Recently at Gmaven we enhanced our handling for fibre. During this process I realised I actually knew very little about what fibre actually is. I thought I knew, but when I was tested by feature requirements, some pretty significant knowledge gaps became obvious!
As businesses become more efficient and tools and processes move to the web, a working knowledge of fibre in business today is almost a non-negotiable. To remedy my situation, I personally had to do research. Here I am sharing this knowledge in the hope it makes you more efficient. Our aim with this handy “fibre cheat sheet” is that, after reading it: you understand fibre, can talk with confidence, and can correctly answer any questions.
This fibre cheat sheet is divided into three parts:
A. Your fibre questions answered
B. Deeper information on fibre
C. A list of 7 questions (further to the knowledge above) for you to ask when looking at fibre options
A. Your common fibre questions answered
Is (ethernet) “fibre” better than WiFi?
Definitely – fibre scores higher on both speed, and reliability. WiFi uses wireless networks – meaning the internet is sent using electromagnetic waves. These WiFi radio waves are susceptible to signal loss, “cross-talk” (interference from other devices) and slower speeds. (Note: the cables in your office are called ethernet cables. So it goes: fibre –> office ethernet (data cables) or WiFi –> internet into your computer)
Is fibre the same as the internet?
Yes. Some semantics, fibre is the way that internet is served – but you get internet from fibre. Note: you can also get your internet from copper cables, through the air via satellite, or via 4G or LTE data networks.
What actually is fibre, isn’t it something healthy people eat?
That, plus it’s the name for internet served to you through fibre optic lines (tiny, slightly-thicker-than-human-hair strands of glass or plastic). Interesting fact: fibre optic cables transmit internet data using pulses of light.
Why is it important to know the difference between an ISP and a network?
See the “deeper dive” below.
Internet speed – what is contention, and why is it important?
See the “deeper dive” below.
Why are some sites slower than other sites?
Data-heavy software or sites are simply more “resource-expensive” – i.e a video has to process a lot more data than, for example, a written news story. Secondly, network latency: every major website is hosted by a data center. The further that the data has to travel between the data center and your computer, the slower the response, and the higher your latency. If the distance between these two points is 100 meters, the latency is way less than, say, a 5,000 km distance. (This assumes that all of the following are equal between both sites: packet loss, website server load distribution, website infrastructure, network congestion, and the websites’ software engineering. For more info, please see here)
What is faster: 4G, LTE or 3G?
4G is faster than LTE, which is faster than 3G.
LTE, or 4G LTE, is a marketing way of saying “too slow to call it 4G.” LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, which means “we’re working on it” or “we’ll eventually support 4G.” This pithy summary comes from this article. More info on this topic is here.
B. “Deeper dive” on fibre / internet
As of 2020, the most common, cost effective and reliable form of internet is fibre. But, as stated above, you can get internet though other distribution channels like copper cables, through the air via satellite, or via a 4G or LTE network.
To keep things easy, we are going to focus on internet transmitted through fibre (but most of the concepts below are the same).
First off, the industry players are divided into two:
- Network internet provider or network fibre owner “networks” – wholesalers | Who sell to retailers (ISPs)
- Internet service provider (ISP) – internet retailers | “Middlemen” who sell to us
So for South Africa, Dark Fibre Africa, OpenServe or Vumatel is an example of a network provider.
While the ISPs, businesses who deal with the “last mile” (taking the internet from the road or air into our offices/warehouse), have names like Vox, Bitco, Cool Ideas, Afrihost etc.
Network providers act as wholesalers, providing a fixed offering. ISPs retail that offering, dealing with the admin of marketing and selling the fibre, handling faults and queries and accounts, and packaging the fibre into packages that suit the budgets and needs of customers from large to tiny.
ISPs are generally not “married” to one network provider, and can thus provide a wide variety of packages to you, the buyer.
So, when buying fibre through an ISP provider, provided a network/s service your area, you can choose which network provider you would like.
Why are networks important?
1. No network, no fibre.
If a network doesn’t provide fibre to your area, no ISP can give you fibre – meaning: you can’t get fibre.
2. ISP does not determine your fibre speed
The networks determine your fibre speed, not the ISP. So if the only fibre networks in your area offer 20MBps, then that’s the max speed your ISP can give you.
3. Network speeds and contention
The more users who you have to share your network with, the less the speed each user will get. Some networks are heavily contended, others are less contended.
Let’s unpack with a simple example. You have two options for service providers:
- “Network Big”: You can sign up as client number 100 for a network provider who is piping in 100MBps to you and 99 other customers in your area.
- “Network Small”: You can sign up as client number 5 for a network provider offering 25MBps in your area.
The next bit assumes the worst case scenario: i.e. everyone is trying to max out their line at the same time. (If you are the only user on the network at any one time, you will always get 100% of maximum line speed. If you are user one of 20, you will get 5%).
For Network Big, the 100MPbs you get is shared, so each customer only gets 1MBps (100MBps / 100 customers). While for Network Small, your 25MBps is shared between five, meaning you get 5MBps each.
Therefore, while Network Small has a lower maximum line speed, due to lower contention, they beat network Big’s internet speed. By 5 times!
So always ask the question about how contended your network is. Here, if interested, is a post explaining this contention concept further.
C. Fibre cheat sheet: 7 smart fibre questions for you to ask
How much does installation cost?
If free, it may be tacked on to the price of your contract (the cost has to be recovered somehow), or come with a clawback clause (in case of early termination).
If I need WiFi, will my WiFi router provided be able to cover my operations area?
You may need to buy a WiFi booster, or pay for an upgrade to a better route.
Am I getting a good deal?
You will probably want to evaluate whether the proposal you are getting is market relate. Fibre Tiger is a website you can use to compare fibre deals in South Africa (note this website does not have all ISPs or their prices – so you will have to do a bit more research for your analysis to be comprehensive).
Is my data uncapped, and if capped, what is the cap?
Capped means, after a certain point, you have to top up (i.e. “pay as you go”). Generally data prices increase noticeably “öut of cap”.
What, as an ISP, is your support / customer service policy?
I.e. how do I get information regarding outages as a result of your error as ISP, or network provider issues. How stable has the ISP’s service been historically?
What fibre speeds do I actually need?
Netflix themselves say you only need 5MBps to watch shows in HD. Unofficial sources of entertainment may not have invested in the infrastructure to keep up with demand, and so you may need more.
How long will it take from me signing to having fibre?
It can take days, or weeks – depending on demand pressures and supply of the contractors.
So there you have it. Hopefully now you are feeling a lot more comfortable. And if you’re advising / helping people, you’re able to provide better advice, and grow trust in us CRE professionals.