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May 23, 2018
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Multi-Carrier MPLS For WAN Solutions
Finding the optimum cost mesh network solution for linking multiple business locations.

By: John Shepler

Businesses that want to link their many far-flung locations have had several options available. They could set up their own private point to point lines, go with a Frame Relay network or sign up for MPLS network service. Which of these offers the best cost solution? Let’s have a look.

The Point to Point Solution
When companies and small and growing, the temptation is to grow the network along with the company. If there are only two locations, the logical move is to order a point to point T1 line or higher bandwidth service. This directly connects the new locations with dedicated private bandwidth. When another location is set up, add another private line back to headquarters. If you want the two remote locations to talk directly, you can add a third private line between them.

The High Cost of Private WANs
You can see how costs grow rather quickly when you try to create a mesh network using dedicated private lines. Pretty soon you have a rats nest of connections and a soaring telecom bill. What happens then is someone in IT decides that it makes more sense to have only one private line to each location and arrange them in a star network with headquarters at the center. The headquarters router will take care of directing traffic among all locations. This is better, but you are still paying more than necessary.

Frame Relay Networks
That conundrum is what led to the development of Frame Relay networks. The idea is that a shared WAN network is more cost effective than every company creating its own private WAN. The Frame Relay network is one of the original clouds. You simply connected to the network from each of your locations and long haul traffic was routed through the cloud. If a cloud is running correctly, you have no sense that there is other traffic on the network while you are using it.

MPLS Networks
MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching takes the concept of Frame Relay and improves upon it. Frame Relay networks reached the height of their popularity in an era where bandwidth demands were generally lower and most traffic was data packets. MPLS is designed around fiber optic core networks with a regional or nationwide footprint. There are class of service tags included in the labels that encapsulate the user packets. These ensure that time sensitive applications like VoIP telephony or video conferencing get the special treatment they need to work successfully. As the name implies, MPLS can transport any protocol. Multiple customers can transport different protocols simultaneously and they won’t interfere.

MPLS Limitations
Since MPLS networks can handle any protocol, have enormous bandwidth at their disposal and have inherent security because of the proprietary nature of the network technology, doesn’t it make perfect sense to connect to an MPLS network to link business locations? Yes it does. Your best cost solution for a given performance level across more than two locations is likely to be an MPLS network solution. The one fly in the ointment is that any given MPLS network doesn’t necessarily go everywhere you want it to. You may be able to connect some of your locations to the network but not others. There are some massive MPLS networks that can connect nearly everywhere, but they can also command top dollar. Is there a better solution?

Meshed MPLS
The approach that can give you the connectivity you need with at the best pricing is a multi-carrier or meshed MPLS network. It’s a network of networks. In other words, several MPLS networks are joined to cover all of your business locations at the best price point for each. Where do you find this type of service? Obviously, contacting any particular carrier will only get you access to their MPLS network. If you want to interconnect them, you have the tricky issue of network to network interfacing. That’s a job better left to telecom network specialists. One company, AireSpring, has the expertise to make this happen and the carrier relationships to gain access.

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