Most businesses don’t need a gazillion bits per second, even though they might fancy carrier level bandwidth services. One thing that’s always been true and is likely to stay that way is that the higher the bandwidth, the higher the price. It’s true that within bandwidth categories there can be quite a price differential. You can also get a lot more bandwidth if you elect for shared vs dedicated service. However, that shared bandwidth varies all over the place while dedicated services are rock solid.
The low end of the bandwidth range is dominated by wireline and wireless services. Twisted pair copper is a popular delivery medium because it is almost always available in the form of multi-pair wiring installed by the telephone company. Any copper pairs not being used to carry telephone calls are available for data.
T1 is the traditional data connection for business locations. It is a dedicated bandwidth solution with symmetrical 1.5 Mbps x 1.5 Mbps available at all times. There are generally Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that guarantee uptime, bandwidth and other parameters like jitter and latency. Pricing starts at around $300 per month, sometimes less for a multi-year lease. Out of the way locations may find that pricing is higher for T1 lines.
Ethernet over Copper (EoC) is fast moving in as a direct competitor to T1. It uses the same multiple copper telco pairs but a different modulation scheme that is more efficient. T1 can be run just about any distance. EoC bandwidth is highly dependent on how close you are to the central office. Bandwidths from 2 to 30 Mbps are common, with 3 Mbps around the same price as a T1 line. A very popular EoC service upgrade is 10 x 10 Mbps for businesses that find T1 lines too restrictive and bonded T1 lines too expensive.
There are two other copper-based high speed Internet technologies. One is DSL, a shared bandwidth service that uses twisted pair copper and is relatively inexpensive. The other is Cable broadband, with bandwidths as high as 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload for about what you pay for a T1 line. Both DSL and Cable are asymmetrical bandwidth (higher download than upload speeds) and are offered without SLAs. The big attraction is lower costs, especially for businesses like quick serve restaurants that want to offer free WiFi and have email and Web access for the office. Availability is limited. Cable is pretty much only in-town where the main cable has already been run.
The other way to go is wireless. Many franchise operations use VSAT or Very Small Aperture Terminal satellite antennas. These are a bit larger than the ones used to pick up satellite TV and are set up for two-way data transmission. Recently, 3G and 4G fixed wireless broadband has become a strong competitor for both VSAT and copper wireline solutions. The cost is about half the price of T1 for similar performance, with rural service often available. VSAT can be installed anywhere that you have power and a clear view of the southern sky.
The middle portion of the bandwidth spectrum, say from 10 Mbps to 100 mbps is dominated by bonded T1 lines at the low end, Ethernet over Copper throughout the range, and fiber optic services at the high end. DS3 or T3 lines running at 45 Mbps are the legacy service and are still very popular. In downtown metro areas, you may be able to get high speed fixed wireless in this bandwidth range. Cable is becoming a competitor with 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps services displacing both copper and fiber when symmetrical and dedicated bandwidth aren’t mandatory and you can live without service level agreements.
High bandwidth Internet access over 100 Mbps is now a battle between SONET and Ethernet fiber optic services. SONET is the incumbent, but tends to be higher cost. Ethernet is the newer service, often lower in price but not as generally available. Ethernet is also more granular in its bandwidth and easier scaled up for businesses that are on a fast growth path. Both SONET and Ethernet can give you as much bandwidth as you need and can afford, up to 10 Gbps and higher.
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