The preferred professional-grade business Internet connection has long been the T1 line. Why? It is highly reliable and has a rock solid bandwidth of 1.5 Mbps in both the upload and download directions. This is called symmetrical bandwidth. You’ll see that not all Internet connections are symmetrical. The rock solid nature of the bandwidth is also not guaranteed on some of the other services. T1 is a dedicated bandwidth service. That means that you have 1.5 Mbps set aside for your exclusive use. Once again, not all Internet connections are exclusive. Service reliability is often guaranteed by a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that spells out how fast line problems will be fixed and what the remedies are if the provider fall short of the agreement.
In addition to these attributes, T1 is popular because it is almost universally available. Would you be surprised to learn that T1 technology, also called T-Carrier, was developed over 50 years ago? Using T1 to connect to the Internet is much newer. It was originally developed for telephone trunk lines. For both applications, T1 is provisioned over one or two pair of twisted copper telco wiring. That wiring is available in nearly every business location.
The two drawbacks of T1 is that it is relatively expensive compared to low-end data services and the 1.5 Mbps limitation. A decade or two ago, 1.5 Mbps was a lot of bandwidth for most businesses. Today it still works for smaller concerns but is too little for medium and large companies. You can work around this limitation by bonding multiple T1 lines together to achieve anywhere from 3 to 12 Mbps of total bandwidth.
A similar but newer technology service that is catching on fast is Ethernet over Copper (EoC). It also uses multiple telco pairs to transport the signal, but works a bit differently. T1 bandwidth is always 1.5 Mbps no matter how far the line runs, even into rural areas. EoC offers higher bandwidths near the central office and less farther out. Several miles is the distance limitation of Ethernet over Copper. However, if you are within the service footprint, you can easily get 10, 20, 30 or even 45 Mbps. Sometimes even 100 Mbps on EoC. The other big advantage of EoC is cost. You can get twice the bandwidth for the same price as a T1 line or the same bandwidth for half the cost of bonded T1 lines.
Small retailers, especially chain stores or franchises, have used two way satellite Internet for years. Satellite will work anywhere you have a clear view of the Southern sky, even in the back woods if power is available. Satellite is often less expensive than T1, although the difference is shrinking. It has limited bandwidth available and latency, or time delay, makes it unsuitable for telephone or two-way video. It does work well for point of sale terminals and general Internet access.
Like T1, satellite has a newer competitor. This is 3G fixed wireless. It is a business grade Internet service similar in bandwidth to T1 lines or satellite but using the broadband capability of the cellular phone network. Unlike simple wireless aircards, 3G fixed wireless service uses a special antenna and modem system that makes the system more reliable and usable in most all business locations nationwide and in Canada. The cost is about half that of T1 service. It is perfect for POS terminals and is offered with PCI level security for credit card transactions.
If your application needs more bandwidth, Ethernet over Fiber or SONET fiber optical services will provide all you can use up to 10 Gbps. This level of bandwidth costs more, of course, and isn’t available for all locations. Construction costs to connect a particular building are often the deal breaker.
Two asymmetrical, shared bandwidth services of note are DSL and Cable broadband. These were designed for the consumer market and cost considerably less per Mbps than dedicated telecom services. However, you do get what you pay for and shared bandwidth services achieve their cost savings by creating a “party line” arrangement where you and many other users share the same bandwidth pool. That means your bandwidth will vary up and down all the time. There are also no SLAs because these are “information services” not telecom services. Even so, with Cable business broadband you can get 100 Mbps download & 10 Mbps upload for about the price of a T1 line. If the cable passes your business and cost is paramount, this service might well meet your needs better than any other connection.
Scratching your head as to which way to go? A more business-like approach is to get availability, features, and prices for several business Internet service options suitable for your location and needs. You may be surprised by how much has become available recently and at reduced costs compared to years past.