network or computer to the Internet provider’s connection to the large networks,” Olson says.

Every computer or device connected to the Internet is connected through a network. Connection can be established several ways, and its necessary strength is completely dependent upon the location of a business and the nature of its work. A company’s specific Internet needs depend on the amount of data they’re downloading, uploading and storing on their servers. Very small businesses are able to get away with upload speeds as low as 1 Mbps, but as the amount of information being shared among the network increases, higher capacity becomes necessary.

Businesses often operate as a local area network, but these LANs are then connected to the higher-level networks by the ISP they contract with. Steve Powell of Delta Systems says that for his clients, reliability is his clients’ most important factor when choosing an ISP. According to Yellow Pages, there are nearly 50 ISPs serving the Columbia area alone, and as the amount of information we share increases, so does the eventual need for a central data center in which some of this information overflow can be stored remotely. “Our clients are asking for fat pipes to the Internet,” Powell says. “The fatter the pipes the better.”

Full Stream Wireless introduced Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) to the Columbia and Ashland markets in August 2011. WiMax is broadcast to Columbia from three towers throughout the city and is sold to customers from four resellers: Quantum, Tranquility, iZones and Tech2. But this WiMax technology “has not been widely used in Columbia’s last-mile environment,” Olson says. Although the technology has the capacity to exceed 3 Gbps, the equipment required to do so would cost several thousand dollars. CenturyLink works with some customers to provide up to 10 Gbps via its MetroEthernet option and can provide up to 40 Mbsp with its DSL option. Whether a business chooses to utilize DSL, Ethernet, WiMax or Fiber depends on the amount of data they’re dealing with on a daily basis, as well as the number of employees simultaneously working in one place.

5 Mbps: Introductory product that hasn’t been across the desk of Mediacom Key Account Executive John Lamond in months.

10 Mbps: Still used by a select few businesses in Columbia but could easily cause usage bandwidth issues if several people are using it at the same time, especially when attempting to upload data and information.

20 Mbps: Most businesses in Columbia operate at these speeds because they offer an additional Mbps for upload. Both the 5 and 10 Mbps download speeds come with 1 Mbps for uploading. These are effective speeds for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees who are using the Internet for email and Skype but still aren’t doing major uploading.

50 Mbps: For some businesses, increasing to 50 Mbps has less to do with the faster download speeds but the need for quicker upload speeds to do the kinds of data transfers and backups that require more bandwidth capacity to transfer big data files to the Internet. For example, medical clinics and financial institutions send records to a specific central spot off site to be stored.

105 Mbps: In Columbia, there are at least four hotels using this service and another using a customized fiber service. This bandwidth allows hotel guests, especially business travelers, to get online with speed and reliability. This service is also used in student housing complexes. Most student housing corporations in Columbia use the bulk product option, which provides 12 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up for each unit.

The Need for Speed

Pn May 31, Columbia Water and Light closed a bid for proposals from various telecommunications consultants to “assist in conducting a community telecommunications infrastructure needs assessment” so that the city might develop future network implementation projects for telecommunications infrastructure in Columbia. This month, the chosen consultants will get to work on helping the city determine how to move forward in network development after losing out on the Google Fiber to Home bid, which was instead implemented as a pilot program in Kansas City, Mo. By talking to various stakeholders in Columbia, ranging from elected officials to residents in general as well as businesses and public institutions, the city staff aims to gather information on stakeholders’ Internet needs.

According to the Request for Proposal document, the city is interested in ultimately implementing “a network that is capable of delivering synchronous ‘gigabit’ speeds.” As Columbia’s infrastructure currently stands, Gbps speeds are not available across the board and are usually only used by high-end and government customers, according to CenturyLink Market Development Manager Greg Baker.

By reaching this “synchronous” level, the city hopes to reduce digital divide and provide a clear migration path to supporting increasing network bandwidth demand. By building a business case for “last mile deployment,”the city will secure, “solutions for economic development potential, education, health care and public safety.” Although improving the infrastructure to attract new businesses to the market is a plus, the consultants mission will address needs citywide, not just in so-called priority areas.

Advanced Fiber Optics

The University of Missouri is still operating on the same fiber optic system that it installed in 1987, but the fibers themselves are gradually being replaced. As with all fiber optic systems, the fibers are made of glass, which get brittle and need replacing over time. The fibers transmit information as light. Optic fibers come in two type: single and multi-mode, and MU’s fiber system is built using both. Node sites in each campus building connect strands throughout to one another as well as the nodes throughout the rest of the campus. The single-mode fibers are used for longer distance communication, such as between campus buildings.

