Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fractional T1

About a year ago Fairpoint was estimating DSL in our area by mid-to-late 2010. But their problems since then have become legendary and newsworthy, to such an extent that there's even been talk about what happens if Fairpoint leaves. So I think we can take for granted that they were never going to meet that ambitious deadline and they're certainly not going to meet it now, if ever.

It's agonizing how few choices that leaves us. The only consumer-targetted one is what we have: WildBlue, but there are several reasons they're awful.
  • The high latency inherent in satellite Internet makes the connection unusable for many things, like voice over IP, Internet gaming, and most VPN. It's painfully slow and nearly unusable for many things, including my office VPN and MUDs.
  • The strict bandwidth quota and the brutal cutoff policy means it's impossible to use for even simple downloads. Heck, just going to YouTube every few days can max us out.
  • It goes out any time it rains. I don't mean rains at our house; I mean, any time it rains, anywhere in the universe.
  • Upload speeds are tiny, in the tens of Kbps, but that's not often important, really.
  • And it's $80/month!
The only alternative is business-class service: that is, frame relay or T1, but the costs for those are pretty prohibitive.

However, a friend found us one vendor who's offering a fractional T1 at a price that makes my organs tense from how ridiculously high it is, but which is still nominally affordable. That is, for $389/month, plus about $1000 in startup costs, we can get a 256Kbps line. That's a quarter of a full T1, and about a quarter to a fifth of our actual throughput speed on Wildblue, and at only five times the price! But it might be worth it.

Having our throughput speed divided by four or five is going to be painful, no doubt. Web pages are going to take forever to load, downloads will be intolerable, and it'll be impossible to stream video. But we won't have a quota, we can just leave things downloading overnight if necessary. It'll be always on. And response time will be nearly instantaneous, which will make it feel faster and also make things like MUDs and online games, that depend on lots of tiny communications instead of long streams, usable.

We don't know yet if it's possible; they have to check out the lines first. And making it fit our budget is not going to be easy. (Sure wish we could afford a higher-speed line. But a line as fast as what we have now on the upload would be $719/month.)


Tyler said...

Have you considered the feasibility of going into some kind of collective use group with neighbors in the same boat?

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

Yes, several years ago I spent a few months working on that and researching it. However, it was a non-starter.

1) None of the five neighbors is within range of a wired connection. There's no line of sight for wireless without building very tall poles on top of our houses, at considerable cost and difficulty.

2) When I talked to them about it, they all had the unrealistic idea I could do it for the cost of DSL or less. In fact, to share a true T1 amongst six houses would cost about $130/month, and most of them wouldn't go above $30. And that's not accounting for the huge startup costs: the setup costs for the T1 plus all the towers and equipment to share house to house.

3) Even if we could get past those concerns, a 256K line shared six ways would be slower than dial-up. By time I bump the line speed up to 1Mbps or so, the cost per person is back up to where it is for a 256K just for us. All we'd really gain is the likelihood that one of the neighbors would blow the whole thing on an unthrottled torrent, and I'd be stuck with a tiny bit left over.