Are leased lines on their last legs?

Vendors are touting real alternatives to the expensive leased-line that could eventually render the idea of a dedicated link redundant
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
Are leased lines on their last legs?
By Graeme Wearden
Vendors are touting real alternatives to the expensive leased-line that could eventually render the idea of a dedicated link redundant.

Until recently, leased lines were the obvious and only choice for firms looking for a communication connection they could trust. A dedicated high-speed connection between offices and the wider world made it possible for companies to safely adopt cutting edge technologies such as high-speed Internet, companywide email and even video-conferencing.

There was only one hurdle for the IT manager to jump -- clearing the cost of a leased lines with the boss. But although twenty grand seemed intimidating at first, the lack of a viable alternative technology made for a compelling argument. Today, however, the alternatives excuse may not be so justified. Before making the kind of investment associated with a dedicated link, companies need to evaluate the options that now exist.

Companies that are already splashing out hard-earned lucre on leased lines ought to do the same, as several service providers are offering broadband packages that claim to fill the role of a leased line without doing quite so much damage to the bottom line.

The underlying technology may vary, but the principle is that a leased line provides a guaranteed, dedicated connection -- which could be to your network provider's core backbone or to the local area network at another of your organisation's offices.

Whether it's 64Kbps or a 100Mbps leased line, all the bandwidth should be available to you all of the time. Any problem should be fixed within hours, and if your overall uptime isn't equal, or at least close, to 100 percent then you should be compensated.

Leased lines promises reliability -- and that's why ADSL and its two-way cousin SDSL haven't driven them out of town. Both are contended services, which means your bandwidth could be shared with up to 50 other customers, which means it might not be there when it matters.

As telecoms operator Server City puts it, "Many customers have now reached the end of their first year's ADSL subscription and have also reached the end of their tether," adding that ADSL transfer rates are often "much lower than expected".

Some top-end DSL products are coming onto the market, though, that offer better service levels. Demon recently launched its uncontended Premier Express Gold DSL product, where the whole bandwidth is dedicated to just one customer. It's available from any broadband-enabled telephone exchange at speeds up to 2Mbps downstream, which would cost £7,200 per year plus the cost of a router.

Another option is Easynet's SureStream range. Branded as a "next generation" leased line service, SureStream can give an uncontended connection of up to 8Mbps. Crucially, Easynet also guarantees that the service will be working at least 99.9 percent of the time.

Easynet claims that a company switching to SureStream could save thousands of pounds. A 2Mbps SureStream connection costs £5,795 per year plus a one-off installation charge of £1,995. Easynet says that a 2Mbps leased line would cost £12,995 per year plus a £6,745 set-up fee, so in this case SureStream would save almost £12k in the first 12 months, and a further £7,200 in future years.

A firm choosing Demon's Premier Express Gold would enjoy similar savings, although it wouldn't also have the protection of that 99.9 percent service level agreement (SLA).

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Are leased lines on their last legs?
By Graeme Wearden
Page Two: Vendors are touting real alternatives to the expensive leased-line that could eventually render the idea of a dedicated link redundant.

Comparative pricing between leased lines and other technologies are tricky, though, as the cost of the former can vary depending on individual circumstances like location. Generally speaking, leased lines are relatively cheaper to supply in a major city like London, although it will ultimately depend on what kind of network an operator has in your area.

With BT's leased line market worth an estimated £100m per year, it's clear that thousands of companies are still relying on them. But there is evidence that the tide has turned.

Eclipse Internet conducted a survey of 100 IT managers earlier this year and found that precisely none of them were planning to choose a leased line in the future, even though 74 of them currently used them. Eclipse found that ADSL was the most popular choice today, suggesting that companies are prepared to accept downtime and contended links if they can save money by doing so.

Another option worth considering is Thus' National Ethernet product. Launched at the start of this year, National Ethernet links local area networks together at much higher speeds than are usually possible with a leased line WAN or a DSL connection.

This Ethernet connection can be 10Mbps, 100Mbps or even into the gigabit per second territory, and comes with a 99.9 percent SLA.

It could be used for point-to-point links -- perhaps between two regional offices -- or point-to-multipoint, such as when several satellite sites are linked to headquarters to enable the transfer of large amounts of data to and from the main company servers.

Thus recently sold its 1,000th National Ethernet link, and the service appears to be particularly popular with educational establishments. For a smaller company, though, the cost could be prohibitive.

Thus has published sample pricing, which shows that a 100Mbps link between two sites in Edinburgh would cost £7,000 per year with a £9,000 installation charge, while a 1Gbps connection between two London locations would cost £30,000 per year plus £20,000 to set it up. Connections between cities are considerably more expensive.

It seems therefore that if your current connectivity solution is coming up for renewal or you've been given the task of setting up a new office, it's important to assess precisely the level of speed and reliability that you need. If you feel you could cope with a more variable connection -- both in speed and uptime -- then take a serious look at the range of ADSL and SDSL packages on the market. If hyper-fast connectivity between sites is a must, then it might be worth calling Thus to ask how much a National Ethernet service would cost. But it's crucial to always have access to a certain amount of bandwidth, there may well be some life left in the leased line after all.

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