I often hear this term used "We have a T1"... used on SF and other sites. I googled it and it seems like an ancient technology possibly related to frame relay but I'm not sure.

Maybe things have changed and the term means different things now.

What speed is a T1, do users get all 24 channels at 1.5Mbit? How does it relate to Frame Relay? something we used in my company over 15 years ago before ADSL became competitive.

T1 is not something offered in my part of the world, that's why I'm asking really.

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  • @BigHomie Fiber: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_Carrier
    – ceejayoz
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 21:09
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    I think the term "leased line" is more common in your part of the world. The underlying technology is the same though. Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 21:16
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    They are used in APAC, but they are different; typically they are an E1 and from what I saw they were mostly used for companies that wanted a lot of analogue phone lines, not data. Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 21:18
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    I remember when I was on a 56k modem and T1 lines were the holy grail of what was potential to get hooked up in your home.
    – Joseph
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 14:31

5 Answers 5


It's still a thing, yes. In fact, some places, like where I work, even still use some fractional T1's (which would be a T1 with a bandwidth cap on it).

In terms of data, a T1 is a [specific type of] 1.5 Mbit connection. Nothing more, nothing less, at least as it relates to modern networking. Since your question relates to "modern" networking, I should point out that if you see T1s today, you will most often see a "bundle" of T1's, which are multiple T1 lines aggregated together to increase capacity, and you get 1.5 Mbits of bandwidth for every T1 in the bundle. To your question about end users, in terms of data, you can hook your T1 up to a switch (as we do at our locations with T1's), and theoretically have as many endpoints as you want sharing the connection... but they all have to share the 1.5 Mbits of bandwidth (per T1 in the bundle).

In terms of voice, if you use a T1 (or bundle of T1's), you get the same data rate, but more importantly, the ability to digitize 24 channels of voice communications simultaneously... so a T1 for voice (which is the same technology as for data), means that you have the ability to have 24 simultaneous land-line phone calls in and/or out of the PBX it's connected to.

As to why they're still used... well, faxes are still used, and they're even older, and technically speaking, easily replaced by far superior technologies. Infrastructure has a lot of inertia, especially given the high cost of replacing it with something better. And that's to say nothing of other sources of inertia, like the fact that my bosses still actually believe that T1's are more reliable than fiber or whatever else, or prior business relationships only add to the weight behind sticking with the status quo. The fact that you can "bundle" multiple T1's together allows you to get... tolerable... data rates out of just T1's, and if you've got an ISP that is offering deep discounts on their T1 lines to squeeze some extra money out of their old infrastructure, then you can even run into situations where you can make a compelling business case for going with T1's over a newer technology.

In our specific case, we also have remote sites that are in rural areas, where the best available connections are the T1 lines that were run many years ago, so there's just no other options for a few of our sites.

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    Yup, not ancient, just not competitive to almost anything else available today.
    – mfinni
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 21:19
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    I still have a T1 to my home in Murphys, California. It's out of DSL range, so that leaves as the only other options, satellite or dial up. (Comcast says it would cost about $5,000 to run a line to me because local regulations require it to be buried and there's a highway in the way.) Satellite has lousy upload speed and atrocious latency. A t1 is way better than dial up. Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 22:39
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    @HopelessN00b about a dozen years ago an acquaintance of mine had a t1 for his home internet. He worked for a small ISP/Hosting company and somehow convinced his boss to let him use their spare/backup t1 as his home connection. I'm not sure, but I think the hardware was still in the office and he was using a spare point to point wireless link of some sort to get the signal to where he lived. Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 1:48
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    And sometimes, the fact that faxes are still used causes T1's to still be used. Try running reliable (>99.99%) faxing over anything but a TDM line...
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 21:19
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    The other microcosm which seems to love T1 is radio. Many radio stations (AM/FM broadcast) will use one or more T1 lines with purpose built codecs to send audio and control data from the studio to the transmitter. Public safety radio / trunked radio will use fractional T1 lines to send audio from cell sites back to the network, and use a couple channels for control.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 21:21

A T1 is an old telecom technology that provides 1.5M of bandwidth between two sites. A T1 can be used for many purposes: phone calls, point-to-point data, internet connections, ISDN, etc. Today they are generally used for providing 1.5M/sec of bandwidth between you and your ISP, or for providing a connection to your company's phone system (in which case it provides the ability to make 24 phone calls at a time).

