Dial-Up, DSL or Cable?

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Some personal observations on accessing the web – Joe

As you might imagine, accessing the internet is a very important part of what we do at Overclockers.com. I thought it would be helpful to those of you facing some connectivity choices to read what my experiences have been with Dial-Up, DSL and Cable.

I started out about five years ago with Dial-Up. At that time, choices were pretty well limited to Dial-Up due to costs – DSL was available but very expensive; the Telco was charging both a flat fee plus per-minute charges. I figured that with the amount of time I’m on-line, it would have cost me about $300 a month.

Compared to Dial-Up access of about $20, there was no way DSL proved out. Over time, both Cable and DSL became available and affordable. Cable was first (I used that for about a year) and then DSL within the last 12 months.

Since I’ve used all three, I offer the following observations:

Dial-Up: $10 – $20/month

I think the best car I ever had was the VW bug – the original one. I had three and loved them – they always started, super-reliable, best snow-car I ever had, but sometimes painstakingly slow. Dial-Up is the VW Bug of internet connections.

I used Dial-Up for about two years – exclusively! Like the VW, it was there all the time – never failed. But uploading to the website and receiving 5 Mb user articles was an exercise in patience. Because I was on a LOT, I installed a separate line just for the internet.

There are ways to tune your connection to get as much throughput as you can, and routinely I connected at about 50k. I was fortunate in that I am less than a mile from the Telco Central Office, so the line is a good one.

I have two friends who asked me too build new PCs. One had a 28k modem and now he has a 56k. His speed did double – from 14k to 28k! Turns out he has a very noisy line and that’s the best he can do. The other had DSL and gets about 500k, after doing a LOT of tuning; she’s also far from the central office.

Bottom Line: Dial-Up for low cost and reliability, not speed.

Cable: $30+/month

Cable became available about two years ago in my area – I jumped for it. The carrier is Cablevision and the service called Optimum On-Line – $30/mo. The catch is that I have to sign up for Optimum TV – an upgrade from Basic. So the $30 is really more like $50; I don’t know how common this is, but something to consider.

When I signed up, I had to agree to a one year contract. Included with the contract was a cable modem – $100 extra. All of this came in a package which included software, NIC and cables. Installation was not difficult and, if I had any problems, there was a tech support number to call. Failing that, you could get an on-site install but had to pay for it.

The install was not difficult and in about an hour, pages were snapping on the screen as if they were files off the hard drive. Best, downloads from a good site hit about 1 Mb/sec – there’s nothing like getting a 15 Mb files in about 20 seconds! I had upload speeds of about 600k – pictures really flew to our server; download speeds were at almost T1 rates – about 1.3 Mb/sec.

And that’s one bottleneck to consider – some sites will dribble data out, so having a high speed internet connection helps but slow sites are still slow.

A cable connection is like being on a LAN – the more people on the LAN when you’re on, the slower the response time. I never experienced any significant slowdown in response time, perhaps because I was on during the day rather than at night.

The one problem I had was a show-stopper: I had a service interruption and called the cable company to get it fixed. I explained that I use it a lot, so when can I get it fixed? “Three or four days at best.” Can I get it fixed quicker? “Only if you pay the business rate – $150/month.”

I didn’t and it did take four days for a service visit. I still had Dial-Up as a back-up, so I was not out of business. This may have changed, but service is a concern – I would not rely solely on cable.

I also found that every once in a while (about every 3 months or so), the service would be down for a few hours. Not terrible by any means.

Bottom Line: For me, cable is like an Alfa or Jaguar – fast and flashy, but when they need fixing, could be a long wait.

DSL: $40+/month

Finally DSL showed up about a year ago, and I signed up to try it out.

Essentially the same deal – pre-packaged install kit came with it (no charge) with a one year service contract. Included was a NIC, line filters, software and cables. Because DSL rides on an existing phone line, you don’t need another line, but you will have to filter out DSL signals for all the other phones or devices installed on the line.

In addition to the $40/mo charge, there is an additional $9.65 in other charges related to DSL, so it’s more like $50/month. One thing with DSL – the further you are from the telco’s central office, most likely the lower the speed. DSL is distance sensitive.

After tuning the PC for DSL, I had download speeds at almost T1 rates – about 1.3 Mb/sec. Upload speeds are not as good as cable – 128 kb/sec – about a third of what I had with cable.

I also noticed that every once in a while, the service would go catatonic – no response for a minute or two, then OK. This happens just enough to be annoying but not enough to be a show-stopper.

Coming from a communications background, the one thing I know with DSL is that I can get same day service. One thing about telcos – they have to fix things ASAP. I have not had a problem so far, but it’s nice to know it’s there when you need it. Overall, DSL has been a good experience.

Bottom Line: I’d call DSL the Toyota Camry – solid, reliable, fast enough to get on the highway OK but overall, no dragster.

Conclusions

So after working with all three, I offer the following observations:

  • Dial-Up is slow, cheap, ubiquitous and works as long as your telephone works;
  • Cable is the speed champ for both uploads and downloads;
  • DSL is great for downloads, only OK for uploads;
  • Cable and DSL are cost competitive (at least my experience);
  • Repairs are more likely to be same day with DSL, a few days with cable;
  • Cable may be more available than DSL.

If I had only one to choose, I’d go with DSL – the major swing factor being same day service. If price is a real issue, Dial-up is the only option.

If you want to check and tune your internet connection, here are some good sites to check out:

Testmyspeed.com Multiple Speed Test Sites

Bandwidthplace.com Speed Test

DSLreports.com Speed Test and Tweaking Tool – I found the tweaking tool here easy to use and a MUST, especially if you change from a low speed to high speed service.
{mospagebreak}

Email Joe

Let me precede my comments by saying that I have been working as a technical support rep for a major nationwide ISP for over 1 1/2 years. I handle calls on dialup, cable, DSL, satellite (direcway), and on Mac, Windows, and a little ‘nix.

