Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who Needs A T1 Line at Home?

You've heard about how reliable T1 lines are and that they can be installed just about anywhere you can get telephone service. So, you may be thinking that sounds like a good solution for home broadband. In most cases, no. The price will make your eyes bug out. But for some people, a T1 line may be the only option that makes sense.

Residential broadband is designed to be as cheap as possible so it can be sold to as many people as possible. That's why you can pay under $20 a month for some DSL services, and typically around $30 to $40 a month for Cable broadband with 3 to 6 Mbps of bandwidth. If you live too far out of town for these options, satellite or wireless Internet will run you about twice that. Now compare that with T1 line prices. You'll pay at least 10x and perhaps 20x as much for T1 bandwidth at 1.5 Mbps. Still think that's what you want?

What makes T1 so pricey and why would anyone pay such a premium? T1 is a technology developed by the phone companies for their own use and now sold to business locations. It was built to be extremely reliable and delivers a constant 1.5 Mbps in both the upload and download directions. Sure, anyone can cut a telco cable with a backhoe at the most unexpected times. But being a tariffed telecommunications service, often with a service level agreement, T1 service gets top priority if and when outages occur.

Contrast that to consumer grade services. These are not regulated telecom services but "information services." That means they are offered as-is with no guarantee of bandwidth or availability. The providers will certainly make an effort to provide decent service levels, at least to keep users from getting so frustrated they sign up for a competing service. But there should be no illusion that home broadband is intended for casual and not serious business use.

The other reason that residential broadband services are cheap is that they are oversubscribed. The providers know that not everyone is online every minute of the day. So they can share their backbone bandwidth among dozens or hundreds of users. How much bandwidth you actually get will fluctuate during the day and depends on who else is sharing the service and whether they are casually browsing the Web or downloading videos.

T1 bandwidth is not shared. You sign a lease for 1.5 Mbps and that's what you get. Characteristics such as latency, jitter and packet loss also tend to be better for T1 service versus DSL or Cable broadband.

So who needs a T1 line at home? Usually it's someone running a serious business or professional application who needs the dependability and consistent performance they get from T1 service. One example is someone who trades stocks or options from their home office. Another might be a physician who reads medical images. Business executives who want their home office to be a mirror of their company office may also opt for T1 service.

These professional users tend to have needs that justify the higher monthly cost with a need for high grade service. Sometimes cheaper actually costs you more. Consider the stock trader who's line keeps dropping in the middle of a trading session. Or the Web developer who can't update sites or who's server becomes unavailable. It's possible to lose more money in one day than you'll save all month with cheap broadband.

If you have a serious need for professional broadband service at home and can afford at least several hundred dollars per month for bandwidth, a T1 line might be right for you. On the other hand, if your needs are less demanding and you want the lowest price possible, then check into Cable and DSL broadband options. For mobile operation, 3G wireless is hard to for cost and availability.

Follow Telexplainer on Twitter