Bonded T1 Lines Lower Cost Replacements Alternatives to bonded T1 lines include fiber, Ethernet over Copper, and cable broadband.
By: John Shepler
The T1 line was the first professional-grade digital communications pipe. Over a half-century later, it is still widely used for point to point private lines and for PRI telephone trunking. It also makes an excellent first mile link for dedicated Internet access for small business. While the price of T1 lines have dropped dramatically over the years, it can still be a pricey solution, especially if you need to bond several together to get enough bandwidth. Are there any good alternatives?
The Good and the Bad of T1 Lines
At first, T1 lines were the only game in town. Once fiber became available with much higher bandwidth, T1 still had a cost advantage in the days before broadband everything. Would you believe that 1.5 Mbps was pretty impressive back in the day? It’s a symmetrical 1.5 Mbps. That’s the same speed in both directions. It’s also full duplex or both directions at the same time. T1 is a dedicated line. You have all the bandwidth and if you don’t use it, it just sits there idle until you do.
Bonded T1 Lines Increase Speed
Bonding is a process of making big lines out of little ones. If you bond two T1 lines, you get 3 Mbps. Four lines gets you 6 Mbps. Six lines and you have a respectable 9 Mbps. I understand that in the wilds of Alaska they’ll bond 8 or 10 lines together. That’s about the limit.
Now, the downside. Those 2, 4 or 6 bonded lines cost 2, 4 or 6 times as much as one T1 line. There’s no economy of scale. At, say, several hundred dollars a month each, that’s gets pretty pricey pretty fast. For that much money, why not just get a fiber optic connection?
Fiber Instead of Copper
Fiber, indeed. A nice side effect of the big telecom move to 4G LTE and 5G wireless is that the T1 lines they used to run to cell towers can’t possibly deliver the bandwidth. So, there has been a big buildout of fiber to the tower along with wireless fiber, also known as microwave transmission. That means that fiber service is far more available than it used to be. It’s also a lot less expensive due to increased competition from new providers and a technology switch from SONET to Carrier Ethernet. If you haven’t checked out fiber pricing and availability in awhile, you may be surprised at what has popped up while you weren’t looking.
Keep the Copper, But Use Ethernet
All that twisted pair copper in the ground can still be used to deliver decent bandwidths by bonding it for Ethernet over Copper instead of T1. EoC is a different technology and can deliver 10 or 20 Mbps easily. The downside is that bandwidth falls off rapidly with distance. This approach works best in populated areas where a telco office isn’t far away. If you can get it, Ethernet over Copper is very affordable and gives you the performance of bonded T1 at a fraction of the cost per Mbps.
How About Cable?
I’m amazed how many times prospective customers ask for gigabit fiber or dark fiber but wind up buying cable broadband. Why? Cable has a tremendous cost advantage. You can often get fiber bandwidths at T1 prices and most service levels are easily afforded by any business. The bandwidth is shared, not dedicated. It’s also asymmetrical, meaning that the download speed can be ten times the upload speed or more. These may or may not be issues, depending on how you use the service. Some applications just won’t tolerate anything but a private line. Most everything we do everyday isn’t that demanding. Many cable services have consistently high bandwidth and low latency. What hiccups there are tend to be transitory and long term outages have become rare on the major service providers.
Mix and Match
To get the right combination of performance and cost, you might want to consider a combination of services. For VoIP telephony and maybe business processes in the cloud, get a dedicated T1 or fiber connection. For general Internet use or customer WiFi, business cable broadband gives you a lot of performance for the price. Run the networks separately or use an SD-WAN system to intelligently direct traffic.
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