The different flavours of Internet access

Tips & Hints

 6 May 2005

The most common question we’re asked is what do the different types of Internet access mean. There is a bewildering range of ways to access the net. Every method has its own pluses and minuses, from the high speed cable which needs a pay-TV connection to the slowest and oldest method.

The oldest and slowest way to get onto the net is dialup access. It requires a modem, a telephone line and can be set up in minutes. Its big advantage to roaming users is that it will work on most telephone lines.

Dialup’s major downside is speed, the best it can do is 56kbps and 9kbps is not unknown. It can be expensive and hogs a phone line when in use. When you allow for telephone costs and line rental, dialup is often more expensive than ADSL, cable or wireless broadband.

In the dark days before the other types of broadband came along, ISDN was the only fast connection option for home and small business users, even then speeds of 64 and 128kbps were available. It can be very expensive and isn’t portable, needless to say, it’s not very popular but it might be suitable when other alternatives aren’t available.

At present the fastest form of broadband is cable with speeds varying (depending on the phases of the moon and competence of your ISP) between 1 and 10Mbps. It hitches into the house on the pay-TV cables, so if your street doesn’t have Pay-TV cables, you are out of luck. It is not portable at all and not as cheap as ADSL.

Like dialup ADSL uses the telephone line, but unlike dialup doesn’t hog it, leaving you free to talk or send faxes while surfing the web. The ADSL market is very competitive, prices are good and it’s the most popular broadband access method. Connection speeds vary with what you are prepared to pay. 56k up and 256kbps down are the cheapest, the faster you go, the more you pay.

The new ADSL2 standard promises higher speeds and twice the range of ADSL. Some Internet providers are rolling out 8Mbps ADSL services in selected areas. This will make ADSL by far the fastest Internet access available to homes and small business.

Not all phone lines are suitable for ADSL and something like 30% of the population cannot get it as a result, it’s also not portable. The local telephone exchange needs to be equipped for ADSL and you currently need to be within 4km of the exchange.

Wireless Broadband
For those in the city who cannot get ADSL, many companies provide wireless Internet access. Some of these plans are priced similar to ADSL. These services offer ADSL speeds but are limited to certain cities and have the usual reception problems we’ve grown used to with mobile phones.

For those in remote areas satellite is the only feasible Internet access. It’s much more expensive but covers the continent. There is two-way and one-way satellite broadband.

People generally opt for one-way satellite broadband when they need something better than a slow dial-up connection for the Internet, but can’t get access to ADSL or cable services. One-way satellite only uses the fast satellite connection for downloading data, traffic going to the ISP goes through the dial up. Because it relies on a dial up connection to send data, it’s slower than two-way satellite.

Two-way satellite broadband isn’t dependent on a land line. Both uploading and downloading happens via the satellite. This is more expensive than a one-way connection, but is the better way to go if you need to upload a lot of data all the time or cannot access a telephone line for a one way connection.

Remote users
Satellite and ISDN broadband is expensive. To make it easier for rural communities, there are many state and Federal government schemes subsidizing access. The HiBIS scheme is the Federal government plan, each state has a similar scheme with different eligibility requirements.

Of all the different broadband flavours, ADSL is probably the best for most users. With the arrival of ADSL2, it’s an even better deal. If you can’t get ADSL, or you’re on a pay-TV bundle with cheap cable, then it’s worth exploring the alternatives.

One thing we can’t advise on is the plan that’s best for you. The excellent website Broadband Choice has a tool where you can enter your location, budget and requirements to get a list of suitable providers. We’d strongly recommend shopping around before committing to any plans.
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ŠTechnology Publishing Australia, 2008