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Connecting to the Internet

Following are the most common means of connecting to the Internet:


Typical Speed*

 Max Distance  Setup Home
Home Business
Dial-up modem 56 Kbps max
(.056 Mbps)
56 Kbps max
(.056 Mbps)
None $50+ $10+ Voice telephone lines
DSL 272 Kbps - 
4 Mbps
1.5 Mbps - 
4 Mbps
5 miles from 
phone company
$50+ $35+ Digital line
Cable  400 Kbps - 
2 Mbps
2 Mbps - 
4 Mbps
None $100+ $45+ Coaxial cable
Satellite 500 Kbps max (.5 Mbps) 500 Kbps max (.5 Mbps) None $700+ $50+ Satellite 
Wireless 144 Kbps
(.144 Mbps)
144 Kbps
(.144 Mbps)
Anywhere in wireless network $750+ $25+ Radio waves
T1 1.544 Mbps 1.544 Mbps None $1000+ $600- $1200 Digital line

* Kbps means Kilobits Per Second, or Thousands of bits per second;
  Mbps means Megabits Per Second, or Millions of bits per second


Modems are the slowest means of accessing the Internet because they rely on the voice telephone lines that already exist in your home. The modem has to translate the computer-generated "digital" information into analog, or audible, format, then, at the other end, the analog signal has to be translated back into a digital format by another modem.

The words to describe a modem's speed are "baud rate". While most modems sold these days are capable of transmitting and receiving at 56 Kbps (56,000 bits per second), there are still providers that are only 28.8 Kbps, in which case that's what you'll get no matter how fast your modem is.

DSL ("Digital Subscriber Line")

DSL is provided by phone companies, but the line is digital, not analog, so no translation has to be made. DSL isn't available in all areas, especially since the quality of the signal degrades more than 5 miles from the telephone company equipment. 

Each subscriber gets its own pair of wires; however, cost is kept low by "oversubscribing".  If all the DSL subscribers use the line at the same time, it would be very slow, but typically there is only a small percentage of the total possible users on the line so speeds are fine.


Cable is provided by the cable television companies, which use the existing coaxial cable networks. Speeds are roughly 384Kbps, 768Kbps, or 1.5Mbps depending on price. A cable modem and network card are required (and a cable connection as well, of course).


Satellite access is about 10 times as fast as modem access, and is probably the best choice for rural areas where cable and DSL aren't available. Your computer is connected to a 3-foot satellite dish using coaxial cable (like that used for cable TV). You also need one modem for uploading and a second modem for downloading.

There has to be a clear view to the south since the satellites orbit around the equator; also, bad weather and trees can interfere with reception.

T1 Line (Trunk Level 1)

This is a purely digital transmission line with a speed of 1.544 Mbps. Unlike DSL, most providers don't "oversubscribe" T1 Lines. In other words, if all their T1 subscribers use their lines at the same time, there won't be any decrease in speed. T1 lines generally have a direct connection to the Internet.  This is absolutely the best connection for a business that relies on the Internet for any important part of its business; however, it's quite expensive compared to the alternatives.


There are two types: 

Local: One attaches a transmitting antenna to an existing Internet connection in a home or business (usually DSL or cable), which then transmits the signal to a laptop or PC that's wireless compatible. 

The second type is provided by cell phone companies and uses their radio towers to broadcast/receive signals.  Access is available anywhere in their wireless network (the same area as their cell phones).


Copyright Rachel Peck 2003 - all rights reserved
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