ISDN, CABLE, DIRECTPC, DSL
WHATS IT ALL ABOUT?
By: J. Wray Rives. Cpa
Remeber the good ol days(last year) when you really
didnt have to worry about how you connected to the Internet. Now people are throwing
out all kinds of acronyms and you are scared that you may not have the latest and best
connection to the web. Well maybe this will help. Heres the quick and dirty list of
connection options to get you up to date with your surfing. (Thats
"serfing" for you real net officinados)
This is probably what you use right now. You have a modem in your PC and a dial-up account with an ISP, Internet Service Provider. Dial-up means just that. You call your ISP through the modem in your computer. Your computer makes a connection with the ISPs computer, which connects you to the Internet. This is the cheap and easy way to do it. Hey the millions of AOL users cant be wrong, can they? If you have a 56K modem, then you are at the limit of speed for this type of connection (what you got right now is as good as its ever going to get - its physics). Well, thats not all together true, you can bundle two modems and roughly double the speed of your connection. All that requires is two phone lines, an ISP account which supports bundled modems, and which usually cost more, and a degree in engineering so that you can install the whole thing. My advice is dont go there, its not worth the effort. Dial-up is the low cost solution, a good winmodem costs less than $50 and most ISPs charge $15 to $30 a month for access. You can even get free access if you are willing to put up with a lot of advertising. Of course, if you have less than a 56K modem, I suggest that you just close your browser and go back to playing solitaire.
Ok, you have probably heard of this one, its supposed to be a lot faster, right. Well yes it is faster, about 128K. Do the math; that is a little more than twice as fast as a 56K modem. (See you are catching on to this) ISDN has been around for a while and a lot of people are pretty comfortable with it. Your first call has to be to the local phone company to see if they provide ISDN service in your area. Guess what, this service costs more than your standard analog phone line. Next your ISP needs to support ISDN. (For you trivia buffs, ISDN stands for Integrated Services Digital Network) ISDN basically uses 3 channels rather than 2 to send your information back and forth. What the third channel really does, for those of you who care, is take care of the overhead in the phone call. Phone lines run from $30 to $100 a month and ISPs charge $50 to $150 for an ISDN connection. Bottom line this option is relatively expensive for the marginal increase in speed, but it is fairly well established. (read that safe)
Ok, now we are getting to the good stuff. You probably know about the 18" pizza size satellite dishes that "everyone" has now. Good news, you can also use a satellite dish to receive data from the Internet at 400K per second. Heres the catch, notice I said, "receive". That little dish is not set up to "send", so you still use your modem to send information and remember the 56K limit we discussed earlier. The equipment runs $200 to $300 and connection charge is $30 to $75 a month. If all you do is download, then this is not a bad choice. You get the added benefit of 300 channels of television, including one channel that does nothing but replay the all time great golf games. (YAWN)
Now we are into the serious players. With speed that theoretically goes to 30M per second, you will be amazed at how fast web pages load. Real life speed is more in the range of 1M to 10M. Your cable modem sends the signals through to a network card in your PC. Most network interface cards are limited to 10M at this time, so anything above that is pretty much wasted anyway. We are completely out of the dial-up mode now. Your PC is always on a live connection. This service uses your existing cable connection to send and receive signals. It is also relatively inexpensive with monthly fees that run $30 to $75. You need a cable modem, which I recommend you get from your cable company, so you know it works with their system. The modem will cost from $100 to $300 and a network interface card (less than $20). Its also one stop shopping, as your cable company should provide everything from installation, support, and the actual connection. The downside to cable is it is not available everywhere, you need to check with your local cable provider. Another potential problem with cable is that you "share" the system capacity with all of your neighbors. You may know what happens at work when you add new users to the network. If cable connections, become very popular in your area, then you will see a definite slowdown in your access speeds. In most areas this is not a problem, yet. I have heard of areas where the service has been available for a while and they have major complaints about capacity slowing the access dramatically. You probably want to ask around to see if anyone in your immediate area has the service, and see what their experience has been.
Digital Subscriber Line or DSL, is the hot new topic for Internet connections. You are back to using the phone lines, but a different bandwidth than your standard phone calls. This means you can use your Internet connection and talk on the phone at the same time. (Neat huh?) DSL much like a cable modem also passes the signal through to a network interface card. Speeds usually run 1 2Mb per second. The advantage over cable is that theoretically you should never have a capacity problem, since you are not sharing the system with the neighbors. The downside is DSL is not widely available. (Primarily because your PC has to be within about 3 miles of what is essentially a central switch which connects you to the internet. The switches costs money so the phone companies want to see if they make a profit by installing them) Right now DSL is more expensive than cable. $100 to $300 for a modem, plus the interface card. Another catch to this is the phone company gets a bigger monthly fee ($30 to $100) just for the DSL line. You still need an ISP and they may charge $50 to $150 a month for the connection. (Hint: The phone companies are pushing the service right now so look for a deal where they throw in the modem for free)