Why T1 is Your Best Rural Broadband Option
No DSL, Cable or Fiber? No Problem. T1 lines offer robust business broadband in rural locations.
By: John Shepler
While metro areas enjoy a plethora of broadband Internet services, those outside the city limits or living on farms or ranches have little to pick from. Often all that seems available is smartphone 4G and two-way satellite. But, wait! There’s another option you may not be aware of that could be perfect for your rural business, farmstead or work from home. It’s T1 dedicated Internet access.
T1 is Everywhere
T1 line service is available just about anywhere you can get ordinary POTS analog phone service. That’s because T1 runs on standard telephone company twisted pair copper wiring. The same cable that brings in telephone service probably has a couple of unused pairs available for a T1 line.
T1 is a digital service designed by Bell Labs with regenerators to boost the signal. You can get service even if you are miles out in the countryside.
No Data Caps
The biggest limitation for wireless services, like 4G and satellite, is that the airwaves have only so much capacity to serve all their customers. This is why providers enforce data caps. Such caps used to be laughably low, but now are typically 5, 10 or 15 GB per month. That’s probably enough for a single user of email and web browsing. Your quota gets used up quickly with high def video, software downloads, cloud applications and data backups.
What happens when you hit the cap limit? It varies among providers. The cellular companies will charge you overages on a per GB basis. Satellite providers will either throttle down your bandwidth or cut you off until you buy more capacity.
T1 lines have no data caps. The line runs at a constant speed all the time. You can choose to load it up 24/7 and get as many bytes through the pipe per month as you can at 1.5 Mbps, or just use it as-needed during business hours. The full capacity is always there available for your use.
Dedicated, Not Shared
Another reason that some services have data caps is that the bandwidth is shared, not dedicated. T1 lines are also known as dedicated Internet access or DIA. The dedicated part means that the line is for your use exclusively. There are no other users.
That may sound obvious, but it’s not what you have with satellite, 3G & 4G wireless, or even cable and DSL. All of these are shared bandwidth services. They are typically priced lower than equivalent telecom wireline services because the bandwidth at any given time is divvied up among the users who are online. If you are the only one, you get the full capacity of the system. Usually, you are sharing the available capacity with dozens, hundreds or thousands of other users. This is why these services advertise their bandwidth as “up to” so many Mbps.
T1 lines are a fixed dedicated bandwidth. It’s not “up to 1.5 Mbps”. It’s 1.5 Mbps all the time.
Shared bandwidth services that get congested with too much traffic and all geosynchronous satellite channels have a particular issue called latency. Latency is a time delay between when a packet is sent and when it is received. If you are only dealing with 10 mSec or or so of line latency you’ll probably never notice it. However, when that latency rises to 100, 200, or even 500 mSec you’ll really notice it.
Satellite links have the highest latency simply because even light takes a millisecond to travel each 186 miles. That’s the familiar physics constant of 186,000 miles per second. When the signal has to travel 23,000 miles up to the satellite and another 23,000 back down you’ve lost about a quarter of a second. TCP/IP needs to be acknowledged, which doubles this latency. Add a little for ground and satellite equipment processing and you’re easily at 500 mSec or half a second best case.
Now you know why television reporters have to pause before the anchor can ask a question and vice-versa. You’ll have the same effect using VoIP telephony on a geosynchronous satellite link. Plan on treating your phone conversations like you were using a walkie-talkie or other two-way radio. Only one person at a time can talk or you’ll be talking over each other.
T1 lines have minimal latency. It’s pretty much determined by the length of the connection plus a little added for equipment processing. We’re talking tens and not hundreds of milliseconds. That works perfectly for VoIP or ISDN phone trunks, two-way video conferences, and just about anything you want to do on the Web, including working remotely or using cloud hosted applications.
Shared bandwidth services are typically asymmetric. That means they have much higher download than upload speeds. Usually a factor of x10. That works fine for accessing websites or downloading files or video. It’s not so great for uploading files or backing up data to remote sites.
T1 lines are symmetric. They have 1.5 Mbps download and an equal 1.5 Mbps upload speed.
Some services, especially satellite broadband, don’t work well with the VPN or virtual private networks used by remote workers to connect to their employers. Satellite companies may even warn you that their service doesn’t play well with VPN because of the signal processing in their system. T1 has no such limitations. It’s a good match for VPN applications.
T1 lines were developed by the telephone companies for their own use in transporting bundles of phone calls. The technology is robust and well-proven. Outages are rare. If someone cuts the cable or a piece of network equipment fails, T1 lines get fast attention and quick repair. Often you can get a SLA or Service Level Agreement that spells out the mean time to repair as well as other characteristics such as latency, jitter and packet loss.
While 1.5 Mbps may be as much as many users need for small business operations or working remotely, its not high bandwidth compared to many other services. One option is to bond two or more T1 lines together to get double, triple or even higher speed. Another option is to use a related technology called Ethernet over Copper (EoC). This service has similar characteristic to T1 but much higher bandwidth available. Unlike T1, EoC isn’t available everywhere and speed decreases with distance from the originating office.
The final factor is cost. You can expect to pay more for dedicated T1 line service than you will for the consumer and other shared bandwidth services. There used to be a huge difference is price, but T1 costs have come down dramatically in recent years while other services have chosen to increase bandwidth and raise prices accordingly. If you have a serious need for connectivity and are frustrated by the lack of options or lack of performance in the options you do have, then you should give T1 a serious look. It might be a very good match with your needs.
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