Is UFB Business Ready? - Business Broadband in NZ

Over the last few months, I’ve heard a bit of chatter about whether UFB is business ready. The reality is that even the question “is UFB business ready?” is misleading.

UFB, or Ultra Fast Broadband, is an initiative put in place by the government to jointly invest in the rollout of fibre in main centres in NZ (The Rural Broadband Initiative focused on delivering fibre and mobile broadband into rural NZ). So first and foremost, UFB is not a single technology solution, hence why statements about its use in a business context doesn’t make sense.

So what are the key considerations when selecting a business connection and how does this relate to UFB?

Overcommit and contention

Two terms that are important when talking about networks are overcommit and contention.

Whether it is broadband, water or power, utility providers overcommit the resource they sell. Basically, they sell more than the total available capacity, on the premise that not everyone will use it at once. This generally isn’t a problem unless everyone tries to access the full capacity of the resource at once. Contention applies to networks when there isn’t enough bandwidth so multiple users are competing for the same pool, and the resources become contested. Overcommit has an economic advantage to the consumer - you can burst into a pool of resource that would be a lot more expensive if it was dedicated to you, however, if there is too much overcommit you risk the service becoming contended.

The tail circuit - UFB services

Now, this gets a little more complex, so I’ve simplified it at the risk of some over generalisations.

Two of the common UFB service types are GPON and Point to Point (P2P). GPON services have some bandwidth dedicated to the customer, which is called Committed Information Rate (CIR) and some that is shared between customers called Excess Information Rate (EIR) which can be used when available. With P2P services, the service consists exclusively of CIR bandwidth. GPON services include Bitstream 2 and 3, while the P2P service is called Bitstream 4. A bit more context:

  • Bitstream 2 is the most common service used for home and business broadband services
  • Bitstream 3 is similar to Bitstream 2, however, supports multiple VLANs and an enhanced Service Level Targets (SLT) should there be a service failure
  • Bitstream 4 is similar to the services offered by fibre providers prior to UFB. High-Speed Network Services (HSNS) Premium was the most common service name used (by Chorus)

With any UFB service, one end of the UFB circuit terminates in your business premise, the other end is delivered to your ISP at a regional location on a shared circuit called a handover. From there it is your ISP’s job to connect you up the service you have purchased - usually internet or private WAN.

The rest of the connection - your ISP

Once your ISP picks up your UFB service at the regional handover, they are responsible for backhauling your service nationally and connecting you to your private WAN or internet-based content. It is important to note is that the handover, backhaul and internet services are also overcommitted services like the EIR traffic on a UFB circuit. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing - it gives you an economic advantage allowing access to a much bigger pool of bandwidth. 

One way ISPs manage traffic across their backbone network is through Quality of Service (QOS). This allows prioritisation of some traffic types above others. For example, Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) traffic may be prioritised above general internet browsing. While QOS is available, the vast majority of traffic will be carried in what is called the “Best Efforts” class. Typically you will pay more for prioritised traffic.

What really matters?

If you are looking for good quality, fast connection for your work, don’t buy into fear, uncertainty and doubt sales tactics. And if you get thrown a whole lot of jargon here are some things to be aware of:

Quality of Service

QOS can be useful, however, is really only necessary if there are bottlenecks in the network. Also, it is worth noting that QOS only works across your network provider’s network - as soon as it goes onto the internet, it is not honoured. We find it is often more important to prioritise cloud apps like Salesforce and Office 365 over Youtube or Facebook, which you can do without QOS.

Service Level Targets

The key to service level targets is that they are just that - targets. Some services have higher service level targets than others or cover different areas. Also having a higher SLT doesn’t mean in the event of a fibre cut, that an engineering resplicing fibre in a pit on a cold wet night, isn't going to splice your fibre before the one next to it. Probably the biggest difference in UFB SLTs for service restoration is that the standard Bitstream 2 SLT doesn’t cover the ONT. You can buy a more expensive service for this, but we often think it is a better investment to get a backup circuit using VDSL or 4G as this protects against a whole lot of other potential failures.

Voice Over IP 

VOIP is something that often causes concern but the reality is that while the impact of call drops or poor-quality calls can be quite high, the protocol is actually reasonably tolerant. VOIP can work with up to 150 milliseconds of latency, which is the equivalent of traffic going from NZ to Los Angeles. Jitter, a term to describe intermittent delays, can cause problems with poor quality calls and often is caused by network contention. This doesn’t mean VOIP can’t run fine over the Internet. In fact, some of NZ’s largest, and longest-running VOIP businesses, run most of their services over the Internet.

In short…. 

UFB business broadband connections are readily available in NZ, from most major ISPs and typically come bundled with unlimited Internet bandwidth. They can also be installed at low cost, and therefore can be tested with relatively low risk, or used as a secondary connection to gain confidence. With the growth of SD-WAN technology, business broadband internet connections can be both the best and most affordable way of connecting to cloud apps, and therefore become a key part.

We spent some time evaluating an ISP that we believed would not only provide a good service, but also who would be transparent with us, which is one of the most important elements with support. In the end, we selected Lightwire - a decision we have been really happy with.