Pretty much anyone alive during the early days of the internet knows the sound of a dial-up connection. Those coffee-grinder whirs and buzzes were the sound of the internet for an awfully long time.
And then – broadband. Broadband has become something of an industry buzzword. Even the official definition really just covers what it’s not. According to the FCC, broadband is “high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access”.
But there’s a wealth of information behind that dry quote. Modern broadband internet bears little resemblance to its noisy ancestor. Faster bit rates, new delivery methods, and even drives for free services have emerged. Read on, and we’ll give you a little more information about what’s out there, and hopefully leave you better prepared to set up your next network.
Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, services are provided through the telephone lines that are already connected to most homes. One of the oldest types of broadband around, DSL remains among the most common. Providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink all heavily promote their DSL services.
As befits a more venerable service, DSL service has a reputation for being on the slow side of popular options. Most DSL packages range from slightly under 1mbps up to 6mbps. Those aren’t exactly record breaking numbers – 1mpbs is enough for email and some web browsing, while 6mbps is generally enough to support a YouTube binge.
That’s not quite the last word on DSL though. Very-high-bit-rate DSL, or VDSL can provide some blazingly fast service, and recent technology called G.fast could be the key to boosting speeds up into the 1gbps range, enough do, well, just about anything you want.
The hare to DSL’s tortoise, relatively speaking. Cable wiring, originally meant to conduct TV signals, also allows the delivery of some very speedy broadband internet. Unfortunately, it’s not an option for everyone.
Cable connections aren’t quite as ubiquitous as telephone connections. Anybody lacking one is just going to have to use another option, such as DSL or satellite. Cable services can be extremely quick, with high-end options in the US getting up to 105mbps.
Even more pedestrian options run from 3mbps to around 50mbps. Whether or not they’re consistently that speed is cause for debate, but cable still remains one of the best choices for anyone after sky-high bit rates.
The new kid on the block. Fiber internet has a lot of people very excited, and a lot of companies very nervous. As of now, you usually won’t see it offered outside of very specific geographical areas. Specialized networks of fiber optic cables give the service its name, and also explain why it’s so rare to find.
The name you’re most likely to hear associated with fiber internet is Google. The tech supergiant’s internet has been slow to grow, but has enough punch to shake the entire telecom industry. Even a free (besides an installation fee) fiber subscription challenges existing cable plans, while paid services can deliver incredibly high, gigabyte-range speeds.
Google’s played their plans for fiber close to the chest, so only time will tell how far they expand. In the meantime, other companies have rushed to adapt, with Verizon’s FiOS currently standing as the most-used fiber service in the US.
Which Should You Choose?
With all the options, advertising, and telecom companies around, it can be hard to find your ideal internet plan.
Most of the hunt has to do with where you’re located. If you’re lucky enough to be sitting in a fiber-
enabled town, then you’ve got an easy choice. If not, research your local providers, and see what your budget can handle.
Even small towns can have their own unique services, (in Bethany, CT Frontier Internet services a community of just over 5,000 people) so make sure to look around. After all, most services available should have the speeds you need – finding a provider you like is the hard part.
Neil Bricker is a seasoned tech fiend, with years of experience covering the new and exciting for a long list of cutting-edge publications.