It’s often said that a network is only as good as its density – that is, the number of locations within an area that the network can reach. But just how valuable a way is this for wholesale customers to assess the worth of a particular network, asks Marcus Hill
People often say the local access market in the UK is dead. With so many operators active in local markets across the country, there’s really no longer much to choose between them for price or quality. We’re told that no single operator is special any more – on either a local or national basis – and that pricing for services over any distance is pretty much the same.
There are certainly differences in distance and price. If you want a connection from Renfrew to London, you won’t pay the same as you would from Cardiff to London. It’s true there’s been some stabilising of prices for network services, but when you’re looking for a network operator to source connectivity, you want to be able to leverage the advantage of a network that offers the same high density across the country.
Looking at layers
As a service provider, you’ll be looking to add your own value. You’ll therefore be aiming for a Layer 2 or even Layer 1 point-to-point service at a competitive price, which allows you to overlay your own Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Ethernet services.
There’s an operational issue too. The higher the density of a network, the lower the number of hops, and therefore the lower the latency. The general rule with long haul communications is that the longer the haul, the higher the number of hops. And when you’re trying to deliver a service across that network, hopping really starts to matter.
There’s a further issue with diversity. A high density network gives you the flexibility to design multiple alternative routes to the same location. This is particularly helpful in the unlikely event of an outage occurring anywhere on the network.
In the loop
There are those that argue that in the era of Local Loop Unbundling (LLU), you can achieve perfectly satisfactory results for a low price with copper. But I’d argue that this isn’t always a good idea. With copper, you have limited bandwidth, which isn’t always useful if youre looking for scalability. Short-term gains can be eclipsed pretty quickly by longer term scaling problems.
With LLU, you’d also have the issue of bottlenecks coming out of the back of the exchange, and this creates backhaul problems. With a shared infrastructure service, you’ve got two or more operators involved, which creates an overall degradation in the experience when compared with a directly provided service. In other words, there’s simply no substitute for a proper next generation fibre network.
Given the unpredictable bandwidth demands of new types of service, like Cloud, you need local access that keeps as many options open for you as possible. The more flexibility you have, the more you can prepare effectively for future eventualities.