Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Basics On T1 Line Solutions For Small Business

T1 Lines have been the primary source of mission critical bandwidth for companies of all sizes for nearly 20 years. With so much history, a basic understanding of the T1 line should be common knowledge among business owners who are looking for reliable bandwidth for Internet access, data communications, or multiple telephone lines. However, it was not until the late 1990s that the market for T1 lines became very competitive and prices began falling to more reasonable levels, causing the demand to rise sharply among small and medium sized businesses. Even today most small business owners and managers still do not know how a standard T1 line works or what it is capable of providing.

Each section of below includes a description a T1 line solution and an example of what problems you could solve for your business with the solution described. There are 7 basic types of T1's explained, which include Full T1, Fractional, Voice (standard), PRI, Integrated Voice and Data, Voice Over IP(hosted), and Point-to-Point T1's.

Full T1 Line:

"Full T1 Line" is a term typically used to describe a circuit that provides 1.5 megabits per second of high speed Internet access, which is the most common type of T1. A Full T1 can also be used to carry telephone lines and/or VoIP calls, both of which are covered within the "Voice”, “PRI" and Voice Over IP sections here. Nearly all office-based and modern retail businesses require some type of Internet access in order to perform their daily operations, and many have mission critical Internet needs that allow them to continue business operations at all. There are many choices to fulfill this need for Internet access, including Dial-up connections, ISDN, DSL, Cable, Wireless applications, a T1 Line, or something larger like a DS3 or OC-3 (far less common due to high cost). A T1 Line consists of 24 channels that transmit data at 64Kbps each, therefore giving a Full T1 Line the capacity to transmit 1.54Mbps of data synchronously (upstream and downstream). Using today's standard email applications and common Internet searching, this amount of bandwidth could support anywhere from 1 to approximately 75 users depending on their needs, preferences, and the company's budget. Most commonly Full T1 Lines are used in offices with 5 to 50 employees. A T1 circuit provides the most reliable bandwidth available when leased from a high quality T1 Provider, which is why businesses are willing to pay more for a T1 than for other services like DSL or Cable. In some applications, a T1 can save money for a company who uses a less reliable bandwidth connection. Since multiple services can be combined on a single T1, cost efficient solutions are often available if you know what service to ask for (see "Integrated T1" below) and which providers offer those services in your area.

Internet T1 pricing starts at approximately $100 per month, but can cost more than $1000 per month if the location of the installation requires a long loop to connect to the network of your local phone company to the network of the T1 provider. This is usually only the case in very small towns or rural areas where facilities are less dense. Most metropolitan areas have many choices of T1 providers, at least one of which will usually be closer and cheaper than the rest. Pricing will fluctuate dramatically depending on the Provider and the location of your business, which is why it is sometimes safer and easier to use an experienced Telecom Consultant to guide you in finding the best solution. For example some companies that do not require much bandwidth or have a small budget might need to opt for a Fractional T1 Line.

Fractional T1 Line:

A Fractional T1 line typically describes an Internet circuit that uses a "piece" or a "fraction" of a Full T1. Fractional T1's are also used for telephone lines or even integrated T1’s, but less often then for Internet access. A Fractional T1 can be sold in nearly any fraction of a 24 channel, 1.54Mbps circuit. For example, out of the 24 channels in a Full T1 line, 12 channels might be used in a Fractional T1 to provide a 768k connection, which is half of 1.54Mbps. Other Fractional sizes include 1.1Mbps, 512k, 384k, 256, 128k, and even 64k, although the smaller sizes are very uncommon. As T1 Providers have become more competitive, prices on Full T1s have come down so much that Fractional T1s have become less cost effective. For example, a Fractional T1 of 768k carries only half of the bandwidth of a Full T1, but usually saves only 5% to 15% of the price of a Full T1. This doesn't make much sense in applications where only 1 or 2 T1 lines are needed, unless the budget is extremely tight. However, this can add up to significant savings when using hundreds of T1's across a large company's multi-location VPN or frame relay network.

Voice T1:

Voice and PRI T1 lines are extremely common among businesses and call centers with multiple telephone lines and large call volumes. They are far less expensive and more efficient than installing dozens of POTS (plain old telephone service) lines. Each of the 24 channels on a T1 line is versatile, allowing it to be used for either bandwidth or for a single telephone line. So, a pure Voice T1 line will have 24 telephone lines with reliable service, good reception, good long distance rates (depending on the carrier), and a wide selection of calling features. Voice T1 lines use digital or analog transmission, so it is an excellent choice in situations where a company's equipment does not allow for the use of a PRI line, which is always digital.