I am no engineer but I have a very good understanding of all of them. In my home use I have used dialup, DSL, and cable. Currently I use AT&T cable and have had it for about 2 years and have a dialup account that I use for backup if the cable goes down. This is going to be lengthy so I apologize in advance 🙂

I will say right off the bat that cable and DSL are NOT services you can make very accurate general statements about. There are simply too many factors dependent on your geographical area, ISP, and Telco/Cable company to make many conclusions that will hold true for a majority of people.

I will explain more below….

Dialup

Your dial-up overview was on target – stable but slow. I would add one thing – the difference between the “cheap” ISPs and the pricey ones.

The main difference would be the level of support you receive. The lower priced ISPs like United Online usually provide very little (if any) tech support and the ones who do often only provide support 9am-5pm.

That is part of why they can charge a lower amount. That is fine for those who can fix most issues on their own but not good for those who require more help. The higher priced ISPs, in general, offer good 24/7 support. Reviews are available at places like Cnet.

My conclusion is the same as yours on dialup – “Dial-Up is slow, cheap, ubiquitous and works as long as your telephone works.”

Cable

You said about signing up “When I signed up, I had to agree to a one year contract. Included with the contract was a cable modem – $100 extra.” and about the install “Failing that, you could get an on-site install but had to pay for it. ”

The standard these days for most cable providers is no contract and no installation/sign up fee.

The installation varies a little, but the larger cable providers like AT&T and Time Warner currently send out a technician to do the install. Most providers have no contract, free equip, and free install. I understand in your case there was a contract, but a majority of cable ISPs do not require a contract.

This is one of the big plusses for cable in the age old cable vs DSL argument, as the vast majority of DSL ISPs/Telcos DO require a contract.

If your provider (DSL or cable) has a one year committment, the cancellation fee is usually $50 – $150. Most ISPs are rational about the cancellation fee, so if you have to cancel due to issues on the ISP/Telco’s end, they will not charge it.

The ISP/Telco’s already make a pretty small amount, even on broadband, and the cancellation fee is there for them to recoup the cost of free equipment and/or installation and to discourage people from switching before they have a chance to make some money off of them 🙂

Cable ISPs, like AT&T, who do not charge for the modem usually charge a monthly modem rental fee of $5 – $10 if you use their modem. You can purchase your own modem for around $100 – $150, which is a good deal if you intend on having cable for a long time.

Another quote: “A cable connection is like being on a LAN – the more people on the LAN when you’re on, the slower the response time. I never experienced any significant slowdown in response time, perhaps because I was on during the day rather than at night.”

This is one of the things DSL providers use to try and lure away cable users. Where I live, PacBell DSL ran a funny commercial showing the members of a family who had cable waking up at 3 AM or 4 AM so they could do what they wanted on the net at full speed.

This is my understanding of things:

When cable internet was first rolled out in many areas, the cable companies did not plan well when they designed the local cable nodes. The way cable works is there are many small nodes within a city that then connect to a large node for the whole city or region that goes out to the internet backbones.

The smaller nodes do not have a whole lot of bandwidth, as they are designed to only serve a fairly small area. Due to poor planning and/or bad choices by the the cable companies, they often ended up overloading some the smaller nodes with too many people and not enough bandwidth to go around – hence the slowdowns at peak times.

This can happen with DSL too but is much more rare as the bandwidth is shared farther down the line, where it is easier to add more bandwidth.

One last cable quote for me to respond to: “The one problem I had was a show-stopper: I had a service interruption and called the cable company to get it fixed. I explained that I use it a lot, so when can I get it fixed? “Three or four days at best.” Can I get it fixed quicker? “Only if you pay the business rate – $150/month.”

This again will vary from ISP to ISP and sometimes from area to area within the same ISP. It also depends on the issue you are having and whether it requires a truck roll – which in your case it sounds like it did. It is a good point, however, about having a backup dial-up account.

Some cable ISPs even provide a free dial-up account for backup. Some limit you to the number of dialup hours you can use and some are unlimited use. DSL is comparable though. Most issues with DSL that require a truck roll by the telco or LEC can take 2-5 days (in some cases more) to get resolved – I will touch again on this in my thoughts on DSL.

One last thing concerning cable:

If you do find a good cable provider, you are more likely to get the maximum advertised speed that your ISP offers (ie. – A cable ISP advertises 1500 kbps download – you are more likely to actually get that and not 1000 kbps).

The reason why is a combination of factors:

If you find a good ISP, you don’t need to worry about slow downs during peak times because they will have planned better, so there is enough bandwidth available. There are very few line noise, line quality, or line interference issues to worry about with cable because the coaxial cable is very well shielded.

Of course, this is only if you get a good cable provider who has good service in your area, but even with a good DSL provider in a good area, there are things that are out of their hands – like your distance from the CO and the quality of the phone lines. If you think the telco is going to even consider upgrading your lines or their lines just because a few people aren’t getting the a 1500 kbps download (or even 500 kbps download) – think again.

My general conclusion on Cable:

  • Don’t need to worry about how far you are from the CO
  • Most cable ISPs require no contract – find out beforehand so it isn’t a surprise if they do
  • Can be prone to slower speeds at peak times in some areas
  • When on a good provider you are more likely to get the advertised maximum speed on cable than on DSL

Find out if there is a good provider in your area, either through polling friends and neighbors or through resources like DSLreports.com. It is easier to make mistakes on cable since many providers will not make you sign up for a contract.

Daniel

DSL

I will start with this: “One thing with DSL – the further you are from the telco’s central office, most likely the lower the speed. DSL is distance sensitive.”

