What You Need to Know About Wavelength WAN Services

If your enterprise wants to "future-proof" your network while moving toward a digital transformation, consider utilizing wavelength WAN services (“waves”).

Ginger Woolridge

Nov 17, 2021


If your company needs to "future-proof" your network(s) while moving toward a digital transformation, consider utilizing wavelength services aka “waves”. Carriers offer many types of wavelength services, some with virtually unlimited capacity and all with very low latency and jitter.

For those unfamiliar with wavelength services, they are a type of wide area network (WAN) connectivity that utilize a point-to-point topology, connecting A address to Z address. Businesses needing to transport large amounts of time-sensitive data often opt for a wavelength service instead of alternatives like software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS).

Wavelength services are based on dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) technology. DWDM delivers multiple, private high-capacity circuits over a single pair fiber optic cable.

The Pros and Cons of Wavelength Services

  • Massive data capacity: Fiber offers far greater bandwidth compared to cable-based transport mediums such as twisted-pair copper or coax cable. Indeed, fiber links deliver over 1,000 times as much bandwidth as twisted-pair copper. While coax provides greater data capacity than twisted-pair, it still falls far short of fiber.

  • Travels greater distances: Electrical signals across copper have a much shorter distance range compared to data traveling in light transport across fiber. For example, transmission across unshielded twisted-pair copper requires amplification after only ±100 meters (328 feet). Coax can only travel ±500 meters (1,640 feet) without a boost. But signals across fiber can reach up to 80 km (49.7 miles) before needing regeneration.

  • Dedicated bandwidth and static path: A wavelength path is typically fixed. Conversely, dynamic (protected) routing of IP traffic varies depending upon network conditions, which may increase latency.

  • Resists electromagnetic (EM) and radio frequency (RF) interference: Transmission over fiber optics is virtually noise-free. Conversely, transmission over copper can be plagued by electromagnetic (EM) and radio frequency (RF) interference, voltage surges, and crosstalk. We covered crosstalk in our post on colocation cross connections.

  • Lower energy usage, size, weight, and cost: According to Multicom, fiber consumes 2 W per user while copper is >10 W per user. Fiber cable weighs much less and occupies less space than copper cable. Also, fiber cable comes from glass; copper must be refined from ore and therefore costs more.


  • Fiber is difficult to splice: Unlike copper, fiber requires highly specialized equipment to splice and test.

  • Fiber cable is susceptible to damage during installation: While fiber has a very strong pulling strength, the physical arc of fiber cable is limited. In other words, fiber cables can be broken if excessively bent. Moreover, transmission loss occurs when fiber cables wrap around sharp curves.

Each type of fiber has a bend radius that should be adhered to in order to avoid damaging the cable or impacting transmission quality.

Different Types of Wavelength Services

Depending upon their needs, businesses can choose from three types of wavelength services.

  1. Metropolitan: Carriers offering local fiber connectivity within a metro area. Most large American cities have several metropolitan wavelength providers. For businesses located in major metro areas, this is an easy and cost-effective solution for point-to-point (P2P) connections between intra-city locations.

  2. Domestic: Businesses needing to connect locations across state lines may opt for domestic wavelength services over a national fiber-optic network. Note that domestic "long-haul" carriers are fewer in number compared to metropolitan wave service providers. Hence, pricing tends to be higher than the services offered by metropolitan carriers.

  3. International: These carriers provide connectivity between continents and countries. International wavelength services rely on both submarine and terrestrial networks. Usually, only a few providers can meet a company's specific wave needs when connecting its geographically diverse locations.

Lightyear focuses on wave Ethernet transport. Gigabit Ethernet or GbE (the latest version) is the most cost-effective connectivity application. The IEEE 802.3z standard governs 1000BASE-X, the GbE version used for wavelength services, which includes options such as 1000BASE-SX and 1000BASE-LX, among others.

Use Cases

As we detailed previously, wavelength services encompass many use cases. The most popular include:

  • Large file transfers: massive files such as video (think UHD/4K TV) or highly pixelated images need the bandwidth waves provide.

  • Real-time data replication: the copying and transfer of data, as it is generated, to one or more locations. Real-time data is used for database and application migrations, redundancy, analytics, hybrid cloud computing, and data integration.

  • Offsite data storage: since the amount of data businesses generate has skyrocketed in recent years, waves provide them the means to easily access information stored offsite.

  • Disaster Recovery: DR or DRaaS, using its replicated data stored in the cloud, a business can quickly restore functionality and access to its IT infrastructure. Wavelength services provide the bandwidth needed to complete DR processes ASAP.

  • Editing and transferring video files: Wavelength services facilitate real-time collaboration across multiple locations when editing and transferring video files. Similar solutions are also used in healthcare, real estate, architecture, and engineering sectors.

  • Data center interconnectivity: of course, data centers need massive pipelines for the unimpeded flow of data. Waves allow for the transfer of large workloads with uber-low latency.

  • Financial and banking applications: Wavelength services facilitate speedy, secure processing of credit card and ATM transactions.

Wavelength Pricing Guidelines

Lightyear recently released a WAN Connectivity Pricing Report where we detail the factors that impact pricing of wavelength and other WAN services. We’ll also share the average pricing we see in the market for these WAN services.

We've also released a guide on Point to Point Leased Lines vs Wavelength Services that digs into network and pricing nuances of each.

Are Wave Services Right for your Enterprise?

Wavelength services are now more affordable than ever. Don't be daunted by the technology; Lightyear is here to help you navigate carrier options and bids, no matter your network topology. You have questions—we have answers. Find out more at [email protected].

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