It’s no secret the a fast internet is a fun internet, which is why everyone has a broadband or high speed connection nowadays. Whether you’re uploading photos to send to friends, doing research for work or watching videos online, a faster internet connection allows you to get it done waaay faster than dial-up and without all of the aggravation. With a broadband connection, you’re really taking advantage of everything the internet has to offer, and saving yourself a lot of time do the many other things that life requires.
There are many different options for connecting to the internet at broadband speeds, and if you’re finding it all a little confusing or want to get the total picture, then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a simple overview of the options available to most everyone in the US:
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)
DSL (along with cable) was one of the first broadband technologies to be rolled out in the US. It is generally offered by telephone companies (ATT, Verizon, etc.) because it requires the use of telephone lines. The speed can be on par with cable and the service is generally 10-20% cheaper than cable internet service.
The major drawbacks of DSL are: (1) it requires a land phone line (many people have only cell phones nowadays), (2) It isn’t “always on” like cable/FiOS and requires users to sign on, and (3) the speed of the connection varies and depends on your distance away from the provider.
Cable is probably the most common option for broadband internet today. If there was at one time a war being waged between cable and dsl internet service, cable has clearly won. As mentioned above, cable internet entered the US market a year or so after DSL was introduced. It is generally offered by cable TV companies (Comcast, Time Warner, etc.) because it requires the use of cable TV lines.
Cable Internet is usually more expensive than DSL, but it does not require the use of a phone line and the speed is not variable based on your distance away from the provider (this is probably the biggest reason why cable has won out against DSL in many markets).
Fiber / Verizon FiOS
You may or may not have heard of Fiber internet connections (or Verizon FiOS), but it’s becoming pretty popular in the parts of the US where it has been rolled out. This technology is based on fiber optic cable and in a lot of ways it represents the future of internet connectivity, because it’s faster than either DSL or cable, and can much more easily handle more demanding internet tasks (downloading large files like movies, watching videos on sites like YouTube, etc.).
Costs can vary, but in many instances they are on par with cable internet. This technology is exciting because it allows for a truly multimedia experience.
(Also called Cell or Mobile Phone broadband). If you’re a business traveller than there’s a good chance your familiar with this technology. Provided by the major cell phone service companies (Verizon, ATT, Sprint, TMobile and Alltel), wireless (or cell phone) internet access uses the same cell tower based technology that is used to make cellular phone calls. It requires either (1) a cell phone with web browsing capabilities, or (2) a wireless card that is inserted into your laptop (and thus provides internet connectivity for your laptop).
The speed of this service can vary based on the provider and the area in which you live. Some areas (most major cities and their surrounding neighborhoods) have what is called 3G supported phone networks, which offer faster connection speeds. These speeds are on par with dsl (and definitely not as fast as FiOS/fiber networks), but they are generally considered to be a bit slower. However they certainly are fast enough for many people and are a major step up from dial-up.
Some cell phone companies (Sprint in particular) are rolling out what are called WiMax networks, and this promises to be much faster, maybe close to or faster than cable/dsl. The first towers are set to go online in late 2008, so look for more information here as that technology emerges.
So, those are the available technologies in a nutshell. If you’re ready to dive in and find a service provider, here’s the best place to get started.