That is correct. I would add one thing however: Not only will you have slower speeds, you are much more prone to line interference issues which can cause loss of sync or intermittent sync (where your connection cuts in and out randomly).

Next: “Coming from a communications background, the one thing I know with DSL is that I can get same day service. One thing about telcos – they have to fix things ASAP.”

This quote is not one I would make as a general statement on DSL, or any other high speed connection unless you have a business class account. It also depends on the issue though: If we are talking a minor issue, where a server or circuit somewhere in telco land goes down and it causes issues for a bunch of customers – you will be back up in hours usually. That is true for cable and dialup for the most part as well, though.

Just like the service interruption you had with cable, there are many different factors that come into play and things that can break on DSL that can require much more than that. I deal with these sorts of issues daily.

The main problem with DSL is the fact that you are squeezing a whole lot of high frequency signals that are very sensitive to interference onto an old, poorly shielded copper line.

Thus the main “showstopper” problem that people run into are no sync or intermittent sync issues that have to do with the customer’s or telco’s wiring. These are issues that usually only affect one customer and require a good bit of troubleshooting by the ISP/Telco.

Let’s say it turns out to not be a customers wiring within their home. Let’s also say that is not any interfering devices on their phoneline, like an unfiltered alarm system or phone. Let’s also say we eliminated things like the modem sitting right next to the monitor, computer tower, or halogen lamp (EMI – ElectroMagnetic Interference) and made sure the person is not using a 20 ft phone cord.

You can see there are just plain more variables that come into play with DSL than cable, because it is a plain old copper line with little shielding vs a coaxial cable with lots of shielding. Anyway, basically we have trimmed it down to an issue with the telco. That will require a truck roll from the telco.

Like cable, it varies by the telco, but in my experience it takes anywhere from 2-5 days to get someone out there to check things out and fix it.

So if you have a major problem with your cable OR your DSL, you are probably looking at 2-5 days to get it fixed. It is usually more towards the lower end of that figure, but you never know. Keep a dialup account as backup – many DSL and cable ISPs will give you a free dialup backup, as I mentioned in my cable comments.

My general conclusion on DSL:

  • Find a good DSL provider in your area either through polling friends or through resources like DSLreports.com
  • If you find a good provider, have good quality phonelines, and are under ~12,000 ft from the CO – DSL can be better than, or at least equal to, cable
  • Almost all DSL providers lock you into a year contract with cancellation fees, so investigate before you make the jump

You can find your distance from the CO from the ISP/Telco (more reliable) or from DSLreports.com when you click on find service – then pre-qualification.

Daniel

Satellite

If you are considering satellite internet service, the main satellite service out there is the Hughes Direcway satellite system. You can receive Direcway service directly from Hughes through DirecTV or through a few choice ISPs (see their website for more info). It is available anywhere in the country as long as you have a clear and unobstructed view of the southern sky.

My main experience is with Direcway, but their service is VERY similar to the other offerings, such as Starband.

I will say this right now:

Do NOT get satellite unless it is your ONLY broadband option

and even then you might need to think twice about it. There are several reasons I say this: The main reason is price. Pricing does vary depending on who you purchase it from and if they have a promotion running. The pricing I will list here is for Direcway, but again it is in line with other providers.

First you need the special Direcway dish – you can not use your same old dish you may already have for satellite TV. The new dish costs from $399 – $650 depending on whether you get the internet only dish or a dish that can receive both TV and internet.

Then there is the installation fee for them to install the dish, which is from $150 – $250. There is no option for a self install (not that I would want to get up on roof anyway). There is also a 12 month commitment with big cancellation fees (same with other satellite providers).

Now we get to the monthly fee, which is usually around $60 – $80 per month. Are you shaking your head yet? If not, how about this quote from their service agreement, which applies to all customers (regardless of your ISP) on Direcway:

“To ensure equal Internet access for all DIRECWAY subscribers, Hughes Network Systems maintains a running average fair access policy. Fair access establishes an equitable balance in Internet access across Turbo Internet services by service plan for all DIRECWAY customers regardless of their frequency or traffic usage. To ensure this equity, customers may experience some temporary throughput limitations. DIRECWAY Internet access is not guaranteed. This policy applies to all service plans including “Unlimited” plans where customers’ use of the service is not limited to a specific number of hours per month.”

So they are basically saying that they monitor the amount of traffic on your account and if you are downloading a whole lot of stuff in a short period of time, they will throttle back your speeds. That is a quote from the Direcway service agreement, but there is a similar one for Starband and just about every other satellite ISP I checked into.

On Direcway, unless it is at an off peak time (like say 1 AM), they will cap you if download more than around 200 Mb within 4 hours.

If that was not enough – there is more:

There is major latency with satellite.

It makes sense if you think about – you are sending a signal up to a satellite which then sends it back to earth to a Hughes building, then it finally goes out to the internet and then to the server you are accessing.

Then it has to make the return trip from the server back to Hughes, then back up to the satellite and then finally back down to your computer.

You will be very lucky to see ping times under 700ms – average is more like 800 – 900ms.

This is not that big a deal if your surfing the net or downloading files, but there is no way your going to be doing online gaming. As far as the speeds go – you can get up to 400 kbps download and 128 kbps upload. Compared to dialup that is blazing. The average DSL or cable provider will provide a maximum of 784 kbps – 1500 kbps download and 128 kbps – 384 kbps upload.

One last thing about satellite: I have heard of several people that have received satellite internet that have no telephone service at all (guess they went into town to sign up). So it does provide an option for people who truly live in a remote area – if they can afford it.

