It’s not surprising T1 lines have been the most popular connectivity solution for businesses for decades. This is an exceptionally mature and versatile technology that you can use for private lines, dedicated Internet access and telephone trunking. The one weakness of T1 is bandwidth. It’s a rock solid 1.5 Mbps. No more, no less. In these days of cloud applications and real time HD video, what can we do about the T1 bandwidth limitation?
Solution #1: Bonded T1 Lines
Seems like the way to double the bandwidth of a T1 line from 1.5 to 3 Mbps is to add a second T1 line. You can do this yourself with a WAN aggregation appliance like the “Truffle” from Mushroom Networks. Or, you can simply order a second T1 line from the same provider and have them “bonded.” Carriers do this with terminal equipment at both ends of the circuit.
Bonding is simply a process of melding the bandwidth of the two lines so they act as one larger pipe. The nitty gritty details of how this is accomplished is invisible to you, the user.
A nice feature of bonding is that it can be extended beyond two T1 lines. You can bond 3 lines to get 4.5 Mbps, 4 lines to get 6 Mbps, and so on. All you need are enough extra twisted pairs in your telco line bundle to provide the additional T1s. The practical limit is 10 to 15 Mbps. Then, we’re back to the bandwidth issue… and one more thing.
The Ugly Side of Line Bonding
T1 line bonding works just great. It is a well established technology that is highly reliable. It’s just that it is a bit… expensive.
The downside of bonding is not technical. It’s financial. There’s no real economy of scale when you bond T1 lines. Each line has a certain cost that is made up of loop and port charges. Nowadays this is typically a few hundred dollars per line, but varies with location. That’s a lot lower cost than in years past, but it still adds up when you need a bunch of lines to get enough bandwidth. In short, two lines cost twice as much as one. Three make that 3X, and so on.
Why Fiber Makes Sense
T1 used to be the affordable bandwidth solution, while fiber was priced too high for all the but the largest businesses. That’s all changed thanks to technology and competition.
The first big recent advance in fiber optic bandwidth service has been a transition from circuit switching to packet switching technology. The original protocol was called SONET. It’s still available and popular for some applications, such as service provider backbone networks. SONET is a circuit switched protocol designed to be directly compatible with traditional T1 and T3 telephone lines. Bandwidth starts at 155 Mbps and goes on up to 40 or 100 Gbps.
The newer technology is called Carrier Ethernet and it is a packet switched technology directly compatible with Ethernet based Local Area Networks. Carrier Ethernet can easily extend your network across town or even internationally. It also supports enterprise VoIP telephone systems when configured as SIP Trunks.
Carrier Ethernet can be available in both copper and fiber optic connections. Fiber is fast becoming the connection of choice because it is easily affordable at lower bandwidth levels and scalable up to 10 Gbps or even 100 Gbps if needed.
Why Fiber is the New Bonded T1
The obvious advantage of fiber optic transmission is getting rid of the bandwidth ceiling on copper technology solutions. While 10 Mbps is considered high bandwidth for bonded T1, it is low bandwidth for fiber. Once you have fiber installed, you’re set for the future.
This is especially true for Ethernet over Fiber technology. It is designed to be easily scalable up to the limit of the installed port. Say you have a 1000 Mbps port installed, a typical service option. You can then order any bandwidth you like up to 1000 Mbps without any equipment changes. A simple phone call is all it takes to change your bandwidth, often the same day. Some carriers even allow you to manage your own service through a Web browser.
Nearly unlimited bandwidth is one advantage of Carrier Ethernet. The other is cost. While bonded T1 costs scale linearly with the number of lines, Ethernet over Fiber costs go up much less between bandwidth levels. A 10X bandwidth increase with T1 can cost 10X as much as a single line. The same 10X bandwidth upgrade might raise the price only 3X. Even at the low end of the bandwidth scale you can often get at least twice as much bandwidth choosing Ethernet over T1 for the same money.
But Is Fiber Really Available?
The competition from many new carriers offering Ethernet over Fiber means both lower costs and more availability. The upgrade from 3G to 4G wireless alone has spurred a massive build-out of fiber infrastructure to support all those cellular towers. Business demands for cloud applications and higher bandwidth that can handle video and large file transfers is also encouraging more fiber construction and lower prices.
The bottom line is that fiber optic bandwidth is far more available than it was just a few years ago. If you have a new application or just haven’t checked your options in awhile, it is well worth your while to see if Ethernet Fiber can replace those legacy T1 lines to give you more bandwidth and a more attractive lease price.
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