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Introduction to Merit Network's MeritFiber

Merit Network manages the nation's longest-running regional network, which has been in continuous operation since May 1973.

The Merit statewide backbone, once provisioned exclusively over carrier-provided circuits, is now composed largely of Merit-owned and provisioned private fiber. Private fiber allows Merit Network to provision nearly unlimited bandwidth on its backbone without the "stair-step" price increases associated with increasing capacity on carrier circuits.

MeritFiber extends the benefits of private fiber for the backbone to the "local loop" circuits that connect our members to our backbone. MeritFiber provides a managed fiber attachment service that encompasses everything from design and bidding to construction and implementation.

To fully appreciate the value of MeritFiber, a brief overview of private fiber follows.

Fiber Basics

Fiber optic cable consists of glass strands designed to guide light along their length.

Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information from one place to another by sending light through an optical fiber.

The light signals are transmitted by lasers placed at each end of the fiber optic path. The lasers are integrated into electronic devices at each end of the fiber that control the transmission and reception of the light signals and the communications flow.

Fiber Capacity

The capacity of the fiber is limited only by the speed of light, which is to say that the capacity is (theoretically) unlimited. However, the nature of the electronics and lasers introduce practical limits. Today, the most cost-effective fiber-optic electronics provide for transmission rates of 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps). Transmission rates can be increased by using more powerful and more expensive fiber-optic electronics without replacing the fiber-optic cable.

As laser and electronics technologies advance, and the devices incorporating these improvements enter mass production, higher data rates will be available for lower cost on existing fiber-optic cables.

In short, the fiber is a conduit for the light signals with the transmission rates dictated by the electronics and lasers at either end of the fiber path. To increase transmission capacity, one need only upgrade the electronics Fiber Capacity and lasers at either end of the fiber path; the fiber itself stays the same.

The upshot of all of this is that fiber is a long-term asset (20+ years) that can be used to provide increasing transmission rates without replacing the fiber itself.

Private Fiber on the Backbone

Today, traditional telecommunications carriers own most of the fiber optic cable in the public rights-of-way. They own and manage the electronics and lasers that provision circuits on their fiber, and they charge their customers for "metered usage" of the circuits.

For example, a 30 Mbps circuit provided by a traditional carrier is likely to be roughly twice the price of a 15 Mbps circuit, and a 60 Mbps circuit would likely be four times as much, and so on.

This "one-for-one" increase in price as data rates rise may be standard business practice for carriers, but it is one that does not scale in an era of ever-rising bandwidth utilization. Bandwidth utilization for educational organizations is predicted to double every year for the foreseeable future, and under the traditional telecommunications carrier model, this would represent a doubling of cost every year.

Facing this prospect in the late 1990's, statewide and regional education and research networks like Merit Network decided to get into the fiber ownership business to control costs into the future. The capital expense required to build and acquire private fiber-optic cable in the public right-of-way was significant, but the projected reduction in operating costs from the carrier model made for a return-on-investment (ROI) of seven years.

In this way, Merit has been able to replace carrier circuits with privately-owned fiber on an ROI of seven years for an asset that will last for at least 20 years.

Private Fiber for the Local Loop

This same cost-recovery/ROI model applies to not only to Merit backbone circuits, but also to those "local loop" circuits that connect our members to our backbone.

Merit Network members pay a single annual fee based on the Internet service level (bandwidth) to which they subscribe (1.5, 3.0, 4.5 Mbps, etc.) This fee actually has two components:
  1. the cost of the local loop circuit to connect the member to nearest Merit backbone site;
  2. the cost of the Internet bandwidth delivered from the backbone site to the member.

The cost for local loop circuit, traditionally provided by a telecommunications carrier, has been a "pass-though" cost for Merit, and it has been subject to the "one-for-one" cost increase scenario described previously.

The cost for the Internet bandwidth component is based on Merit's cost for obtaining and delivering the Internet bandwidth within our network, and it is independent of the local loop cost.

In most cases, the "one-for-one" increase of the local loop costs is a greater barrier to obtaining more Internet bandwidth than the costs of additional Internet bandwidth itself.

However, when the local loop can be provisioned by Merit Network on private fiber, 1000 Mbps capacity can be provided for a flat rate that is typically no more than the cost of a 4.5 Mbps local loop provided by a traditional telecommunications carrier. With the local loop bottleneck removed by obtaining private fiber, educational organizations can grow their Internet utilization without the prohibitive "one-for-one" cost increases of the carrier model.

Advanced Networking Expertise

Merit employs a specialized team of network and software engineers who are available to assist Members with customized design and troubleshooting solutions. Our networking experience includes over 40 years of innovation in the data networking field. Merit Members have direct communication with top management and engineering staff and are encouraged to participate in meetings, product planning, and research activities.

MeritFiber is a fully-managed service, with Merit installing and maintaining the connection and managing the customer premise equipment.

Superior Reliability & Support

Merit's 24x7, Michigan-based Merit Support Center (MSC) is operated by highly trained staff who continuously monitor the backbone, as well as Member fiber connections, circuits and routers to ensure network availability for each Member. The MSC provides support 24x7, 365 days a year. The Merit Support Center, formerly called the Network Operations Center, has been monitoring high-performance networks since 1987.

The MSC assists Members with network connection issues and questions related to services, including MeritMail, MeritVoice, Merit RADb, Merit Colocation, and others. In addition, the Merit Support Center can assist with new service inquiries and provide E-rate support.

More Than a Customer

Merit is a non-profit organization governed by Michigan's publicly supported universities. Merit also offers services to higher education, K12, library, government and non-profit organizations in Michigan. Known as Members, these organizations fully participate in the Merit community and elect representatives to the Merit Advisory Council.

For more information on MeritFiber, please contact a Member Relations Manager at or call 734-527-5700.

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