Conclusion on Satellite:

  • Good only if it is your only broadband choice – at least it is much faster than dialup
  • Do not get this if your a gamer because of high latency
  • Do not get this if you download large amounts of data, run a network, or generally use large amounts of bandwidth
  • Do not get this if you are concerned about price
  • 1 year committment with big cancellation fees

So my conclusion on Broadband:

In one area cable may be better and in others DSL is better.

User experiences will vary widely with broadband and your best bet is to check around with your neighbors or at places like DSLreports.com and find out what experiences people in your area are having. You can either get informed or roll the dice and hope you get lucky.

Phew, sorry again about the length – I truly didn’t intend to go in depth this much when I started…oh well 🙂

Ed Note: Daniel, we are GLAD you did – a great summary!
{mospagebreak}

Daniel

DSL comes in different flavors depending on the area, the provider, the telco, etc., so a lot of readers will have different results. I’ve worked for a DSL provider and now for a cable company, so I’ve seen both services from the support end.

DSL has a number of advantages and disadvantages; to my mind, at least, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks for the serious user.

First, you can get a varierty of speed packages. Depending on the provider and the DSL technology available, speeds of up to 8 mbps down x 850 kbps or so up are available (downside: you *pay* for them). Synchronous speeds of up to 1536 x 1536 are available.

If you are extremely distant from the CO, or if your phone lines are delivered via some funky hardware, IDSL (DSL-over ISDN lines) is an option, with speeds up to 144 kbps. These speeds are a direct, personal data pipeline, so you tend to get the speeds you pay for. Thus, if you need reliability, and are willing to pay for it, DSL is the answer.

DSL can be delivered over a shared phone line or over a dedicated line, and not all areas or providers can or will offer a choice; traditionally, this has been the catch for carriers like Rhythms, Covad, and the like – that dedicated line was the only option for a long while and *has* to be delivered by a telco – who, by the way, are none too thrilled about delivering loops for their direct competitors.

You can only imagine the troubles that result. Line-shared connections are not free from problems either, but they take the dry loop out of the equation at least. Note that if you’re getting the service from the telco, these are not an issue; however, flexibility of service offerings will be.

To summarize for DSL:

Good points include not having to share your bandwidth with your neighbors; flexibility of speed offerings; reliability; easy to install (line-shared only!).

Bad points is the cost, the limits due to distance from the CO and the restrictions placed upon you by your carrier.

The ugly? Installation when line-share is NOT available!

Cable, on the other hand, is to my mind the ideal service for the consumer, even for the heavy user – so long as they are online for fun and not for a job or similar serious use.

For the cost, the available speeds will blow DSL away – my company offers speeds up to 1500 kbps for less than $35; the tradeoff is reliability of service.

Unlike rate-adaptive DSL, cable modems are either sync or they’re not. They don’t adapt and connect at lower speeds if there’s an increase in line noise. If the signal is too weak or too strong, you’re offline – and that’s all there is to it.

Since not all cable technicians are knowledgeable about cable modems – most are video only – it can take a few days to get a repair guy on site, and even then the problem may take a few days to track back to the source if it’s not on-site.

Speed, while impressive, does fluctuate on a cable network. Most companies oversell the service to some extent or another; ideally, this will only be seen during prime time and will be the difference between 1500k off-peak and 700k during the busy hours – still a pretty hot connection! – but in some instances, if the customer base outgrows the available bandwidth, it can be the difference from 1500k to 50k, or worse.

Also, most companies cap the upload speeds, usually at a painfully slow level like 128k. This isn’t a problem for the consumer, who is *downloading* most of the time – web sites, mp3s, whatever. Just try and send a large video file at 128k though; better plan on making a night of it!

Installation is usually simple: If you have digital cable, heck, even if you don’t, you’ve probably got enough signal strength. Plug the modem into an outlet, and then into your PC. You’re done.

Occasionally problems do arise, but whereas probably a third of DSL installs fail, maybe one cable modem install out of twenty are problematic (numbers based on “truck-roll” installs – line-shared dsl vs. selfstart cable hookups are pretty comparable in my experience, most likely a function of user competence). The difference is that the cable company is in control of that last mile of wire.

Older cable modem networks will sometimes require a phone line for upstream connectivity; these dinosaur networks are being upgraded all the time, but a few users may encounter that setup.

There are also some security issues, since everyone in a given node is practically on a LAN together; given the number of security issues everywhere these days, though, it’s almost not worth mentioning. Just don’t enable sharing on the directory with your passwords.doc file, and you should be okay. (-;

To summarize for Cable:

The good: Easy setup, great price/speed ratio.

The bad: Inconsistent speeds, shared bandwidth.

The ugly: Long response times when a technician is needed.

Dialup: Yeah, you said it. Slow but dependable. Don’t lose your land line once you get broadband, you will want it sooner or later as a backup, no matter what service you have.{mospagebreak}

Michael Baswell

Ed note: Many internet users in the USA have connectivity options and pricing unavailable in other countries – I have also included representative comments from users to give others perspective on what it takes to get onto the net in rural areas. Many thanks to all who responded – far too many to include all.

Non USA Connectivity

Cronan – Ireland

Spare a thought for use in Ireland who don’t even have flat-rate 56k. So we
spend about ?100 a month for 56k (and we are mild users).DSL costs in excess
of ?120 per month (caped at 3Gigs ) and is only available to a very very
select few.

Here’s a link for a pressure group discussion boards.

Damir – Sweden

In contrast, these are the speeds in Sweden (Most of
Scandinavia too):

Cable : 512 K or 1024 k Download, 128 k upload Price $32
or $39

DSL : 2500k Download, 768 k upload, Price $25

Phone : Always 52k connection, lowest wherever is 48k.
But in Europe in general, all phone lines cost per minute.
About a $ per hour.

