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Getting the Goods on Internet Connection Options:

Direct Wireless Transmission, Cable, DSL, and Modem

by Don Hamilton

Copyright 1998 Don Hamilton. All rights reserved.

With all the hype today, it's a little hard to decide how to connect to the Internet. The choices are cable, DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), HDSL (High-speed Digital Subscriber Line), modem, T1 or ISDN. How do you pick and where do you get the goods on each?

Each method of connection has its advantages. Some are better for business and some are better for home. Some are the best because they're the only option where you're located. They're all geographically limited in one way or another, but thank goodness we live in California because we have more choices-and competition keeps the price down.


Wireless is very competitive with T1 and DSL. It has speeds claimed as high as 40Mbps but Dennis Shen, President of Global Pacific, says that 10 Mbps is more realistic.

With a wireless system you still have to be in the line of sight of the antenna sending the signal to you. To go over or around a hill, you must have a repeater. The higher the frequency of a signal, the more the signal travels with the line of sight. There are often some large setup fees associated with this type of service because you have to buy the antenna systems. On the other hand, you don't have to lay expensive wire to more remote areas.

When T1 or DSL can't get to your office, wireless is the other very good option. There are a few companies offering the service in California; one of them is Global Pacific. According to Shen, Global Pacific "can provide service to people when the others can't reach them." He also says, "We can provide up to 10Mbps speeds, and T1-equivalent speed is $900 per month with a setup charge of $2500." If one of the repeater stations isn't close enough, they'll put in a T1 for the same price, then work on getting the connection to you. Wireless could be better than T1 for a lot of companies due to price, reliability and its availability in all of Orange County and Los Angeles.


With cable, the home user gets it all-fast upstream and downstream speeds. Most of the cable providers in California will provide T1 speeds to and from your house for up to twice the price of a dial-up service, and a telephone connection is free because it's cable and it's 24-hour service. With a limited number of phone lines allowed into most houses, this can be quite an advantage. It's on all the time, so you can get an email as soon as it's sent, or you can receive hot push news as it's breaking, all without extra online charges. The only two drawbacks: you typically can't run a server on these systems, and if you can, they don't want you to. In addition, if you're doing high-security business you may want a more secure line.

Cable can be installed only within each cable company's service area. If you're outside that area, or if your cable company doesn't provide that type of service in your area yet, you'll need to use one of the other services while you wait. Typically, cable isn't offered in business districts, so it may not be your best business service unless you work out of your home. Cable can become congested during peak usage time, but even if it does it's a lot faster than any modem connection you can get.

Tons of people are using cable now. It's the best way for the at-home user to have "blazing speed." Check around and you may be able to find some friends who are using it. Their experience can help you make your decision.

DSL, T1, T3 or OC[n] Through Your CLEC

If you want to get into technology discussions you'll have to learn some of these words. If you just want performance then just learn to ask the right questions and try to simplify everything to a yes-no question.

To put things into perspective, a T1 is 1.544 Mbps (about 50 times as fast as a 28.8 modem) and a T3 is approximately 45 T1s. An OC3 is the equivalent to three T3s. Therefore, an OC12 is four OC3 equivalents.

CLEC is short for Competitive Local Exchange Carrier-your local phone company. It delivers the line to your house or business. [x]DSL stands for ADSL, HDSL, or other variations of Digital Subscriber Lines. These are high-speed lines using bandwidth (that exists on the phone line) that has not been used before. The speed of these lines depends on how far you are from the CO (Central Office) of the phone company. The phone company has a lot of these COs, and it's commonly believed that about 80% of the people in the U.S. are close enough to take advantage of [x]DSL at some speed. Closer is faster.

