There are so many different types of Internet connections that it may seem confusing understanding which is which. What’s the difference between cable and DSL? Is fiber available in your area? Should you get dial-up or satellite?
Luckily for you, we are here to take some of the confusion out of choosing the right connection. We’ll go over each type of connection and its pros and cons, and then we’ll talk about how to determine which connection is right for you.
Since the early 1900s, every home has slowly been fitted with copper wires for telephone service. These are carried to the home often by poles that line the streets, although in some places they may be underground. Dial-up connections are the oldest type of Internet connection because they used technology that was already integrated into homes. However, they also rely on telephone lines, which don’t carry as much bandwidth and are typically usually around 56 kilobytes per second (Kbps, or simply K) in speed. The connection also uses your phone line so you can’t use the phone and the Internet at the same time. They are often used in remote locations where other forms of connection are cost-prohibitive or simply can’t reach. Much of the Internet moves at speeds that make dial-up too slow for all but checking email and the simplest web pages, but it’s perfect for people who don’t use the Internet for more than that.
A digital subscriber line is more commonly called a DSL connection, and shares the copper telephone line of a dial-up connection. However, that’s where the similarities end. A DSL line differs from dial-up because the signal is carried digitally, which means more information can be moved through the wires. In fact, much of the copper wire’s transmission capabilities were not being used by telephone and dial-up communications, leaving DSL with plenty of bandwidth to transmit more sophisticated bits of information. Today, DSL can carry speeds in the hundreds of megabytes per second (Mbps), simply by converting the information to a digital format. 1 Mb represents one thousand K. DSL is often ordered through a phone company.
Communications did not just take place over the phone. Two more technologies were used to make broadcasts besides copper wire. The first were radio and television waves, and the second was cable. Cable TV took the place of airwave television because it was clearer and had fewer interruptions. Eventually, channels which used airwaves to broadcast also switched to cable. Just like with dial-up versus DSL, cable was an improvement over airwaves because the format of the information allowed it to be transmitted faster and in greater quantities. It was only a matter of time before this was adapted for the Internet. Cable and DSL compete with one another for speed and reliability, and cable Internet comes from the same infrastructure and providers as cable television. In the speed race, cable wins because it is capable of transmitting more information at once and thus faster than DSL, but it is not available everywhere, so if you can’t get cable television you have to look elsewhere for Internet also.
Cables and DSL wires are made of metals such as copper. Fiber is made of microscopic glass tubes that are bundled into a wire. Data passes through these tubes in the form of light, which makes fiber the fastest form of Internet there is. It is also the hardest to find, since laying optic lines is only cost-effective in areas with a lot of people who use the Internet. If you are fortunate enough to live in an urban area that has it, though, you can expect up to 1 Gigabyte per second (Gbps), which is almost a million times faster than dial-up was when the Internet was first developed.
Satellite Internet is the underrated cousin of land-based connections. Long thought to be slow and easily interrupted, satellite Internet technology has improved vastly, to the point where it can deliver around the same speeds as DSL. This is because of two factors: first, the myth that satellite signals are interrupted by cloud cover has been countered by the use of stronger Ku bands which can cut through even severe weather. Secondly, the idea that satellite dishes themselves can be blown around by wind and weather is also outdated; a satellite dish might, at best, need to be swept free of leaves. As long as you have a clear view of the southern sky, a satellite Internet connection can be your very own Internet hub, even if you don’t live anywhere near anyone else. It is the perfect connection for people in remote areas where cable and DSL don’t reach.
While 5G is not available in very many places just yet, it is worth mentioning because it is an emerging technology that will revolutionize the Internet the same way previous improvements have. Rather than having huge towers or long cables that transmit data signals, 5G will have small transmitters that send very powerful signals between them. They can carry more data than ever before and expand broadband speeds to meet the growing need for bandwidth, since the Internet is now about more than just surfing the Web. These little boxes are also less prohibitive to place than cables that need to be dug or satellite equipment that needs to be installed. However, the short range means that there will need to be a lot of them, which may still make it difficult to bring 5G to remote areas.
Finally, there is WiFi, which is short for “wireless fidelity” and refers to the signal for devices that do not need to be plugged in. Items like cell phones, tablets, and laptops have WiFi and all smart home devices, such and light bulbs and thermostats, rely on it. WiFi comes as part of your Internet connection but can be generated from other sources, such as your cell phone’s mobile hotspot. However, the WiFi connected through your home connection is more powerful and faster than a mobile hotspot connection. Your Internet plan will tell you how fast your WiFi connection is. You may also need extra transmitters depending on the range of your router, so your WiFi can reach all areas of a large home or office.
To determine what kind of Internet connection is best for you, the first thing you have to ask yourself is what you are using the Internet for. Are you just checking email, or do you rely on wireless broadband to run an office or smart home? Are there a lot of devices in your home or just one or two? Are you using your Internet for streaming movies, online gaming, or home security?
The Internet isn’t just for getting on your favorite browser and hopping from page to page anymore. Websites have grown more sophisticated, and so have the apps and programs our devices can run. Other devices besides personal computers are using the Internet, from tablets and televisions to refrigerators and home security cameras. We are even using the Internet to monitor our babies and feed our pets. How much Internet speed depends on how many of these devices you intend to use, especially if you are using video for home surveillance or broadcasting, such as video conferencing or streaming.
The connection you need will be determined by how many tablets, cell phones, WiFi appliances and equipment, light bulbs, alarm systems, thermostats, and other Internet-connected things will be on your home or office network. Fortunately, most devices don’t take much bandwidth, so even a minimal broadband-speed connection of around 15-25 Mbps should be plenty to run the home of a family of four. Cameras take up a significant amount of bandwidth, as do uploads, and need to be accounted for so you get a connection that is fast enough to run your entire home. An office might need to account for office equipment such as printers and alarms, and even more if it has voice-over-IP for telephone use.
The type of Internet service you need will depend on a few different factors – where you live, what you do online, and what you or your business can afford. You don’t want to waste money paying for more than you need and you don’t want to wind up with a connection that’s inadequate. To find out what connections are available where you need Internet, just tell us what area you are in. We’ll show you all the providers, their packages and rates, so you can get the connection you need at the price you want.