Richard – Czechoslovakia

After reading your article about comm technologies, I was very tempted to
send you (just FYI) my experience from not so developed country :).

I started with dial-up four years ago. The connection was with modem
@ 33.6 a I paid CZK 500 (USD 16) per month for connectivity + call charges +
fixed fee to Telecom (Czech telco monopoly). Call charges depend on time as
well as on day hours, but regularly they can be as low as CZK 17 (USD 0.50)
/hr in off-peak hours and as high as CZK 55 (USD 2) per hour in peak time.
Fixed fee for normal (POTS) line is about CZK 300 (USD 10).

After those four years, I am still on dial-up, only I have moved to ISDN,
since it is more comfortable. On the other hand fixed fee for ISDN is twice
as much i.e. CZK 600 (USD 20).

Usually I pay for my internet connection about CZK 1,500 (USD 50) per month.
I do not use my dial-up for voice call much, so I can assume all expenses are more or less related to internet connectivity only.

I would rather go for ADSL or Cable if I could (I surely would 🙂 ). Well, I
can’t. The only telco company allowed to operate local and distant voice
service keeps its monopoly quite hard. They are pushing (ditching) old ISDN
to customers.

Once they tried to offer ADSL in beta testing, but prices were
ridiculous (at least) – something like CZK 2000 (USD 65) per month with
limited (upload + download < 500MB) and bandwidth like 256DL/128UL, when you go over the limit (up to 1GB) it was much more (I do not remmember exact price), but basically for unlimited line 256DL/128UL, you will pay something like CZK 24000 (USD 800) per month.

The project was then canceled by the national regulator for unfair competition
(the prices were too high for third parties, who will eventually have to
lease (metal) lines from telco monopoly to offer their own services).

Cable here is very limited in its spread. If you were lucky and got wired by
UPC (before they actually stopped doing this), the chances are high you get
relatively cheap, relatively good connection (like unlimited 192DL/128UL for
CZK 1500 (USD 30) per month).

If you live just one block outside the wired area, you are SOL and have to either pay for dial-up or install MW. The Cable is offered currently only in two biggest cities and only in their particular areas and probably won’t expand much.

Well, that’s it. I am really wondering when will I get flat rate on
something even as small as 128kb line here.

Martin – Argentina

I`ve got wireless connection last year and it was great. Since I was with dial-up before, for me was great. They gave what they said up and down and good pings times, but we hack the subscriber (shame on me) and it was really fast – _ mean sometimes 150 kbytes/s (yes bytes) down and up.

Now I`ve got a weird connection – I haven`t seen this anywhere else, at least in my country. It`s something like a big LAN made of fiber optics and then a few nodes that turns fiber in UTP. From there to my nic, it`s just a few blocks round and it`s shared, we all have the same speed all the time, something like 2-3 megabits.

We can say it’s like a cable but much much more advanced, and the best part is the price – I am paying now something like $13 US, or $40 in my own money. One more thing: I have 100 Mbits connection with my friends who are in the same net, they could be a mile away 🙂 – great for 10ms ping in CS. by the way I`m in Argentina and this is the only thing good that we have about computers now since at beginning of this year everything that was imported went up 3x 🙁

Andrew – New Zealand

I run Satellite here in New Zealand through an ISP called IHUG. Its a Satellite download and Modem upload service. I also run 4 Mbit ADSL. The Satellite download speeds are about the same as ADSL (Maximum 450 KB/s using Download Accelerator) but the latency is over 10 times worse than ADSL. Cheap bandwidth for downloading, though.

I use by choice ADSL for Web browsing, Email and Newsgroups and Satellite for downloads.

Kim – Finland

I’ve had a wireless 1Mb connection for a year now. I’m very happy with it, but I have had my share of troubles…

Fast internet connections are pretty expensive here in

Finland, ie. a 256/256 ADSL is about 55 USD/month + 160 USD starting fee, 1 Mb ADSL is around 100 USD/month + the starting fee. The only affordable solution I could find was a wireless 1 Mb for 40 USD/month, but the equipment costs were 680 USD! I saved some money and got the equipment needed, I’d get my money back over time.

Installing the stuff to my previous computer was easy, except that the pci->pcmcia adapter didn’t work in Win98. I bought WinME and everything went smoothly. My antenna is mounted outside my balcony and I’m only 50m or so away from the “base station”, so my connection quality is excellent.

Then came the time to upgrade my computer. I sold the old one and got an Asus dual AMD board and WinXP. Again the pci->pcmcia bridge refused to work. I changed to Win2k but no luck. A thousand phone calls and a couple of weeks later, I found out that the pci->pcmcia adapter doesn’t work on dual MBs.

No way I was giving up on my dual goodness, so I went and bought another PC and a cheap 4 port hub. Everything installed fine on the new PC, but one of the thin antenna wires was broken. I got a new wire for 50 USD and two weeks delivery time…

Now my connection is routed through the cheap PC and works well, but dammit – this has not been any cheap solution. I usually get download speeds around 120-130 kb/sec and upload speeds are 50-60 kb/sec. Pings to Finnish servers are below 50 and around 100 to European servers. Packet loss is 0%. Weather doesn’t affect the connection at all because I’m so close to the base station.

Yodums – Canada

I personally think that it depends on the location. Here in Ottawa, the cable was just downgraded from 3000/192 to 1500/128 but that’s for 40.00 CAD whereas American’s are paying 55.00 USD for something similar to the speeds I’m getting. The support isn’t great from my cable. It took 4 calls to get a tech support down here to replace the modem when they told me it was my ethernet card.

