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Good Internet access is indispensable today. As a business, you are expected to maintain a certain online presence. If you want to do research, there is no faster way than the Internet. And if you are trying to keep in touch with other people for personal or professional reasons, nothing beats the Internet.
So what’s the best method for getting an Internet service for your home or business? You have a lot of choices, and you owe it to yourself (and to your wallet) to carefully investigate all of your options. You can choose DSL, cable, satellite, dial-up, or wireless Internet. These are your best bets for a reliable means of Internet access in your home or office.
Check out some of our resources to figure out which Internet access source is your best bet. There are lots of ways that you can get great service while saving money, so be sure to compare and research before signing any contracts.
Which Internet source is right for you?
Even with all of the options out there for Internet access, the truth is that not all Internet services are right for everyone. Depending on where you live and your budget, you will do better with some Internet services than others.
Compare broadband, cable, satellite, DSL, dial-up, and wireless Internet to see which will be the best option for you. Use the chart below to get a rough idea of how different services compare. We have excluded wireless service from this chart because that term refers to so many different kinds of service that it would be too difficult to compile all of that information into this one chart.
DSL Internet Access
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) Internet access is Internet service delivered through analog telephone lines. Analog telephone lines are the lines of the original telephone system. So, if you already have an analog phone line currently connected to your home, then you should be eligible for DSL phone service.
Advantages of DSL
DSL provides very fast and high quality Internet service. DSL service includes a very high bandwidth because telephone lines have a lot of room for data transfer. This means that you can use the Internet and make telephone calls at the same time, and support many Internet users all at once.
DSL lines are also very secure. Generally, DSL lines are harder to hack into than cable modems, so you shouldn’t have to worry about any unauthorized users.
DSL lines are also very durable. As easy as it is to lose power in bad weather, you are pretty unlikely to lose functionality from your telephone lines. As a result, you shouldn’t need to worry about severed lines except in the most severe circumstances.
DSL is frequently a good choice for fast Internet service for people who live within close proximity of their service provider. The closer you are to your service provider’s central location, the better your Internet connection will be.
Disadvantages of DSL
If you don't already have a phone line connected to your home, it can be prohibitively expensive to get one. Depending on the situation, whether you just need to replace a phone line, or you need to install one in a home that has never had one before, it can cost well upwards of $200 to install a new line.
In addition, it can be very difficult to get DSL service if you live too far away from a central service provider. In fact, most service providers have an upper limit for how far they can provide service, around three miles away from their server location.
This means that you generally can’t get DSL in remote locations, so you will have to check to see if you qualify for DSL service.
DSL may also be more expensive than cable and dial-up. With AT&T, DSL service will cost between $14.95/month and $42/month depending on how much bandwidth you want. However, if you are out of the service range for AT&T, DSL can be very expensive with some smaller local companies. For example, Speakeasy DSL can cost as much as $99.95/month.
Cable Internet Access
Cable Internet is an Internet access service provided by a cable company. If you are already using cable for your TV or telephone service, then you are probably eligible to get cable Internet service as well. Cable companies use actual physical cables to connect your home or business to their service centers, and through those cables they provide you with a certain amount of bandwidth for your telephone, TV, and Internet use.
Advantages of Cable
Cable Internet service is also known for providing a high quality Internet service with high speed and high bandwidth. If there are only a few users on your cable modem, you may even be able to get faster Internet speeds than DSL.
Cable Internet also has the advantage that you are not so severely limited to a certain location as you are with DSL service. You can be much farther away from the cable companies service center and still get nearly perfect service.
Disadvantages of Cable
However, cable modems are not as good as DSL modems for supporting large numbers of users. So, if lots of people in your home, office, apartment complex, etc. are using the same cable modem, you could start to see very slow service, especially if any one person needs to use the Internet for a lot of high intensity data transfer, like streaming high quality videos or gaming online.
And cable Internet may be a cheaper option compared to some services, especially satellite Internet, but it is not always cheaper. For example, with Comcast Xfinity, you can get Internet service that starts at $19.99/month, but if you want even faster Internet service, it can cost as much as $199.95/month.
You should also be careful to read the fine print when it comes to bundling. Many cable companies will encourage you to choose a bundling option that includes TV, Internet, and telephone, or any combination of those three. Oftentimes, cable companies offer discounts on each of these services for the first year of service, but your price may increase dramatically after the first year.
Satellite Internet Access
Satellite Internet access provides you with Internet service via a satellite, just like a satellite TV service. You have to install a satellite dish on or near your house in order to use this service, which can be very costly. However, for some people, satellite Internet really is the best choice.
Advantages of Satellite Internet
Satellite service is a great option for people who live in remote locations, too far out of the range of other Internet service providers to get Internet access through cable, dial-up, or DSL service. So for some people, satellite Internet is really the only avenue for good Internet service.
Satellite service is available anywhere because it depends on an actual orbiting satellite. As long as you can get a satellite dish pointing in the direction of that satellite station (for example, if the satellite orbits the equator and you live in the US, you will need a southern-pointing satellite dish), then you can get satellite service.
Satellite service is fairly reliable, though not always as reliable as cable or DSL because your personal satellite dish may be more susceptible to damage in harsh weather than a cable or telephone wire.
However, your satellite is also not affected by by any downed wires, so even if a wire were to go down, you would still have your satellite service available.
It’s also pretty easy to have multiple users on the Internet at once. You won’t be affected by the Internet consumption of other people in your area because your service comes from your own satellite.