Multi-mode fibers are wider in diameter and are used for communication across shorter distances, such as between classrooms and offices in the same building. According to Terry Robb, director of MU’s Division of Information Technology’s Strategic Planning, Project Management and Marketing Department, this type of infrastructure is common for universities everywhere. It is the infrastructure of choice for other public institutions as well. The Boone County IT department operates on CenturyLink’s standard desktop and server wired connection but has its own fiber system that is used between buildings as part of the network infrastructure. Likewise, Columbia Water and Light uses its own fiber system, according to REDI President Mike Brooks.

According to Steven Powell with Delta Systems, Mediacom, CenturyLink and Socket all have fiber buried around town. CenturyLink Market Development Manager Greg Baker says since 2006, all subdivisions that meet CenturyLink’s business practices are built as Fiber to the Premise, meaning fiber has been deployed to the customer location. Mediacom offers its own fiber system that provides the same upload and download speeds, is built specifically for a certain business and is scalable to grow with the business as needed. According to Mediacom spokeswoman Phyllis Peters, delivery of broadband services to the business community is the fastest-growing area for Mediacom, and “larger industries and a community’s anchor institutions like hospitals, schools and colleges, financial institutionsЕwant a secure fiber network between their multiple locations.” Mediacom Key Account Executive John Lamond says that 200 to 300 Mbps is typical, but they can go all the way up to 1 gigabit. This fiber infrastructure is available anywhere Mediacom services.

Throughout the past month, Quantum has added Ubiquiti airFiber services to its arsenal. This is different from fiber optic cables (such as those used by the university and other public institutions) because they still use microwave technology and are not powered by underground fiber cables. According to Robert Olson at Quantum, installation of airFiber would be typical for “a situation requiring the movement of larger amounts of data, longer distances, where adequate fiber or copper facilities are not in place, or as a redundant connection for use when a primary fiber or copper network is interrupted.” Because microwave fiber technology doesn’t require the laying of optic fiber underground, the cost is typically lower, according to Olson.

The fact that such an array of fiber technology exists might be surprising considering that Columbia lost the bid for Google’s Fiber to Home pilot program, but Google’s program provides upload and download speeds up to 1 gigabit, which is not possible across the board in Columbia.

No Time for Down Time

For businesses of all sizes, companies such as CenturyLink and Mediacom offer prefixed scales that move at fixed rates. These fixed rates are typical for small- and medium-sized businesses, and they are scalable in that businesses can choose to move up a level if they are no longer being served by their current Mbps speeds. The upload speeds are more important to consider when a business is evaluating which level to go with, but depending on a business’s location, it might not be able to operate at a fixed rate’s true full capacity but could still be paying as such.

Mediacom’s basic Business Internet has five levels, ranging from 5 to 105 Mbps for download speeds. The range in upload speeds is smaller, ranging from 1 to 10. Prices range from $59.95 to $299.95. Business Class High-Speed Internet from CenturyLink has three levels: 10 Mbps, 3 Mbps and 1.5 Mbps for download speeds. Prices start at $29.99 for up to the 10 Mbps services, but this is based on a 36-month commitment, and customers only get the $29.99 price for the first 12 months before it is adjusted. According to CenturyLink, the 10 Mbps speed is adequate for small business with one to 10 employees, and it allows for fast cloud computing, ecommerce, email, Web access, online order processing, good file transfer speed and video conferencing. The 1.5 Mbps is only good for a sole proprietor.

According to CenturyLink Market Development Manager Greg Baker, this is the standard scale available in the Columbia market. Higher speeds via MetroEthernet are available depending on the businesses location, but as expected this comes at a cost. “When you enter an address (online), it shows higher speeds,” Baker says. “We advertise the minimum that we can offer over an area on the website unless you enter a specific address. MetroE is ethernet, point-to-point connections offered to large enterprise businesses that need higher speeds than DSL can offer. DSL costs less than $60 a month. The business class connections I am referring to cost hundreds or a couple thousand a month.”

There are several technology consultation companies in Columbia that offer customizable Internet infrastructures to clients based on their location and specific needs. Several of these companies are resellers of or technology partners with Full Stream Wireless Internet. Robert Olson with Quantum Wireless, a Full Stream reseller, describes the customizable option as similar to how residents of Columbia are charged for water and electric. УWe offer a pay-as-you-go plan where customers only pay for the amount of data they push at the rate of $0.50 per GB,Ф Olson says. “This makes it really affordable for users who don’t do a lot on the Internet. It is like having the Internet billed as a utility such as water or electric.”

But what about businesses? In this case, for companies that use Quantum as the ISP, even if the actual network they use isn’t Quantum’s WiMax technology, Quantum offers a pay-as-you-go fail-over system.

An example of the fail-over system occurred on April 15, tax day and a busy one at Baer and Eddington Accounting Firm. Olson explains that on that day, (tax due day) “their primary connection went down and switched over to our service, which allowed them to get everyone’s tax returns done on time. With so much of business being done over the Internet nowadays, companies can’t afford to be down.”

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