The DSL here is more reliable but slower and the same cost, well at least advertised. I believe DSL users in my area get 1200/96, however they have a monthly limit of 10 gigs down and 5 gigs up or 10 gigs up, I’m not quite sure. People will run over that limit by just surfing and barely downloading and be paying 80.00 CAD (about double) which I think is ridiculous – that’s why many users go with cable. So IMHO, it all depends on location. I’ve seen DSL really mop the floor but then again it depends on location.

Leon – England

After much haranguing, the price of DSL in the UK has become
low enough for a man to afford it. It started off at £40 a month plus a £99 connection fee, to £24 a month with a £40 connection fee. Still limited cable availability round here in London, though.

Dial-Up

Michael

I’m not really sure if you have any interest in mentioning dual modem
connections
in your article, because they seem like a rare bird. However,
for people like me, they’re perhaps the only/fastest choice.

You mentioned
a friend that had to use dial-up, much like myself, and you mentioned how
his speed doubled but remained half of what the modem was rated for. I’m in
that same boat, as I imagine are many people who live too far from the telco
(thus bad line quality and lack of true high-speed choices are linked
together).

I use an old Diamond SupraSonic II modem that relies on ‘shotgun’
technology. It binds two connections (two phone lines) together. Sure,
both modems are 56k rated, but like your friend, I get nowhere near that
with individual modems.

However, I now get 33.6k x 2, or 33.6k + 28.8k. Oh
yes, there are caveats…

For starters, my particular modem needs an ISA
slot, so the newest motherboard I can use (and do use) is the Biostar
M7MIA-R. A little research says that Diamond’s shotgun software will work
with any two modems as long as one is a Diamond modem.

The problem with
that is, as far as I understand it, almost all PCI modems are software
modems that rely on the CPU to function [ed note: Cheap ones ~$30.]. And since they’re all so very
similar in which resources and methods they use, you can’t run two software
modems on the same machine at the same time.

So bingo, you almost certainly
still need an ISA slot to cover one hardware modem. The other caveat is the
ISP – it must support multiple simultaneous connections by one account, and
very few do this. I use iHOT, based in San Francisco. Price is not so much
of an issue because the dual connection usually costs 1.5x the regular
dial-up price, though you do pay for the extra phone line at your home.

Finally, I am lead to believe the OS is finicky about this sort of
connection; Shotgun works on Win95, 98, 98SE, but not the newer versions of
Windows. There are other ways to bind modems together like this, and that
may be doable in the newer versions of Windows, but I have no experience
with it.

Most people I
speak to have never heard of dual modem connections. For me, though, living
far from the telco and with no other options, this is as high-speed as it
gets, for now. The ability to bind two modems is so seemingly neglected by
the public, and thus by ISPs, and yet it is as functional and nearly as
reliable as standard dial-up.

I play online games such as EverQuest with no
trouble whatsoever. In fact, if one modem should disco, the other line
often stays connected, so games like EQ are still playable and if I am
downloading, the download doesn’t stop (it merely slows down until I
reconnect the second line).
{mospagebreak}

Email Joe

DSL

Michael

One other important difference you didn’t mention is that DSL typically has
much lower latencies than cable
. Browsing the web (if that’s all you do)
you would never know the difference. But if you do a lot of on-line gaming
you might be able to “feel” the difference quite easily. For what it’s
worth…

Adam

This won’t apply to most people, but gamers are ping sensitive as well as
bandwidth sensitive. Between cable and DSL, I generally see the better
pings with DSL
. This of course always depends on what your path is to the
servers you reach, but DSL tends to have fewer hops for some reason, keeping
ping lower in general.

Jon

I currently have DSL, and I am contemplating the switch to cable. In my
area (northern NJ) cable is about $10/month cheaper than DSL if you are
already a cable customer. I definitely have to agree on speed, but one
major benefit to DSL (and ultimately why I may not leave) is that static IP
addressing seems to be more common among DSL providers.

I love the fact
that I can run personal (extremely low traffic) server applications without
having to deal with dynamic IP. It also makes it easier to share my
connection, as the router does not need to get jump-started every two to
three days.

Brad

Hey just thought I’d pass something along. My town (pop. 391) just got DSL. I was paying $20 for dialup plus another $20 to have a 2nd phone line. Dialup was costing me $40. Then we got DSL and I pay $30 and got rid of the 2nd phone line. So it is actually cheaper for me that way.

Across town my dad, who couldn’t wait for DSL, got Starband Satellite Internet. He’s spending like $80 on that and it sucks. It has a real high latency so surfing is no faster than dialup. Downloads are fast but uploads are SLOW. Anyway that’s my story

Mark

I have DSL through Earthlink and some times, albeit rarely, I get 8 Meg Bursts – I’m not talking about Data being cached first and Windows reporting it at insane speeds, honest to goodness 8 Meg burst. 4 megs a second is more common, but the Average is about 1.5-1.8 meg downloads. Uploads however are always at 256 no matter what.

Love it, $50/month, customer service is great, downtime is once in a blue moon.

John

DSL can also be a Ferrari (expensive and fast)

I have “enhanced” DSL from Pacific Bell. for $180/month I get 8 IP address
(5 usable) and a 6 Mbit down / 384K up connection. On this I run two web
servers a mail server and my home LAN (8 machines behind a firewall). I
regularly see 600K *bytes* a second download speeds (think 4x T1 or a 4x CD
drive).

Reliability has been pretty good (as good as I used to get with T1’s at
work) with only one outage longer than 24 hours in the last 3 years.

Cable

Faizi

Um… before you declare the cable victor, you should realize it is entirely based on where you live. For example in Manhattan Beach, CA, a cable modem gets blazing speeds at 2 AM, but at 5 PM is worse than dialup. Yet in the next city over, Redondo Beach, the cable modem smokes my DSL all day and all night.

BUT, both only have a 128k upload speed. Moreover, the upload speed of the DSL is upgradable, whereas the cable upload speed is not. So here, DSL is slow and steady that wins the race.

