DSL: The best (and worst) of times

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens famously describes life in 18th century Paris and London as “the best of times…the worst of times.” Even though the similarities between 18th century Europe and 21st century America are few, my recent experiences with DSL also can be described as the best of times and the worst of times.

The worst of times has been my experience with carrier-provided, business-class symmetric DSL (SDSL). In order to provide a less costly connectivity option for smaller locations, my organization developed a VPN service that uses SDSL. We chose SDSL to provide a higher level of service than residential asymmetric DSL (ADSL) offers.

The SDSL service is provided through a national carrier. Many competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) deliver the actual service, but the carrier manages the vendors. However, because the carrier does not own the DSL infrastructure, the service levels have been less that stellar.

All problems have to go through the carrier first, which extends the target mean time to repair (MTTR) to 48 hours (vs. the 24-hour target the CLEC provides). While 48 hours of downtime is bad enough, the 48 hours is allocated into eight-hour “chunks” Monday through Friday, thus increasing the target MTTR to six business days.

Granted, many problems are resolved much more quickly, but we have had multiple instances of outages lasting from six to 10 business days. The impact on the profit and loss of the affected locations has been significant and we are currently developing temporary dial-up solutions to avoid a catastrophic loss.

The carrier’s inability to provide higher service levels has created an unforeseen risk to my company’s revenue stream. This, combined with frustrated users, has made my experience with SDSL “the worst of times.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is my experience with LEC-provided residential ADSL. The LEC owns the entire infrastructure, including the local loop, and my service has been close to being the “best of times.”

There were a few problems initially, but they mainly involved a newly retrofitted digital loop carrier in my subdivision and were resolved within 12 hours. After the first few weeks, my service has stabilized and I have not experienced any problems. And I am paying one-fourth the cost of business-class SDSL and getting twice the bandwidth.

From my recent experience, carrier-provided, business-class DSL appears to be an over-rated and overpriced service that does not bring the value to justify the added cost. The value of DSL — higher bandwidth at a lower cost — can best be offered by the LECs that own the entire infrastructure and can resolve problems in a timely manner. It might require working with multiple providers to get the coverage required, but it is worth the effort to have the best of times with DSL.

Yoke is director of business solutions engineering for a corporate network in Denver. He can be reached at ckyoke@yahoo.com.

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