The actual details of a T1 are very complex. It was designed in the 1970s, when any kind of communication hardware was very expensive and difficult to design. Consider this: The moon landings had just happened with about as much technology as what goes into a desk calculator today. The phone company didn't have access to technology that was any more advanced. The T1 achieved 1.5M/sec and that was considered amazing for its day. In reality, it was really 24 individual 64Kb channels. They only had to build hardware that worked at 64Kb, yet they got 1.5M/sec (I'm exaggerating... it was quite a feat).

The bandwidth is actually provided as 24 individual channels, plus a control channel. When the T1 was invented it was used for phone calls only. The control channel was used to communicate to a PBX (phone system) to indicate phone calls incoming/outgoing and what channel they arrive on.

When using a T1 for data, the 24-individual channels are "bonded" to act like one, but deep down it is still 24 individual channels sending data. You can split the T1... use some channels for data and some for phone calls. In fact, I think Cisco PBXs let you assign certain channels for use as phone calls, but will use them for data when there is no phone call active.

T1 is rather inefficient compared to modern technologies. However in the 1990s the phone company controlled "the last mile" to an office. They wouldn't run anything other than a standard phone line or a T1. It was kind of a "hack" to get around the phone companies for ISPs to get really good at sending internet data over a T1, which really wasn't designed for data. However since the phone companies wouldn't run fiber, that was the only choice.

  • In many places, the LEC still controls the last mile. Honestly, I'm intrigued by what you've experienced where you don't have to deal with a LEC in some manner.
    – Adrien
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 22:00
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    @Adrien I think it's more a matter of LECs being willing to deploy last-mile connections other than T1's these days, where as historically, it was either a T1 or a copper line for a single phone line. Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 12:23
  • @HopelessN00b Yes, now LECs will deploy much faster connections. Plus in some areas they have competition from cable companies (which are a whole 'nother mess)
    – TomOnTime
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 12:33
  • @HopelessN00b: Got it ... I guess I "heard" a different inflection on "[the LEC] controlled 'the last mile'"; maybe fantasized about firing the LEC completely. :) In this case, yeah, I generally agree. While I'm not in a rural area, we're far from a metro area, and the best I can get is multiple PRIs.
    – Adrien
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 19:58

A few addendums:

T1 has the same bandwidth up the pipe as down.

Cable and DSL services, by contrast usually have MUCH faster download rates than upload rates. Today, T1 will outpace older/cheaper cable services for serving files, to say nothing of home DSL. But with T1's fixed speed, it will continue to look worse as time goes by. In a few years we may hear startups bragging about their dedicated T3's/OC1s instead.

The T1 has a place of note in Internet history.

The first sites on the Internet were connected with dedicated T1s. As the Internet grew beyond being the closed, military "ARPANET", becoming the Internet we know today, with colleges and companies tying in, the T1 was the de facto standard to connect an institution with.

A sense of historical scale.

Around 1990, ftp.wustl.edu was the biggest site on the Internet, getting 1/3 of all traffic, worldwide, by some estimates. If you had a file to share with the world, you got it archived at ftp.wustl.edu. Wustl.edu was connected to the Internet with a pair of T3s: That is, 60 T1s. In other words, about 25 years back, the entire Internet could have been piped through 180 T1s. The entirety of Internet traffic in 1990 added up to about 4,320 simultaneous phone calls.


It means you have a site with the internet connection (or point-to-point) carried over a 1.544 Mbit link. Unless you're using a multiplexer that does something very silly and weird (handing each DS0 to a different station), it probably just means that the router has a 1.5 Mbit connection to the internet, so yes, the full bandwidth should be available to any endpoint in the office.


Lots of correct answers here. Some functional info about T1s that I feel was missing: -T1s are symmetrical meaning they offer the same bandwidth in both directions 1.5Mb up & 1.5 Mb down. The speed of a T1 is guaranteed also - speeds for DSL/ADSL/COAX/Dial-up and other consumer grade services are almost always advertised as "up to x speed." Until about 10 years ago this was the only affordable technology capable of this which made it important for bandwidth intensive companies and a facilitator of the internet as we all know it today. Multiple T1 lines can be bonded to supply a multiple of 1.5Mb. T1s are still fairly common in the USA, but in the past 5 years are being outsold by higher bandwidth symmetrical internet connections that offer an SLA on the speed and up time.

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    Not to mention I've not seen any DSL/Cable service have as many 9s of uptime as a T1.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 17:14

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