Barry

With DSL, I really think its important to note to the users that
there is a 2 mile limit from the DSLAM, in order to activate any DSL
connectivity. And with that, your potential available bandwidth scales in
direct relationship to your proximity from the DSLAM, the farther away the
lower the bandwidth.

One last thing – I would say that the best thing for people to do is to read
thru the ISP reviews and the forums at Broadband Reports.com to accurately picture what their local situation may be. As the local provider (last mile provider) is by far the most important issue regarding the quality of service for any broadband connection.
{mospagebreak}

Email Joe

WIRELESS

Joe

I have a fixed wireless connection for an Internet connection and
love it. Signed up, the company (DTNSPEEDNET) sent me a Cisco wireless
pci card, a small yagi antenna for the side of the house and 50 ft of
thick coaxial cable for a $150 hardware fee, though that was a half
price sale.

Stuck the yagi on the house, pointed it at the local access
point, stuck in the card, hooked up the cable and setup the network
settings and I now fly around the web at a synchronous 600 kb to 1
MB/sec, depending on the site. Monthly costs seem about on par with DSL –
$50 a month, $5 extra for a fixed Ip address

Chris

We had wireless here at work before we got cable. It was from MCI and was VERY reliable; however, it was slow (768/768 ) and expensive ($399 a month ). If you have no other choice , which we didn’t at the time, it is better than dial-up .

Mike

A friend of mine lives out in the sticks and was stuck on 28k dialup
for a long time. Then he tried two way satellite – and it was down most
of the time and when it did, it had horrible latency (1+ second ping
times). Eventually the downtime was what drove him away. He went to
wireless when a decent wireless provider put a transmitter on a hill
near him and he’s been happy ever since. No downtime and decent
speeds.

Gregory

Satellite sux – Period. It is only good if it is the ONLY option you have for broadband. For gamers, the latency sux. Depending on the service, you might have to dialup to send data so, your upload sux.

Wireless services are not exactly good either. They are doing 3g tests in San Francisco of broadband wireless. It looks promising, but again, isn’t ready for primetime yet. The wireless services that exist, such as Richochet, are decent if you have to be mobile. But they have issues with area coverage and the speeds really blow. You’ll be lucky to get a 56k link, if that.

Now there are some wireless that is OK, but those are basically hot spots, where you have wireless LANs that are connected to some other sort of broadband connection. Basically, your notebook has a 802.11b card and you can roam onto other networks to get access. Again, only in hotspots, and distance from actual access point can only be a few hundred feet.

John

I am a cable modem user at home, but for ‘the road’ I have purchased Verizon’s Express Network – which is an “up to 153 kbps” wireless internet access. For $99/month (a bit of an ouch), I get UNLIMITED minutes/bytes that I can transfer per month. I find this to be an interesting because it is an always available connection, and doesn’t require a phone line (Dial-Up technically costs more since, if you’re a heavy user, you really do want another phone line).

I find the latency of this express network is faster than dialup, and probably about equivalent to ISDN (in perception). I sometimes get xfers of up to 12-14KB/second, but often more like 4-7 KB/second (40-70 kbps for sake of argument). I very rarely go below that 4 KB/second mark.

The downside of this is that the Express network isn’t available everywhere with Verizon, BUT you can fallback to their old “Quick2Net” 14.4 kbps (yay slow) network, which is essentially useless for anything more than hitting a web page or two (of text), or checking (text only again) emails.

Having a wireless card I can take around with me and plug into a laptop, pcmcia card reader, or a palm pilot like device with unlimited usage IS pretty awesome.

Kyle

As a user of the 802.11b Wi-Fi internet, I can say its a fairly reliable option for Broadband, if nothing else is available. I happen to live out in the boonies and we use a combo of a spread- spectrum wireless point to point that shoots 17 air-miles out to a AP1000 system that uses a Linux box/router/firewall to rebroadcast to about 15 users using 26db antennas and amps.

One user here is over a mile from the local antenna, but still gets a ton of signal. I get about 500k up and 500k down, but it will spike to T1 speeds if the server I am downloading from has that large an output. I can play any game with a 80-140 ping and very little latency. $34.99 gets me a service that is supposed to be 256k up and down.

Tom

I’ve built two wireless networks now and the hassle has been… well
basically more than it was worth. I had problems with the following:
hardware, installation, and range. All-in-all, just about everything there
is to it. I have spent hours and hours dealing with terrible documentation,
faulty hardware and cryptic software.

The effort put into the end user’s
experience from my Linksys and D-Link products were abysmal. I could
enumerate the number of problems I had to deal with and how they were
eventually solved, but I’m sure my e-mail would be far too long for you to
read. So I will make it as short as possible.

Documentation: Linksys PCI adapter cards do not give accurate description of
how to insert. Do not give accurate installation steps. D-link pci adapter
said things like: do this, this, and this for installation. Then go to page
50. Page 50 would say, absolutely do not do the last step we just told you
to do forty pages ago.

The wireless D-link AP documentation was also
terrible. Not worth the paper it was printed on. Does not explain the
configuration software at all or give any realistic troubleshooting tips.

Software: Poorly written and QA’d. The linksys configuration tool has
spelling mistakes all over the place even after the update! On my laptop,
half the options were cut off. D-link AP software is not user friendly,
poorly documented, and takes trial and error to learn… if you can get by
figuring out how to connect it to your network.

The d-link PCI cards come
with three different install methods, none of which are documented properly.
There is a control panel configuration tool, an installed configuration
tool, and a reliance on built-in WindowsXP wireless network tools. I have
installations running differently on the exact same computers because it was
the only way I could get them to work.

