Fast internet is a hard thing to live without these days. While there are many service options to pick from, the more speed you want, the fewer these boil down to. Many areas in the country have access to no more than two choices when it comes to getting wired broadband.
What you Can Get in your Area
To get a new internet connection, you need to find internet service providers servicing your location. This is easily done; simply Google it along with your zip code and you will get a list of all companies currently delivering internet service in the area. There are some sites that generate revenue each time you click one of their links to listed recommendations, but some of these do provide accurate and often useful information about what you need. Be wary of handing out personal information, but try to learn as much as you can about the options open to you.
Internet Service Types
It is not enough to simply find internet service providers in your area; this should be followed up with research into what each of them offers in terms of service. Various aspects need to be looked at, including speeds, reliability, and cost. Cable and DSL are two of the fastest internet options you can go for, and then there is also fiber optic internet to consider. However, the latter is far less common in the country, and if you live in a remote or rural location, chances are you will not find internet service providers offering this in your neighborhood. In such cases, satellite is always an option, although it does not bring the same level of speed as cable or DSL.
After you find internet service providers whose plans are within your budget, the next step is to decide what speeds you will have need of, so that it gets easier to choose among the various types of internet service. Always prefer broadband, because it offers higher speeds than dial-up. Broadband covers different types of internet service, each of which is detailed below.
This is a form of internet delivery, which makes use of a local phone line to bring internet signals into your home. Where dial-up leaves you unable to use the phone and the internet simultaneously, DSL assigns a separate frequency for the latter so that the two do not get in each other’s way. That means you will never pick up the phone and be treated to the annoying sound which indicates someone in the house is on the internet, something which most former dial-up users have nightmares about.
DSL is slower than cable and fiber optic. Download speeds generally range between 1 Mbps and 12 Mbps, but there are companies that offer connection speeds of up to 45 Mbps to customers, although you would be lucky to find internet service providers of the latter type. 1 Mbps only suffices to cover basic tasks like checking your mail and browsing the web. A bit higher on, 7 Mbps speed allows you to comfortably stream medium quality audio and video, but would cause lags if multiple devices were connected. The more devices you connect, the higher the speeds you will need, which is why most people leave their home Wi-Fi password protected, so that no guest or neighbor can simply connect and start using up data, unless they are given the password of course.
- Available almost everywhere
- More affordable than fiber and satellite
- Slower than fiber optic and cable internet
- Actual download speeds rarely match the advertised “up-to” speeds; With cable and fiber, they do
You mostly find internet service providers offering cable internet with speeds ranging between 15 and 25 Mbps. Relaying internet signals though cable wires instead of a telephone line, cheap cable internet is consequently faster than DSL. You find internet service providers providing speeds as high as 300 Mbps on their highest tiers, which easily outshoots the 45 Mbps maximum speed of the best DSL offerings. While most households do not need internet faster than 100 Mbps even when multiple devices are connected, businesses by and large are able to derive immense productivity benefits from access to such speeds. Moreover, cable is found to be more reliable than DSL.
- Faster than fiber optic and DSL, as long as you choose from the higher tiers
- Gives better reliability than DSL
- Costs more than DSL and other alternatives
- May be unavailable in your neighborhood, and if not, may only be offered by a single provider
Fiber Optic Internet Service
Usually the fastest option find internet service providers offering, fiber optic brings speeds of 25 to 75 Mbps to subscribers, which is comparable to what cable puts on the table. However, it beats both cable and DSL at upload speeds. The usable upload speed in a connection is important for people who do video conferencing and file sharing. With cable internet, an advertised 25 Mbps download rate would usually be paired with a mismatched 1 Mbps upload rate. DSL is worse in this; often coupling 6 Mbps advertised download rate with a meager 0.5 Mbps for uploads. On the other hand, fiber optic providers offer upload speeds of no less than 5 Mbps on their lowest tiers.
The main drawback of fiber optic internet is its limited availability. In many areas of the country, you still would not find internet service providers offering this type of service. The main reason for this is the requirement of separate dedicated cables, specifically cables containing specially constructed tiny glass fibers, which can relay information in the form of bursts of light.
