‘Ethernet in the First Mile’ or ‘EFM’ technology is becoming an increasingly popular leased line technology for businesses to connect to the internet or to their Wide Area Network (WAN) – especially owing to the reduced cost when compared to the alternatives.

It’s important to ask questions; what is it? How does it work? And what kind of performance can you expect against other types of connection? After all, you haven’t succeeded in business by just following the masses!

The future’s fibre – isn’t it?

‘Superfast’ is an exciting term that providers use to describe their fibre broadband internet circuits – and because of this, consumers can be led to believe that fibre connections are the only way to go if speed and reliability are of the essence.

However, this just isn’t always the case.

Fibre broadband uses fibre optic cables to a roadside cabinet near your building, and then standard copper telephone lines from there to your building.   It’s fast, but its capacity is shared across a number of connections to keep costs low.

Business-class Fibre Ethernet circuits use fibre optic cables all the way to your building.  This gives them extremely high maximum speeds as well as the ultimate in reliability.  However, they come with a hefty price tag.

So, what about EFM?

In the UK, Ethernet in the First Mile is based on the same copper line technology as broadband. The copper lines are called ‘Pairs’ because each line comprises a pair of copper wires twisted together to reduce interference. However, unlike broadband, EFM uses multiple pairs in order to provide greater performance and reliability.

The ‘E’ in EFM refers to the fact that you’re provided with an Ethernet socket rather than a telephone socket. This means that you don’t need a modem – You can plug your equipment (invariably a router) straight in.

What about ‘First Mile’?

The ‘first mile’ part of the EFM name simply means that the first mile (or so) of the connection from your site to the service provider’s network is now Ethernet rather than the traditional analogue copper pair line used for broadband.

Bundled lines

Whereas broadband circuits are built with a single copper pair, EFM circuits are built using multiple pairs.The number of pairs is typically 2, 4, 6 or 8.  By combining numerous pairs into a bundle, the reliabilityand speed of the connection is increased.

Unlike broadband, EFM circuits are not contended (shared). This means that if you’re getting, say, 10 Mbps, it really is 10 Mbps:  it’s not slowed down by the presence of other users.  What’s more, the multiple pairs enable EFM to be offered with ‘symmetric bandwidth’ – so upload and download speeds are identical, which is more suited to business use.

Achieving identical up and down times means real-time applications run far better– for example, a service like Skype for Business which carries voice over an internet connection will perform far better over an EFM line than it would a standard ADSL connection. A significant number of your applications could benefit.

Other business benefits

EFM slots into a significant gap in the internet connection market.

At one end of scale you have ADSL – a cheaper alternative, but in our age of cloud-computing and resource heavy applications – not always up to the required speed and reliability standard.

At the most-costly end, you’ll find Ethernet fibre connections – exceptional performance but a cost that’s hard to justify for anything less than big business.

Installation times are also an issue with Ethernet fibre. Openreach currently quote a circuit delivery time of anywhere up to 3 months for a fibre installation to reach your server room. That’s a long time when your competition is already up and running. EFM is the perfect solution when you’re looking for a balance of cost and performance.

EFM vs. ADSL

ADSL lines have a reputation for unreliability.This is because they’re essentially an upgraded single phoneline that provides your connection to the internet.

With EFM you effectively have 2 (and often more) combined lines that connect you.  If a fault develops on one line then,whereas a broadband circuit would be cut off, an EFM circuit carries on with the other lines. While your network provider will detect the issue, your end-users and customers won’t. The data load is spread over the remaining pairs, meaning applications can continue to run without an issue – a clear benefit over ADSL.

EFM Class of Service

Packaged with some (althoughnot all) EFM connections is a ‘Class of Service’ (CoS) option.

CoS allows you to distinguish betweenthe different types of data moving across your network – andtherefore to prioritise traffic that is crucial to your business and sensitive to delay. For example, should you be running a high-priority application like VOIP that would fail if your connection slowed, this could be prioritised over less time-critical traffic such as emails and web browsing.

CoS is a useful service if you want to stay in control of your applications and data distribution – but be warned, not all services include the service, so if it’s something you’re interested in utilising, make sure your circuit provider offers it. Note that CoS is typically used when you’re connecting several of your own offices together rather than connecting to the internet.  This is because the internet is a best-endeavours network that doesn’t itself prioritise traffic.

Speed, reliability and cost

EFM is a perfect solution for companies who are looking for a reliable and robust service but don’t want to stretch their budget (and delivery times!) just for the additional speed of Ethernet fibre.

If you’re currently on an ADSL line and finding reliability is an issue, then a step up to EFM could be the perfect solution for you – especially if you’d like the service configuration options that come with CoS packages.

Be warned though – not all EFM packages are the same, if you’re using real-time applications that require a stable connection, making sure there’s a suitable amount of copper pairs making up your circuit is important. To be sure the EFM service you’re looking at is right for you, looking at a guide like this one will make sure you’re asking the right questions – and getting a connection that’s exactly right for you.

Bigger picture

Don’t under-estimate the impact your data connection can have on your business. Your network and connection should help you reach greater business heights – not hold you down. If speed is an issue, a move to EFM can be a cost-effective way to enhance your end-user and customer experience.

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