Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Proof a T-1 line is insufficient

The Oklahoma Heritage Association and Gaylord-Pickens Museum, where I now work as the director of technology and education outreach, is still on a single T-1 line for Internet connectivity. We have solicited bids to bring fiber optic cable to our building and increase our total bandwidth to the commodity Internet to at least 5 MB. A T-1 line provides just 1.5 MB of bandwidth. Although I am using the abbreviation MB for bandwidth, to be more precise I actually should use the abbreviation Mbps, for “megabits per second.” As we’ve added more staff and Internet utilization has increased, we’ve come to the point where a T-1 line is no longer sufficient for our needs. The increased utilization of multimedia on the web has certainly also played a role in this evolution. Here is some graphical proof of our need for additional bandwidth.

This first graph from the free Internet Frog Speed Test website shows download and upload (downstream and upstream) Internet speeds for our network this morning from the vantage point of my Macbook Pro laptop‘s WiFi connection. A download speed of 208 kbps and an upload speed of 21 kbps is laughably slow for today’s Internet website demands. The T-1 line’s full theoretical downstream and upstream capacity (symmetrical capacity because they should be equal) is 1.544 Mbit/s, or 1544 kbps. Doing some simple division, we can see that the downstream bandwidth available to me on my laptop this morning (208 divided by 1544) is just 13% of the T-1 line’s total capacity, and my upstream bandwidth available (21 divided by 1544) is just 1.3% of total capacity. Clearly we need more bandwidth! I can FEEL it when I’m online.

OHA bandwidth on a single T-1 line

Since my experiences “getting burned” not having a provided Internet connection during my spotlight session at the OTA conference in February 2008 in our downtown Cox Convention Center, I’ve paid (out of my own family’s budget) for an AT&T 3G wireless data card to connect my laptop to the Internet. This has permitted me to access my curriculum materials for school workshops in districts which block all wiki sites, and also permitted me to access the Internet in locations where public access was not available or not working. It also provided the opportunity to do some live webcasts from the Smithsonian air and space museums in Washington D.C. this past March.

Increasingly in late morning and the afternoons at work now, I am finding it much more efficient to use my 3G data card to access the web rather than using our organizational, shared T-1 line. This second bandwidth graph shows that my 3G connection is providing me today (at our museum) with a full 1.5 MB of bandwidth downstream and just over 700 kbps of upstream bandwidth. This makes a HUGE difference when “working the web.”

3G bandwidth in OKC

I’m hopeful that by January of 2009 we’ll be able to bring a fiber optic connection to our building and increase our shared bandwidth to at least 5 MB. Our network management company has installed some bandwidth monitoring software in the past two months and I have not been able to see the statistics it’s collected yet, but based on my own informal surveys (like the one I’ve described in this post) it’s clear we’ve reached the capacity of our current Internet pipe. It is very interesting to be on “the other side” of negotiations over organizational bandwidth pricing now that I’ve joined the OHA, and I still find it hard to believe consumers are able to pay so little (comparatively speaking) for bandwidth in residential homes compared to organizations who have to fork out thousands of dollars per month for much LESS bandwidth. The uptime guarantees for business Internet connections are certainly different than they are for residential connections, but the bandwidth and pricing differences are so big that I suspect they are not justified. The same market forces which have reduced prices for residential high speed Internet access have not been nearly as powerful in lowering average organizational/business bandwidth prices in many areas, certainly not in the Oklahoma City area where I live and work most of the time. I’ve screensnapped (mostly with Skitch) over 70 bandwidth graphs from different locations over the past few years, and these are all available on my Flickr site when you search for the tag “bandwidth.”

Once we have a fiber optic connection to the Internet at our building, we’ll be able to incrementally increase our bandwidth all the way up to 100 MB if we want to, just with a phone call to our provider/ISP. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when our shared, organizational bandwidth will exceed the personal bandwidth I’m able to access with my Sierra Wireless Internet data card on my laptop. Until then, however, I’m quite thankful that I have another option for accessing the web faster from my laptop. I just wish the monthly price for this service was less!

AT&T Sierra Wireless USB Laptop Connection Card on my MacBook

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4 responses to “Proof a T-1 line is insufficient”

  1. John Pederson Avatar

    🙂 Understanding this and being able to explain it to educators is a huge portion of my new role. What seems like a pretty straight forward thing is a fascinatingly complex mixture of education, technology, politics, business, and economics.

    You nail it pretty well here in your post. Not long ago we all used to use our “work” networks to get stuff done. It’s flipped pretty quickly. I hear many stories like yours where teachers wait until they are on their “home” network in order to a) get the speed they need and b) get past the filters to the resources they need. It’s amazing.

  2. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Yes, and that was even true when I was working for a fortune 9 telecommunications firm. We didn’t have IP videoconferencing at our home office, so I would go home with my portable Polycom and Tandberg videoconferencing units to do H.323 videoconferences to schools for presentations and workshops. All of this has moved pretty quickly and many businesses as well as schools are still scrambling to keep up. My perception is that less than half of the districts in Oklahoma are still on single T-1 lines, most districts have at least stepped up to a 3 MB pipe. When you compare an entire district sharing just a fraction of what a home user on the fastest cable modem plan can enjoy for bandwidth, it really seems weird. I don’t know if we’ll see this situation change in the short term from the standpoint of speeds and costs equalizing between business and residential bandwidth costs. I do think the availability of wireless data cards is a big change– prior to a recent podcast interview Carol Ann McGuire talked about how she uses her cell data card to videoconference and IM at school for the Rock Our World project. High speed cell networks are still limited to urban areas, however, and those monthly costs are still prohibitively high for many.

    I remember going down in 1996 to our “Advanced Technology Center” in Lubbock, Texas, to use their network connections and my Zip100 portable disk drive to download video clips from NASA that I could use with my 4th graders. At that time I was the only teacher in our elementary school with a phone line and modem connection to the Internet. (An amazing 33 baud modem as I recall!) That was before we got a T-1 line at school, but of course we didn’t have a full T-1 of commodity Internet connectivity for our school, we shared the bandwidth with the rest of the district. It is really weird now to have faster connectivity at home than at school or work.

  3. […] this means we should be “ready to roll” with videoconferencing here at the OHA. Once we bring fiber to our building and network in the coming months and increase our available bandwidth to 5 MB our connectivity will be even […]

  4. […] Proof a T-1 line is insufficient » Moving at the Speed of Creativity (tags: bandwidth) […]