- Faster than DSL at downloads, and cable at uploads
- Not widely available, especially compared to DSL or cable
This form of internet is the go-to option for individuals and businesses that cannot find internet service providers offering one of the alternative service types in their neighborhood. It costs more than the other options and brings lower speeds, but deliver internet access anywhere in the country as long as you have an unobstructed view of the southern sky (since we are to the North of the equator), and a properly placed satellite dish. A satellite holding geosynchronous orbit sends signals to this dish and receives the information it sends out. The main advantage of satellite internet is that you can always connect to the internet, and not have to hang up the phone for it either.
You find internet service providers like AT&T®, Verizon®, and many others providing mobile broadband services. For the uninitiated, these let you connect to the internet through a cellular network, which is similar to accessing internet data on your smartphone. The subscriber needs to have a functioning wireless modem or hot spot for this. The packages offered are highly similar to cell phone plans, where you pay for a definite number of gigabytes of data each month and get to use that. The costs also include a fee for getting each device connected, whether tablet, USB modem, or mobile hot spot. Based on affordability and data allowance, mobile broadband leaves a lot to be desired – you would be hard pressed to find internet service providers offering packages comparable to the options under DSL, cable and fiber. However, the former does come in handy when you are on the road.
Choosing the Right Service for you
After familiarizing yourself with the different types of service that ISPs offer and provide, you need to make a choice based on which of these suits you. Two main factors should drive you decision: what speeds you require, and whether you can find internet service providers giving out that specific type of service in your area. The latter can weed out a lot of options if you live in a remote or rural area, leaving you with just a few companies to choose from. After that, you will probably get to choose among different speed tiers, because most services have more than one.
Advanced users and those with several devices to connect, would do well to sign up for a higher-tiered plan. Most others can get what they want from a cheaper plan; besides buying more speed than you need is a waste of money.
Bandwidth is best defined as the upper limit to your download speeds. It is analogous to the size of a water hose. A 100-gallon tank can be filled up in 20 minutes with a hose that can carry 5 gallons per minute, and much faster by a fire hose, which can obviously transfer a lot more water in the same time. Similarly, the more bandwidth you can access, the less time it will take to download or upload data.
The most commonly used unit of bandwidth is bits per second (bps). This is not the same as bytes per second (Bps). A byte of data is made up of 8 bits, making 1 megabyte (MB) equal to 8 megabits. A 1 Mbps connection theoretically allows you to download an MB of data in eight seconds. That means the average MP3 file of 6 MB size would get downloaded in 48 seconds, while a 5000 MB movie would take around 11 hours.
The Bandwidth you Need
Your connection would have a bandwidth, which gets shared among all the devices connected on it. Your usage determines how much bandwidth you are going to need generally. If a person in the house is downloading a game while another is streaming a movie, and yet another is posting HQ pictures on Instagram, a lot of bandwidth is needed to ensure everyone is kept happy.
Video streaming usually takes up the maximum amount of bandwidth, for which reason a household running simultaneous streams would require continuous access to higher speeds. A single standard-quality stream can be accommodated by a 3 Mbps connection, while a high-definition stream would entail 5 Mbps or higher. For two simultaneous HD streams, you would need access to around 10 Mbps bandwidth.
Online games take up less data, and hence, require lower bandwidth. What a good gaming experience does require is low latency. Downloading a game is a different thing though. The installer is usually a huge file that would take a lot of bandwidth to download in a short time. People who limit their use to general web surfing, social media, and emailing would not require speeds over 1 Mbps.
One thing to remember is that while you find internet service providers touting really high speeds, there is no guarantee that you will get to access them after signing up. What you do get is the listed speed; the bandwidth you get to enjoy is affected by many factors, including the number of devices online at the time, your hardware, the ISP’s infrastructure quality, etc. On the plus side, subscribers may sometimes get faster speeds than they signed up for, such as when the overall network demand drops.
Pay as much attention to the upload speeds offered, as you do the download speeds. This is important if you plan to be doing a lot of high quality video conferencing or time-sensitive file sharing. The upload speeds are often lower than the download speeds offered, but if you can find internet service providers that are not stingy with the former, it is best to prefer signing up for one of their plans.
Most people living in metro cities have access to reliable and fast internet provided by multiple ISPs, falling under each of the types detailed above. Again, cable is the fastest option, followed by slower internet service types like DSL and others. Fiber optic internet is available in many major cities, but not all. People living in rural areas without other options, would do well to sign up with a satellite service provider, even though this option only gets them annoyingly slow speeds, even lower than cheap cable internet. Those on the move can sign up for a mobile broadband plan from their cellular provider, but this way of staying connected is very expensive, and to be used sparingly if one is watching their budget.