The distinctive chatter of a dial-up modem is rapidly becoming a sound of the past as broadband sweeps the globe. It's no mystery why when you consider the enormous benefits:
Broadband operates hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of times faster than a dial-up connection, enabling the speedy transfer of large amounts of data. Downloading a typical song takes a few seconds versus perhaps ten minutes with dial-up; e-mailing digital photos is almost instantaneous.
There are lots of money saving broadband deals to be found. For example, if you are still paying for a home telephone, switching to a Voice Over IP (VoIP) phone can save you enough to offset the additional cost associated with broadband access, particularly if you make a lot of long-distance or international calls.
With broadband you have instant Internet access, 24/7, so you don't have to connect each time you want to go online–you're always connected. This makes it easy to access information when you need it, check your e-mail, and even make phone calls over the Internet. Multiple computers can share a broadband connection, a great feature if family members want to be online at the same time.
Once you have high-speed Internet access, a new world of possibilities opens to you, such as telecommuting, videoconferencing, and Internet telephony. You can also listen to online radio, watch video-on-demand, even subscribe to live TV without paying for a cable subscription. Dial-up connections simply can’t support these type of data-intensive services.
Built for Speed
While all broadband services make dial-up seem glacial by comparison, not all deliver the same speed. Most broadband services are asymmetric, a fancy term that means that the download speed is faster than the upload speed. But since you will be downloading much more data, such as web pages, music and video, than you will be sending, your download speed is most critical. Depending on the type of service–cable, DSL, fiber optics, satellite or wireless–and other variables, broadband data speed range from 128 Kbps to a screaming 500 Mbps, and are growing all the time. (Since a three-minute song is about 3 Mb, at the highest speed, you can download it in a fraction of a second–how cool is that?)
Now that you see all the benefits of a high-speed connection, here are some of your options, depending on where you live and service availability.
Switching to a Voice Over IP (VoIP) phone can save you enough to offset the additional cost associated with broadband access.
To access the service, you need a cable modem, which is usually provided as part of the package, possibly for a monthly rental and maintenance fee, or you can purchase your own. If you do purchase your own, make sure to contact your cable provider first to determine which modems meet the requirements for your plan.
DSL, short for Digital Subscriber Line, employs an unused portion of your telephone line, so there's no need to install another one in your home or office. The service, which is typically provided by your local phone company, can cost from $15 to $50 USD monthly for residential customers. To connect, you need a digital modem, usually provided by the phone company.
At the highest broadband speeds you can download a three-minute song – about 3 Mb of data – in a fraction of a second.
One of the current drawbacks to DSL is that your actual connection speed can vary considerably, depending on your distance from the local exchange, and DSL may not be available at all if you live more than about three miles (5 kilometers) from an exchange. Those living closest to the local exchange enjoy the fastest speeds. This, of course, is always subject to change as newer technologies are introduced–so even if DSL isn’t possible for you today, it might turn out to be your best option in a few years.
With satellite Internet access, you connect via the same satellite dish you use to receive TV programs. Older satellite services largely offered one-way connections, meaning you download data via satellite, but you must upload via a dial-up phone line; however, most providers now offer two-way connections, so uploads and downloads are both handled through the satellite, and you don’t have to worry about maintaining a second Internet solution.
Though more expensive than other broadband options, satellite internet access remains popular because it is able to provide high-speed access to nearly any location.
Just as bad weather may effect satellite TV reception, the same is true for Internet service. Also, because it takes time for the signal to travel to and from a satellite, you may experience a lag in data transmission, known as latency. In most cases, this is not a problem, except for aficionados of online gaming.
Fiber optic are still largely available only in and around cities, but companies are working to expand the availability as demand rises. Where available, fiber optic networks are blazing fast! Many fiber optic providers offer packages starting at 50 Mbps and going up to 500 Mbps or more. But the real advantage to fiber optics is in the upload speed. Unlike other broadband services, which provide significantly higher download speeds than upload speeds, uploads over fiber optic networks are just as fast as downloads. That’s 10 – 100 times faster than the fastest cable upload speeds.
As more Internet usage transitions away from traditional desktops or laptops and to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, wireless providers are becoming one of the biggest sources for broadband access. Wireless Internet speeds continue to increase, and in many locations are now as fast and faster than many cable and DSL packages. And because the connection is not tied to your home modem, users can take their high-speed connection anywhere they go. However, in rural areas or areas with limited connectivity, speeds can be much lower and connectivity may drop frequently.
In some locations mobile internet speeds are so fast they now rival DSL and cable broadband internet speeds.
WiFi, which delivers speedy Internet access via radio waves, is typically used in private wireless networks in homes and offices or in public places like airports or cafes. In many cases, such public WiFi is available to use for free. Some cities have even begun to deliver Wide Area Wireless, which is capable of delivering Internet access over large areas, even the entire city.
Most laptops, smartphones, and tablets have built-in wireless adapters, which make connecting easy. While there are many advantages of public WiFi networks, particularly free ones, there are also a number of privacy and security concerns that should be considered. Before you start taking advantage of free WiFi, it’s a good idea to check out our Stay Safe guides.
With a wireless router, you can set up a local wireless network in your home, so that you can use your laptop anywhere you wish. But you will still need Internet access with one of the above options.
Broadband and mobile broadband technology is constantly evolving. With more people using smartphones and tablets to go online, the future of “broadband” as we know it may become all but extinct, or it may simply transition so that our mobile devices provide on-the-go and business access, while our home broadband connection is used for entertainment, security, and telling our house when to turn the heat down.