[x]DSLis often going to be the best choice for any small business with a limited budget. DSL offers the security of a private line. According to Kevin Nelson of Concentric Networks (formerly DeltaNet), the low-end "IDSL actually uses an ISDN signaling on the line and allows you to carry out to a full three miles, but is only 160K downstream and less upstream. This line sells for just under $200 per month." He also says, "Concentric is the largest seller of DSL in the country right now. We have full DS-3 pipes into each of the CLEC providers which means you're really going to get the bandwidth you pay for." He clearly implies that they won't oversubscribe the lines, so you'll always have the same fast connection. If the lines have too many people sharing them they'll slow down during peak usage. This problem has always plagued the Internet and providers that were growing too fast or didn't put money into bandwidth. It's a little like when the airlines sell more seats than they have available on a flight. Most of the time it's not a problem, and the efficient use of airline seats reduces our user cost, but when the flight is overbooked at Thanksgiving or Christmas then we're all upset.

[x]DSL can be installed at a variety of speeds, depending on your needs and willingness to pay. A high-speed line is much less expensive than the current telephone charges for T1 or ISDN. Mark Tofiq, President of Intelenet, says, "A T1 is a true point-to-point connection from the company to the ISP; it's a direct line. HDSL connects from the office to the CO (Central Office) and in that way is very much like a T1, but that's where it ends. Your traffic from there goes into a frame relay which is not as good a service." He also says, "For example, a Unocal or a Toshiba is not going to rely on this new technology because cost is not the issue. [x]DSL is distance-sensitive; the speed available changes, depending on conditions and how far you are from the CO. In some areas, your telephone company may put a premium on the cost to your provider that will drive the cost up, but most of that will drop into line before long. For the price of cable you'll get a much slower connection, but much faster than with a standard modem, and you can run a server on a DSL line just like a T1. Plus it's a private line and less vulnerable to snooping."

DSL is just getting deployed, so you may have trouble finding someone who is using it to ask about his or her experience. Nonetheless, always ask the provider for the name of someone who is using their service for comparison. Check with the providers of this service and find out what other services, if any, they sell with the line. You'll need to lease or buy a modem for this service. The modems are $500 or more. If you lease, the cost should be $10-15 per month. Also, the provider can tell you what speed you'll be capable of.

DSL products are going to be used mostly in the beginning by small companies and individual power users-people who can't afford a dedicated, guaranteed, full-rate line. Scott Muir, Chief Network Architect of Verio Southern California, says, "DSL pricing is a significant change in the market and is predicated on less overall services requirements from users." He also suggests that you ask your provider (ISP) and your carrier (CLEC) to guarantee the speed you buy. This may separate you in some cases from the cheaper services, but if you shop carefully you may be able to get both.

Modem: Standard Modem/Phone Line

Standard phone lines currently connect up to 56K BAUD. Your geographic limitations are related to your provider and where they have POPs. If you don't have a local POP you'll have to call long-distance to dial up. Still, for email accounts and occasional browsing of the Web, you can't beat a dial-up account. For the most part, the majority of people in the rest of the country still have to disconnect their Internet connection to make a call.

Modems are also the best option if you travel. If you have two offices, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, you can have an [x]DSL or T1 put into both. If you really travel (and who knows where you'll be next?), a modem is the only way to go. If you want, you can pick your provider according to the POP locations they have. If you travel a lot, you might use Netcom or Earthlink because they have POPs all over the U.S. (You'll still need to check ahead to see if they have a local line before you go.) Some of the big providers are good at connectivity. In some cases, that's how they got to be big in the first place.


These are not the only ways in which to connect to the Internet, but they're the most common. In the near future, satellite connections will become common, although expensive at first. However, they'll allow connections everywhere, both on and off the planet. [x]DSL is the big new thing this year and most people don't believe you're going to get the service at the full advertised rates from all the providers. It will, as always, depend on how many people your provider has sharing the line, but it's going to be a lot better than a modem line. The best high-speed solution for most people at home will still be cable if you want speed and constant service. It's on all the time, you don't need a phone line and you get lots of speed. For most home users, the lower security won't be an issue.

Of course, the modem will still be the way most home users connect to the Internet into the next century but, as always, things in California are changing fast.


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