By Ian Roberts

Ethernet First Mile (EFM), or IEEE 802.3ah in tech circles, was established to allow Ethernet to penetrate into access networks, has been growing rapidly since it was established in 2001 and is now the preferred technology to deliver business Internet access or broadband as some refer to it.

As it becomes more widespread in its movement outward from core networks, EFM is poised to replace leased lines for nearly all small and medium sized business internet applications. Leased lines are expensive to maintain, a fact that has led to lower take up in multisite small and medium businesses that require a VPN (Virtual Privaye Network) or internet access for operation.

The reason EFM has experienced such rapid yet silent growth is that it is able to utilize existing physical components and infrastructure. Over 80% of businesses in the United Kingdom now have access to fibre based EFM, and that will be supplemented by copper EFM shortly. Typically any business that is centered in an urban area is now able to make the switch to allow higher capabilities for their business internet and broadband requirements.

A huge benefit to small businesses will be the need to train fewer technicians to maintain and install interfaces. Unlike E1, E3, and STM-1, Ethernet requires only one interface to operate.

This rapid leased line replacement that we will soon be seeing will give small businesses the opportunity to really compete once they're able to bypass the prohibitive costs and fees of subscribing to leased lines and lower the cost for Internet access.

In theory, it is possible to reach 100Mbit/s with Ethernet First Mile copper pairing; in practice single and bonded copper pairs will support 4-8Mb of symmetrical connectivity which will suffice for most small business Internet and broadband needs. Medium sized companies will require higher speeds with service level agreements (SLAs), or higher VPN capabilities in which case fibre will be the EFM medium of choice.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video conferencing are just two of the many services which have been constrained due to historical lower quality connections and leased lines pricing. EFM reduces lag for these services with up to 99.9% availability of SLAs.

In effect, Ethernet First Mile puts quality business internet and business broadband into the hands of small businesses, giving them an opportunity to leverage into the market in a way that was not available before.

It's estimated that up to 400,000 leased lines are going to be replaced by EFM technologies by sometime around 2015, although the process is already well under way in the UK. If you haven't heard about Ethernet First Mile or haven't considered it for your business Internet and broadband, it's probably because EFM is still a relatively new technology that has been growing steadily under the radar for the past couple years. Now is the time to take advantage of it and steal a march on your competitors before they do it to you.

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