The Internet Backbone Spoils Us
by Mattias Fridström, Telia Carrier
It’s hard to imagine life without the internet, but in all reality, it wasn’t born until 1991, and that version is unrecognizable compared to what the internet has evolved to as we know it today. Connectivity drives interactions and innovation impacting nearly every aspect of the world. We wake up and open Facebook or fire up our Netflix app in the evening, and that is the extent of the thought process for many. We expect connectivity to whomever, whatever and wherever instantly. So how does this work and what actually happens when we make a phone call or send a text message? With over 3 billion people and 50 billion things on the internet, someone or something is bringing internet traffic to life.
To break it down to simpler terms, Telia Carrier is one of the few companies behind many of those links. Let me explain. Most people don’t think about our actual connections, but there is quite a bit going on in the background. I’d say, for the most part, the general public is aware that we are connecting our devices to a local internet service provider (ISP) or mobile network operator (MNO), many that we are familiar with, such as Spectrum, Comcast or Charter to name a few. But what happens from there? I assure you that is not the dead end for traffic.
Once you are connected to an ISP or MNO, you are instantly connected to all the other devices you share that network with, essentially a community where everything comes together. But what hooks those communities to the larger worldwide community? Various global networks are linked together connecting all the ISPs and MNOs, indirectly connecting you to the entire internet as all of these networks are able to talk to one another. Thus, the worldwide web (remember that?)
Seems like a simple concept, right? Well, it’s not. Network operators must determine what traffic is most important on their network and what path is most efficient for information to travel. Then there is the physical hardware that supports the internet. Under city sidewalks, rural farms, and oceans lies actual hardware, such as cables, that allow networks to communicate and traffic to travel. Imagine a tangled string of Christmas lights — you aren’t sure how to get from one end to the other, there may be broken wires, and sorting them out can be a timely task when the strings are not neatly stored. As networks talk to each other and traffic crisscrosses the globe, we could face a tangle that would slow internet speeds and quality connections as traffic maneuvers its way through the chaos. That is where the internet backbone comes into play.
The internet backbone is a small number of global networks that allows traffic to travel shorter distances and connects various ISPs and MNOs — shifting traffic to its destination via the shortest route. These backbones have multiple fiber optic cables combined to increase the amount of capacity they can support, allowing the majority of traffic to hop to another backbone or network directly.
So, we are all connecting but is there a difference between my reliability and connectivity versus someone else’s? Yes, there is variability depending on your provider and not all internet backbone providers are equal. This is a game where the “big guys win.” Tier 1 backbones have their obvious advantages as a global presence allows traffic to have shorter routes to travel to reach its destination. Comparing one backbone provider to the next, it is hard to quantify service and size, so you have to look at the backbone’s ability to provide a direct connection, its reach, diversity, technology, people, and end-to-end quality. Think about it, you can’t beat a straight line and ensuring direct connection gives users the best quality connection.
Tier 1 providers also bring to the table the ability to control their own backbone. When issues arise, carriers need to have clear accountability and the power to fix things. Plan B is not always as good as Plan A but having a carrier that controls their own backbone gives them the ability to shift traffic across networks more easily, allowing for seamless connections to continue without end users ever noticing an issue.
So, what’s the lesson? The internet is gigantic, and the backbone is spoiling us by making internet connections to any device happen at the snap of our fingers. It’s not all about convenience, either. In today’s connected world, downtime can be detrimental to any business. Therefore, partnering with the right provider should allow you to focus on your business instead of worrying about connectivity.