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In telecommunications, T-carrier, sometimes abbreviated as T-CXR, is the generic designator for any of several digitally multiplexed telecommunications carrier systems originally developed by Bell Labs and used in North America, Japan, and South Korea.

The basic unit of the T-carrier system is the DS0, which has a transmission rate of 64 kbit/s, and is commonly used for one voice circuit.

The E-carrier system, where 'E' stands for European, is incompatible with the T-carrier (though cross compliant cards exist) and is used in most locations outside of North America, Japan, and Korea. It typically uses the E1 line rate and the E3 line rate. The E2 line rate is less commonly used. See the table below for bit rate comparisons.



Existing frequency-division multiplexing carrier systems worked well for connections between distant cities, but required expensive modulators, demodulators and filters for every voice channel. For connections within metropolitan areas, Bell Labs in the late 1950s sought cheaper terminal equipment. Pulse-code modulation allowed sharing a coder and decoder among several voice trunks, so this method was chosen for the T1 system introduced into local use in 1961. In later decades, the cost of digital electronics declined to the point that an individual codec per voice channel became commonplace, but by then the other advantages of digital transmission had become entrenched.

The most common legacy of this system is the line rate speeds. "T1" now means any data circuit that runs at the original 1.544 Mbit/s line rate. Originally the T1 format carried 24 pulse-code modulated, time-division multiplexed speech signals each encoded in 64 kbit/s streams, leaving 8 kbit/s of framing information which facilitates the synchronization and demultiplexing at the receiver. T2 and T3 circuit channels carry multiple T1 channels multiplexed, resulting in transmission rates of 6.312 and 44.736 Mbit/s, respectively.

Supposedly, the 1.544 Mbit/s rate was chosen because tests done by AT&T Long Lines in Chicago were conducted underground. To accommodate loading coils, cable vault manholes were physically 2000 meter (6,600 ft) apart, and so the optimum bit rate was chosen empirically — the capacity was increased until the failure rate was unacceptable, then reduced to leave a margin. Companding allowed acceptable audio performance with only seven bits per PCM sample in this original T1/D1 system. The later D3 and D4 channel banks had an extended frame format, allowing eight bits per sample, reduced to seven every sixth sample or frame when one bit was "robbed" for signaling the state of the channel. The standard does not allow an all zero sample which would produce a long string of binary zeros and cause the repeaters to lose bit sync. However, when carrying data (Switched 56) there could be long strings of zeroes, so one bit per sample is set to "1" (jam bit 7) leaving 7 bits x 8,000 frames per second for data.

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