PRI T1:

A PRI (Primary Rate Interface) line is somewhat different and more popular than a standard Voice T1 because it is true "digital trunking", which allows for even more advanced calling features. A PRI line provides 23 telephone lines per T1, because the 24th channel is used to carry useful data for signaling and other features like special caller ID information called ANI (Automatic Number Identification). Since the transmission is digital, the quality of a telephone connection over a PRI line is unsurpassed, providing crystal clear reception that is noticeable to the user. The use of DID (Direct Inward Dial) numbers, and calling features like hunting and rolling, allow you to use 23 digital telephone lines to provide service to potentially 30 to 40 employees, depending on how often they will need to use their phone. Instead of guessing on the number of DID's to put on a PRI line, it's important to figure out the maximum number of simultaneous calls that could be placed at any given time. Having too few telephone lines causes costs more in a loss of productivity than it would cost to simply add more phone lines to keep your employees busy. This is why it is important to figure out the proper balance of telephone lines vs. DID numbers. The cost of a PRI is also typically lower than other forms of telephone service (except Voice Over IP in some applications), with actual pricing depending on the Provider of the service and your business location. Between the features, price, and quality of a PRI, it is the primary choice for businesses large enough to take advantage of it's multiline functionality and benefits.

Integrated T1 Line:

An Integrated T1 Line is one of the most popular T1 solutions for small businesses because it provides local telephone service, long distance, and bandwidth all on a single connection and a single bill. The consolidation of these services with one company is more convenient and more cost effective than purchasing them from separate providers. Just as a Fractional T1 line only turns on a portion of a T1 Line for Internet access, special equipment allows some of the T1 channels to be allocated for telephone lines, while others are used for data transmission and Internet access. For example, a Full Integrated T1 line could be divided in half using special equipment, providing 12 high quality telephone lines and using the other 12 channels for 768k of bandwidth. Fractional Integrated T1 lines are also available, but most companies have minimum levels such as 4 phone lines and 512k of Internet access, which only uses 12 channels combined. Many offers even include "blocks" of free long distance, usually based on the number of telephone lines being installed. A typical offer might include 6 phone lines(6 channels), 512k (8 channels), and 600 minutes of free LD each month (100 per telephone line). This entire circuit could have a total cost as low as $400 to $500 per month, which is a tremendous "all inclusive" bargain for small businesses. This is a perfect total solution for literally thousands, if not millions, of small companies across the nation. One thing to keep in mind is that not all providers can offer Integrated T1 Lines, so the ones that do typically focus a great deal of their sales efforts on this service.

Voice Over IP (VoIP):

Voice Over IP is considered to be the “next big thing” in the telecommunications industry. It has already begun the powerful growth that has been expected for many years by experts and early adopters. Although VoIP services can and will be used across all types of high bandwidth connections, the business class services are primarily being offered on T1 lines. This is extremely important in the world of bandwidth and telecommunications, because it again validates the T1 line as the most cost efficient delivery method of the most reliable bandwidth. In other words, a company cannot afford to trust a volatile Internet connection like DSL or Cable to carry VOIP because they risk losing 100% of their communication capabilities.

Voice over IP is revolutionizing telecommunications because it is cheaper for the user and the infrastructure requirements are better for the providers. Rather than requiring a telephone line and all of the switching on the back end to complete a call, VoIP uses equipment to break down a telephone call into packets of data, then sends those packets across the internet to be decoded where the receiver answers the call. This dramatically reduces the bandwidth that is necessary to complete a call because it eliminates “dead” times when no one is speaking into the receiver. Since the calls also bypass the normal telephone switching network, they also escape FCC charges (for now). Every major Provider and most small providers are starting to offer residential and business class VoIP services. If you're in the market for a business VoIP solution try the free consulting services of Business-VoIP-Solution.com.

Point to Point T1:

Point to point T1 lines do not provide T1 Internet access or telephone lines, but act as a “transport” for either or both. A point to point T1, often referred to as a "P2P", provides a very secure and reliable connection, usually from a corporate office to any number of satellite offices. Although a P2P does not actually "provide" Internet access or phone lines, corporations use P2P T1s to share these services. For example, a company’s home office in Los Angeles might have hundreds of telephone lines and huge Internet access pipes installed at one location to get the best available rates. This company can use a P2P T1 to transmit any combination of telephone lines, Internet access, and data between offices to share software systems, and provide in-office dialing from locations across the country! The variables are endless because there are no restrictions on how a point to point T1 can be used, assuming you have the right equipment and a source at one end of the P2P. This can be a great way to save money, because a satellite or branch office might have to pay huge prices to have telephone and bandwidth services installed directly, whereas the home office can get better rates because of bulk buying and location. Although it can sometimes be used to save money, a P2P network is usually not very cost efficient compared to other options. Frame Relay and VPN (Virtual Private Network) are other options to consider depending on a company's needs and business applications. The primary advantage of a P2P line is that it is truly private, making it top choice for those demanding a circuit with a dedicated connection to only their business, therefore offering the highest security available.

There is no question that the same type of T1 Line that was being used back in 1984 by the US Government and world leading technology companies like IBM is still the best source of reliable bandwidth for all sizes of companies today. Despite the competition of newer technologies, price reductions on T1’s plus the fact that these circuits are so trustworthy have allowed the number of T1 Lines being used in the United States to continue to grow at a rate of 15% per year, even in recent years. Since there are so many uses for the T1 Line, including the explosion of new technologies like VoIP, these circuits are poised to remain a key ingredient to the success of businesses who rely on Internet, Telecommunications, and Data Connectivity for years to come.

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