Tech Talker explains all of the different ways you can connect to the internet, and how best to balance service and cost so that you can get exactly what you need for the lowest possible price.
There are many way to access the internet, some are faster than others, and some can cost a lot more. Deciding how you connect to the internet can be complicated and time consuming—not to mention figuring out how to balance cost and performance requires a little bit of technical knowledge.
This week I’ll be covering all of the different ways you can connect to the internet, and how best to balance service and cost so that you can get exactly what you need for the lowest possible price.
Types of Internet Service
One of the earliest ways to access the internet was by using existing telephone lines. This was called dial-up and its famous speed was 56 kbps. This is incredibly slow for today’s standards but in the early days of the internet this was one of the only options to connect to the internet. Just to put that speed in perspective, listening to Spotify typically requires 192 kbps! That means you would need 4 dial-up connections just to stream audio. You can forget watching Netflix!
The downsides to this type of internet connection are that it is incredibly slow and will tie up a phone line. You may be thinking, "OK, then why even mention this type of old technology?" Believe it or not there are some places in the United States where dial-up is the only option due to location or lack of other services.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)
The next step up from Dial-up is DSL. DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line, and it uses a phone line just like dial-up. A difference though is that it doesn’t tie up a phone line like dial-up does. This type of service is often very affordable, and may be the only option in many areas.
DSL is faster than dial-up offering up to 10 mbps download and 1mbps upload. This speed would allow one normal stream of Netflix or YouTube, but not much else. This is doable for a small household, or for a family that doesn’t use the internet much. DSL service will degrade depending on how far away you are from your service provider. The farther away you are the slower your speeds will be.
This isn’t something you can find out on your own. However a quick call to your local DSL providers should be able to provide you with some rough speed estimates. If possible, you should also consult your neighbors to see what speeds they get with DSL or if they use some other type of service.
Broadband / Cable
Next is probably one of the most common ways that internet users connect and that is Broadband or Cable internet. As the name suggests, the internet service comes into your house via coaxial cable, the very same cable that brings you cable TV.
Cable internet comes in to your residence and then plugs into a modem. This modem converts cable into a useable internet signal. Many companies will provide you with a modem/router combo. This type of internet can be extremely fast depending on who your provider is and the service that they have in your area.
For example in my neighborhood AT&T and Comcast both have service available. AT&T has a maximum download speed of 5mbps. Which is about enough to watch one YouTube video at a time. Comcast on the other hand has up to 200 mbps download available! The discrepancy has nothing to do with which company is better, rather what they have available in my area. Five minutes away from me, AT&T is king, and Comcast is the slow one.
In this arena it pays to shop around. If you check out internetprovidersbyzip.com, you can see what internet packages are available in your zip code. This list is pretty comprehensive, but to be sure I would call the companies near you to see what their current offerings are.
The newest type of internet service coming out is fiber optic cable. This type of internet is extremely fast and can provide internet speeds in excess of 1 gbps. That’s easily five times faster than the fastest cable internet that I’ve seen. Fiber optic cable is different than cable internet in the way that data is transmitted. In the cable internet that I just mentioned, the electrical signals are carried across a copper wire.
Fiber optic cable is made up of flexible glass that transmits flashes of light instead of electrical signals. There’s a lot of complex science behind why this is better and faster that I won’t go into today, but fiber optic internet is by far the fastest available to consumers. However, it’s not available to everyone, and even if it is available it is generally more expensive than traditional internet options.
Satellite / Wireless
The very last type of internet that I have to mention is satellite internet or wireless internet. This type of internet is generally the last resort for remote internet users who aren’t close to any of the other options that I have mentioned. This type of internet uses radio waves to deliver internet to a receiver that converts those radio waves into useable internet. The downside about this type of internet are that it is extremely slow.
How Do I Choose?
So what should you be looking for in an internet service provider? I would recommend finding a provider that has the best pricing in your area for the speed. I am not a fan of any one internet service provider, considering I’ve had awful customer service from all of them.
As a minimum I would suggest not going below a 20 mbps download speed. This will allow you to stream video, and perform other internet activities without a lot of interruption. It will also leave some room for multiple family members to use the internet at the same time.
Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.
Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!