The best approach may well be to embrace the copper as long as you need to. But doesn’t that mean being stuck in low gear as far as bandwidth is concerned? Not at all. When T1 lines were first introduced to business, 1.5 Mbps was considered big time bandwidth. This was in an era where 64 Kbps modems ruled the day for data transfers. Nowadays, of course, that 1.5 Mbps is a service level that still works beautifully for many smaller businesses, but doesn’t begin to address the needs of larger operations. What’s important to note is that 1.5 Mbps is the low end of copper bandwidth services, not the top end.
The trick to getting higher bandwidth levels over copper twisted pair connections is to use more pairs. T1 lines were originally set up to use two pair of ordinary telephone cable that stretches between your facility and the nearest telco central office. That’s the same bundle of wires that brings in business telephone service. One pair is used for transmit, a separate pair is used for receive. Newer modulation schemes have allowed T1 to be provisioned on a single copper pair in many cases.
If you check out that cable bundle in the back room, you’ll find that it contains lots more unused copper wires. These are called dry pairs. They have no connection at either end. They’re just available for some future use. For many businesses, now is the time to press more of those unused pairs into service.
You can order up a second T1 line, but who wants to deal with two separate 1.5 Mbps line services? What you want is called bonded T1. This is an industry standard technique that connects the two T1 lines so that they act as one larger line with twice the bandwidth. For this to work, you’ll need to get all your T1 lines from the same service provider. That provider will install a piece of CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) that connects to 1, 2, 3 or more T1 lines and bonds them together as if they were one. You’ll have a single connection to your network at the higher speed.
What line speeds are practical? The next logical step up is two bonded T1 lines for 3 Mbps. Beyond that, you can bond in 3 lines for 4.5 Mbps, 4 lines for 6 Mbps, 5 lines for 7.5 Mbps, 6 lines for 9 Mbps, 7 lines for 10.5 Mbps, or 8 lines for 12 Mbps. On occasion, you can get even more T1 lines if you have the dry pairs available and your provider has the equipment available to support this at the CO.
The one fly in the ointment for bonded T1 is cost. Two lines are twice the price of 1 line, and so on. There is no economy of scale for T1 lines. Take the cost of a single T1 and multiply it by the number of lines you need to get the bandwidth you want and that is your monthly cost.
Ethernet over Copper offers a more cost effective approach to giving you the same higher bandwidth levels without the construction expense of bringing in fiber. That’s assuming there is fiber anywhere in the area to be had. There’s always copper available and it is already installed. What Ethernet over Copper does is take the same dry pairs that you would otherwise use for T1 and use them to transport a signal that is in the Ethernet protocol. Like T1, the more pairs you press into service, the higher the bandwidth you can achieve.
Here’s how the two services differ. T1 has a fixed bandwidth per line but almost unlimited range. Ethernet over Copper (EoC) is capable of much higher bandwidth per pair, but is very distance limited. You need to be within a few miles of the CO for this to even work. The closer the better. If you can get EoC services, you’ll find that you can have at least twice the bandwidth for the same cost.
Entry level EoC is 2 or 3 Mbps. Many companies are now opting for 10 Mbps Ethernet over Copper, which is very affordable. Need more bandwidth? 20, 30 and even 50 Mbps is not unreasonable over 8 copper pairs. In rare cases, this bandwidth can be pushed to 100 or even 200 Mbps. Those are fiber optic speeds, but running over ordinary copper telco wiring.
Are you crunched for bandwidth but lamenting the high cost or unavailability of fiber optic services for your location? Before you despair, get prices and availability for bonded T1 and Ethernet over Copper bandwidth services. You may be surprised by what is now available in your area.