You should know that there are two different types of Internet broadband access regardless of the medium used. The medium might be wireless, twisted pair copper, coaxial cable, or fiber optic strand. That’s just the physical layer. What makes even more difference is whether you are on a dedicated or shared broadband connection.
Your lowest cost options fall into the shared bandwidth category. These include DSL, Cable, 3G & 4G Wireless and Satellite. What these all have in common is that the bandwidth is shared among multiple users. A tip-off to shared bandwidth is a statement that your service speed is “up to” so many Mbps. The upper limit, be it 2 or 20 Mbps, is the maximum you’ll experience. How much you get in practice depends on how many other people are trying to use the connection at the same time.
Shared bandwidth services don’t have to be asymmetrical, but they often are. What that means is that the upload and download speed differ, often by a large amount. You might get 5 Mbps in the download direction, but only 1 Mbps in the upload direction. Why is it done this way? It’s because these services are most often used for email and Web access. When using a Web browser, you typically type in an address and then download a page of text and graphics. The upload to request the page is a very few packets. The download of everything from the page is a much larger collection of packets.
The same is true of accessing audio and video content or downloading software. It’s primarily a one-way transmission with the speed of the download much more important than the speed of the uploaded requests.
Another characteristic of shared bandwidth services is that they are promoted as “information” rather than “telecom” services. By using the information category, these services avoid regulatory constraints. What you get for your money in the way of bandwidth levels, availability, time to repair, latency, jitter, packet loss is completely up to the service provider.
Dedicated Internet Access or DIA services allocate the full bandwidth of the connection for your usage. A T1 line, for instance, has a speed of 1.5 Mbps at all times. If you aren’t using it, the line simply idles until needed. You can elect to access the Internet via your T1 line as needed, or you can keep the line busy uploading and downloading data files 100% of the time. There’s no such thing as user limits. You’ve got a pipe with a capacity of 1.5 Mbps and you can transport as many packets through it as it will carry.
T1 lines are symmetrical, also called full duplex. The bandwidth is the same in both the upload and download directions. In this case, it’s 1.5 Mbps. Ethernet over Copper, a newer competing service to T1 lines, is similar but offers more bandwidth options. You can often get 2, 3, 5, 10 and even 20 Mbps EoC service. It’s often stated in the form 10 x 10 Mbps Ethernet to show that you get 10 Mbps in the upload and 10 Mbps in the download direction.
T1 and Ethernet services are not information services. They are network telecom services, often with SLAs or Service Level Agreements. These agreements spell out what you can expect in the way of availability, time to repair, bandwidth, jitter and latency. Because these services are more costly to engineer and provide, they have higher pricing than shared bandwidth information services.
So does that mean that you always need a T1 line or Ethernet connection? Not necessarily. If your primary reason to have an Internet connection is to access information on the Web or maintain a Website and email on a remote hosting service, you may find that DSL, Cable, Satellite or Wireless service works just fine and costs half as much. Satellite and Wireless are especially useful for remote locations that aren’t within the service areas of DSL or Cable. You can use 3G and 4G cellular wireless for point of sale terminals, even at temporary locations.
On the other hand, if you want to run your own servers in-house or connect multiple business locations with a converged voice and data network, you’ll probably find that you absolutely need the more robust bandwidth services. The same is true if you are providing rather than consuming content or can’t stand having employee productivity impacted by bandwidth that varies up and down throughout the day. Would a multi-day outage put you out of business? It probably makes sense to either have a backup bandwidth service or pay up for a Service Level Agreement.
What Internet access options make the most sense for your particular business situation? Why not have a bandwidth expert call you with prices and availability for a wide range of bandwidth solutions? Then you can weigh the costs and benefits and make an better informed decision.