Disadvantages of Satellite Internet
Satellite service is notoriously more expensive than cable and DSL, but this is changing as satellite service becomes a more popular choice for many people. Depending on your needs, it could cost as much as $10,000 to cover the entire cost of a very sophisticated satellite dish like you might use for a large business. You can get cheaper satellite dishes for residential needs, but these can still be reasonably expensive.
For example, you can rent a satellite dish from HughesNet for $100, although they sometimes offer special discounts which may allow you to rent the dish for free. If you want to own the dish, prices start at $200.
Today, you can get residential satellite service from HughesNet starting at $50/month, and running as high as $100/month.
Satellite Internet may also have a lower bandwidth than some other Internet services, which means you may have slower Internet service if you have lots of people using the same service. There are also latency issues with some satellite services that could disrupt certain programs and applications.
Dial-Up Internet Access
Dial-up Internet relies on the PSTN (public switched telephone network), the infrastructure of the traditional telephone system, to deliver Internet service. If you already have a telephone line on the PSTN, then you only need a modem to use the line for Internet service as well.
Dial-up is widely considered to be outdated as it is not a broadband Internet service.
Advantages of Dial-Up
Dial-up has the advantage that it can be used by a wide range of customers because it is a very cost effective method of getting Internet access. If you already have a telephone line, then you only need to get a modem. These start around $20 or $30. However, you may be able to rent a modem for little or no cost.
Dial-up service can cost as little as $5 to 10/month. Of course, if you don't have an existing PSTN line, then it doesn’t make as much sense to try to use dial-up for your Internet service because you would have to pay for the installation of a telephone line, as we discussed above in the section about DSL.
Dial-up is still popular for people who don't have a very large budget for Internet service because it is a perfectly usable Internet service for people who only need the Internet for basic things like checking email.
Disadvantages of Dial-Up
Compared to advancements in broadband Internet technology, dial-up is no longer a viable option for people who need to use the Internet for more taxing things like gaming and video streaming. In fact, some online services can’t even function with dial-up. This includes popular online games like Halo: Combat Evolved and Final Fantasy XI.
How is dial-up distinct from DSL? Dial-up is distinct from DSL in the way that the two services make use of their connection to a telephone line. With DSL, you can distribute the bandwidth available on the telephone line for many purposes. So, multiple people can use the Internet at once, while someone else can still use the telephone.
Dial-up, on the other hand, only allows one use of the telephone line at a time. So, if you need to use the Internet, no one else can use that line to make phone calls at the same time. So, if you don't have two lines in your home, one for Internet and one for telephone use, dial-up is probably not a viable option.
Wireless Internet Access
Wireless Internet access refers to many different types of wireless Internet sources. This could include LANs, WANs, and cellular networks, among others. With the advancements in wireless technology of the last decade, wireless Internet access has become an increasingly important element of daily life.
Advantages of Wireless Internet
Wireless Internet resources allow you to access the Internet at any time from any wireless device like a smartphone, tablet, PC, Bluetooth device, etc. This means that you can stay connected to the Internet in most places.
For example, it is typical for lots of public places like airports, restaurants, campuses, and hotels to offer wireless service. Sometimes, you may need a password or you may need to pay a fee or be a customer to get permission to use a public wireless network.
So, if you are traveling or you are frequently away from your home or office, you can still use the Internet and check your email, a huge benefit for your productivity.
You can use a wireless Internet service in your home, in your office, in an entire office building, over a large area like a campus, or in an entire neighborhood. This can be extremely useful if you need to connect lots of people on one network. For example, you can set up a wireless network in your home to connect multiple computers, a wireless printer, and a wireless fax machine. If you own a business, you can get a private wireless service for all of your employees to use. Or, if you are setting up wireless Internet service for a campus, you can set up a private wireless service that is just for students, and a second wireless Internet service for campus visitors and guests.
Wireless Internet has become popular for these kinds of uses because it enables you to avoid the cost of installing lots of new wires and cables, which can get very costly, especially in a large company. It also allows users to use the Internet without having to physically plug in.
Most new devices are ready to access wireless networks right out of the box. This means that you won’t have to pay extra for the capability on your wireless devices. However, if you do use an old device, you can buy plug-ins that allow you to use wireless Internet.
Disadvantages of Wireless Internet
Of course, wireless Internet is not always the best choice. It takes a little bit of technical know-how to install a wireless Internet service in your home, so if you don't feel up to the task, you may do better to get a service with professional installation like cable or DSL service.
It is pretty cost effective to get a wireless service for your home or business because wireless service will give you a fast and reliable Internet service without the need to install a lot of cables and extra equipment. However, it can also cost a fair bit to use wireless service in public places. For example, airports often charge around $5 to $10 per login for their wireless service.
And if you want to use a wireless device as a WiFi hotspot, it can be very expensive, as much as $3.99 per session with AT&T.
And if you want to use a mobile network for wireless Internet access, it can cost as much as $50 for a month of service with Verizon.
What is Broadband Internet?
Broadband Internet refers to Internet service that makes use of the available bandwidth to provide high speed Internet access. In this way, bandwidth can be divided up for multiple uses. For example,if you have broadband DSL service, bandwidth is divided to allow multiple Internet users to use the connection simultaneously with someone making a phone call off the same line. In cable, bandwidth may be split up to provide Internet and TV service. Dial-up is not a broadband service.
It has become popular for Internet service companies to use the word “broadband” to market their faster Internet services. Really, the term just refers to an Internet service that meets a certain minimum standard for speed. The exact minimum that a service needs to meet in order to be considered broadband is in debate, but generally sources agree that it should at least meet 2 Mbps.