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What types of Internet connections are available?

When it comes to connecting to the Internet, there is no shortage of choices of ways to get there. Of course, while selection is great, it can be confusing sorting it all out. Here's a breakdown of what choices are out there. Note that some of these services may not be available in your area.


Download Speed: 14.4kbps - 53kbps
Upload Speed: 28.8kbps
Pros: Widely available, inexpensive (or free), equipment already in home/computer
Cons: Slow, frequent connection problems, ties up phone line

Fast broadband connections get all the hype, but dial-up gets the customers. Dial-up access is available virtually everywhere, costs very little (or nothing at all) and it uses equipment and wiring you probably already have. Broadband connections, on the other hand, are either unavailable or simply not affordable for a large number of users. So, why wouldn't everyone want to use dial-up? The biggest problem is speed. Dial-up creeps along while most other connections blast through sites like a hurricane. Dial-up also suffers from frequent (and highly unpredictable) disconnects and connection failures. In addition, unless you lay out more money for a second line, your phone becomes a paperweight while you're surfing. Despite these drawbacks, it's still the number one way to get online. Don't let the hype fool you - broadband access is still in a very small number of homes compared to dial-up. Price and ease of use are the two biggest factors consumers take into account when purchasing Internet service. Dial-up costs half of what other services cost which makes it very attractive from a financial standpoint. ISPs like America Online make it easy for beginners to access the Internet.


Download Speed: 56kbps, 128kbps or 256kbps
Upload Speed: 56kbps, 128kbps or 256kbps
Pros: Faster than dial-up, guaranteed speed, same upload and download speeds
Cons: No unlimited access - expensive, slower than other broadband service, outdated technology

ISDN was created in the early days of dial-up when connections were even slower than they are today. ISDN connections are essentially direct phone line connections to the phone company to provide consistent speed. The standard speed is 56K, but lines can be combined to form faster connections. This was an advantage for those that couldn't afford a T1 or faster connection, but wanted something with more muscle than dial-up. The major advantage of ISDN is the speed almost never changes. 56K ISDN is always 56K ISDN (or within a few Kilobits). The biggest disadvantage of ISDN is cost. In addition to monthly fees, there are usage charges, as well. This was not as important when dial-up service also had usage charges, but with most other home services offering unlimited access, ISDN is no longer viable. Cable and DSL services (described below) offer greater maximum speed and usually a lower total cost. Most ISDN is used for radio remote broadcasts rather than individual users.

Direct Subscriber Line (DSL):

Download Speed: Several flavors up to 1.5Mbps, 3Mbps or more, depending on service
Upload Speed: up to 512kbps, depending on service
Pros: Fast speed, more consistent than cable modems, leaves phone line free to make calls, can be faster than cable during peak usage times
Cons: Costs 2-3 times as much as dial-up, usually slightly slower than cable during non-peak times, often requires user to purchase equipment

DSL (or Digital Subscriber Line) is the latest offering from the phone company, as well as some other independent providers. DSL comes in two flavors: ADSL and SDSL. ADSL (or Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) is the most common type of DSL service. This usually has a fast download speed, with a much slower upload speed. This is okay because most of the information is received by the user rather than sent. Most of the uploaded information is limited to requests for a web page or sending an e-mail message. These communications generally don't require as much bandwidth as downloading web pages, photos or multimedia files. Of course, the upload speed is still 3 or 4 times faster than dial-up. SDSL has an upload speed that is closer to its download speed. Unfortunately, the faster the upload speed, the slower the download speed. DSL uses your existing phone lines to provide an Internet connection. Unlike dial-up, though, the connection is "always on." There is no dialing a phone number or waiting to log on. Just open your WEB BROWSER and you're on the 'net (some providers do require you to enter a user name and password). DSL doesn't tie up your phone line, either. Voice and data information can travel through the same line without interfering with each other so you can surf and talk at the same time. One problem with DSL is its limited service area. If you don't live within a few miles of your local provider, you probably can't get service. This is improving, though, as providers add repeaters to increase range.

Cable Modems:

Download Speed: Up to 3Mbps, depending on service
Upload Speed: 128kbps
Pros: Fast speed, usually no equipment purchase, leaves phone line free for making calls
Cons: Costs 2-3 times as much as dial-up, speeds can decrease during peak usage times

Cable modems, for most people, are an alternative to DSL. Some people don't live in an area supported by DSL and others don't want to purchase equipment. Cable modems are available anywhere cable TV is offered and the modem rental is usually included in the monthly service fee. Cable modem service can have a higher maximum speed than DSL, but the speed is not as consistent. As more users log on, speeds do decrease. However, during non-peak times, upload speeds on an uncapped line (some services are limited to 1.5 Mb/sec.) can surpass T-1 connections. Upload speed is the same as ADSL. Like DSL, cable modems allow users to use the phone while using the Internet.

Digital Fiber Connections:

Download Speed: 15Mbps or more
Upload Speed: 15Mbps or more
Pros: Fast speed - both ways, can also provide television service
Cons: Limited availability, requires land line phone service

Digital fiber connections are the latest emerging technology from your friendly telco. This service involves running fiber to the switchbox outside your home, or even right into your home. The speeds are blazing fast and the same connection can even provide your TV service. This is your phone company's new answer to the cable modem. Unfortunately, availability is limited for now. Verizon and SBC are two big players, so if they provide your phone service, it could come your way.


Download Speed: 1.5Mbps
Upload Speed: 1.5Mbps
Pros: Fast speed - both ways
Cons: Very expensive

Want fast speed all the time without the performance drops during peak times? Want to host your own web site with enough bandwidth to support many users? T-1 has all this and more. Unfortunately, the cost is such that it is reserved for large businesses and universities with many online users. Maybe if you get that raise you've been asking for...


Download Speed: 500-900kbps
Upload Speed: 53-128kbps
Pros: Fast speed, available in remote areas, broadband service for those who can't receive other services
Cons: Costs more than cable or DSL, expensive equipment, connection latency, requires line of sight to satellite, slower than most other broadband solutions

Does your cable company not offer broadband service? Do you live too far away from the phone company to get DSL? Maybe satellite Internet is for you.There are two flavors of satellite Internet: one-way and two-way. One-way service requires the use of a dial-up modem for uploads, while downloads are received though the dish.Two-way service allows both downloads and uploads to occur through the dish. This service is usually more expensive than one-way service, but does not tie up your phone line while you're online. One big down side of satellite Internet is connection latency. Because the data has to travel up into space and back down again, there is a second or more delay in data transmission. While this isn't a problem for most Internet usage, online gaming becomes nearly impossible.

Fixed Wireless:

Download Speed: 128-1000K
Upload Speed: 128K
Pros: Fast speed, longer range than DSL, available in some remote areas
Cons: Not available everywhere, requires line of sight to tower

One of the latest additions to the broadband lineup includes Fixed Wireless Internet Service. This service operates on radio signals similar to your cellular phone. It transmits to and from a small antenna placed outside your house. This antenna can look like a small dish or box and is small enough to be hidden in an inconspicuous location. The range of service can be anywhere from 1 to 30 miles, depending on the frequency range the ISP uses. The service is not available everywhere, but is expanding rapidly due to the lowis expanding rapidly due to the lower cost adding access points.

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