Hardware: Faulty linksys router dropped connections, had poor range and
failed as a dhcp server. It needed to be reset almost every day in order to
get the network going again. D-link AP can only be accessed via computer to
switch -> switch to AP. If you do it through a router with dhcp on, it won’t
work. Netgear router is only configurable by connecting it to your computer
via USB cable. What a pain!

Range: 300ft… hah! I have my tower in the middle of my room right now to
maintain a constant connection to my netgear wireless AP. It is 29 ft. away
from the AP with two walls between it. This is after changing to d-link pci
cards because the range on the Linksys pci/pcmcia combo was even worse!

I had to have my computer on the other side of the room for it to even work.
The d-link and Linksys AP’s are no better. There should be a class action
suit for false advertising on wireless range.

Technical Support: Linksys meant waiting on hold for hours… and hours…
and hours. All to reach some blathering idiot that couldn’t do a thing to
help me. By the time I broke down and called, I had tried so many things I
knew more than he did. D-link tech support is equally useless regarding the
wireless AP.

Upgrading the firmware on it will give you web-based editing.
As a bonus, it also causes it to terminate connection during large file
transfers. This is well documented in forums and D-link does not
acknowledge the problem or provide a means of reinstalling the old firmware.

Online help from forums etc. has generally been very thin. I found it very
difficult to find relevant information on the wireless scenario.

However, now that I have it working reliably (finally!), do I like it? Yes,
I do. It is great.

Throughput is great, 4-600 kb/s even with my wireless
signal barely registering. Latencies… nothing. I’m sick of reading about
how “serious gamers” wouldn’t go for wireless on account of the latency. I
think I’m going to knock a head in.

If you think traveling at the speed of
light from my bedroom to the living room is going to introduce latency, you
are just stupid. I ping <1ms to my AP at all times. So please make sure
you dispel this rumor to the those making “conclusions” about wireless
networks.

Ryan

As far as wireless goes, I work as tech support at the University of Southern California and we recently implemented university wide wireless ethernet. (using the 802.11b standard). I have to say, it is FAST. I would say it’s about on par with DSL, the only real problem is that if you are trying to use it in unsupported places it won’t go because it is highly vulnerable to thick concrete walls and what not.

Another nice feature about WiFi that many don’t consider is that people don’t need to worry about broken or disabled ethernet jacks which is a problem at a place like a university where ports suffer daily wear and tear.

Chip aka “Doctor”

I have been using some sort of satellite internet service for over 5 years now. I live in a town of only 900 people in rural New Hampshire and don’t have any possibility of ever getting cable or DSL. I’ve gotten used to the idea of satellite entertainment since I installed my first 12-foot C-Band dish for TV over 15 years ago.

For satellite internet access, I started using DirecPC (now called DirecWay) 5 years ago. This is a system is called a 1-way system – it uses your modem for the uplink to the satellite company and a satellite dish at your house for the high speed downlink. Of course, you still needed to keep your dialup ISP.

The system worked well for about a year, until they started to oversell their bandwidth. To “adjust” for this, they introduced the “Fair Access Policy”, or FAP. This FAP essentially reduced your download speed from the normally excellent 600=>800 kbps to around 56K once you had downloaded a set amount of data. At the time, this was around 100=>200 Megs.

Eventually, if you stopped downloading for an unpublished amount of time, your speed would return to normal. I found this unacceptable and got rid of their service. DirecWay now offers a 2-way service, as described below, but still has the FAP.

I now use “Starband” as my ISP. I started as a beta tester for this 2-way satellite system several years ago. Basically, it uses the dish at your house for all its communication. It has one LNB for the uplink (request), and another for the downlink (receive) all on the same dish. This always-on system gives you speeds in the range of 50=>70 kbps uploading, and 400=>800 kbps downloading.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the Starband system, and it works as advertised. They also have a “Fair Access Policy” that you must agree to when you sing up for the service, however I’ve never experienced any bandwidth reductions.

The only two problems I’ve found with any of the satellite based internet systems are that it’s possible to loose your signal in severe weather, although it needs to be raining or snowing pretty hard for this to happen.

The other is the high latency (the amount of time it actually takes to travel the 45,000 miles round trip up and back to the satellite) that doesn’t make for a great gaming experience. By the time you shoot your opponent, he’s already killed you. If you’re an online gamer, the satellite system isn’t for you.

DangDave

I have an 11 Mbps Wireless LAN connection via a USB dongle. It’s the only type of broadband available in my area. It’s shared so I pay $54.00 a month for 512k up and down. Works great, but the security issues are scary. EASY FOR HACKERS TO INTERCEPT (802.11)

Eric

I live in a rural area, 8 miles from the closest town. I got a little lucky, and a company called www.xtratyme.com started offering wireless service in my area. They have cells all over this part of Minnesota that I live in, and they are my only broadband solution (short of satellite) that I can use.

I have a 24db dish with a 500 mW amplifier and a Breezecom SA-10d radio mounted 70 feet in the air on top of our grain elevator. I get my signal from the closest town’s water tower, where they have omni directional antennas.

I get approximately 100 kbyte/s downstream, with a lower upstream of 20 kbyte/s upload. This is about the maximum I can get without any ISP side limiting (it’s just the distance / signal loss). The service works fine in most types of weather except fog, which apparently scatters the signal.

With my ISP, you have to buy the equipment ($500-$1500, depending on new or used, and if you need an amplifier or other hardware), and then pay $30 a month. The dish requires minor realignment every 6 months or so to keep the signal optimal. While I would personally prefer a different solution (my link is just too long, and 10% packet loss is normal) it is the best solution here. I would personally prefer cable or DSL if it was available.

Thanks to all who responded – the experiences here are fairly typical of many others I received. Basically, internet connectivity is like politics – it’s all local!

Email Joe

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