Choosing High Speed Internet Access

Cable, DSL, Fixed Wireless, Mobile, and legacy connections. It’s tough to decipher the differences between these types of high speed internet connections and even tougher to weed through the useless information to find real-life useful reviews on the topic (not to mention the internet providers themselves). We’re going to show you what you need to know to make the right decision in purchasing high speed internet access.

The Speed

Cable and DSL internet providers love to battle one another over who has the faster network speeds. You can’t sit down to watch a show without noticing at least one ISP (internet service provider) showing a commercial with planes flying overhead or fancy 3D graphics illustrating their blazing fast speeds. While Cable internet providers have the upper hand in this respect, it’s important to discuss whether it is really necessary to purchase a 105mbps internet connection for $300+ a month (We’re going to assume a family of four living in a suburban home for our example case).

It’s important to note that you’re not always passing large amounts of data through your connection. While you may have a 12mbps internet connection at home you’re definitely not always downloading a file or streaming video. You complete these tasks in short bursts (relative to the whole day) and retrieve the information you want at a predetermined speed. That speed is your available bandwidth designated, as such, by the carrier. Most ISPs purchase dedicated internet access and resell this connection to you. You, in turn, are sharing your available bandwidth with others on the same local network as something referred to as the oversubscription ratio. It really doesn’t matter what carrier you pick as this will occur regardless of provider. Some carriers oversubscribe less than others. For every 12mbps of dedicated internet access, 10 others can receive the same residential-grade connection on the principle that not everyone will be using this connection at the same time. It’s the same idea that telecommunication companies use to provide telephone service.

What does this mean for your family? Well… you’re going to want to “oversubscribe” the right amount for your family as well. Here are some recommended minimum numbers for a single user:

256k to stream audio

512k to stream HD audio

2mbps to stream video

4mbps to stream HD video

If you’re a single person in an apartment living along with nobody else using the internet connection then you can use the ballpark numbers above as a guide to bandwidth purchasing. If you have a family or live with others then you need to heed the following advice: double the numbers above as your minimum for a family of four. Triple the numbers if you live with teenagers (I’m not kidding!).

Note: Some wireless carriers impose low bandwidth caps on residential connections as low as 2GB. While 12mbps is “capped” speed at which you can transmit data… the data “cap” is the total amount of information that you can cumulatively send or receive per month. How a carrier deals with this depends on the carrier’s policies. Some charge large amounts for small amounts of data exceeding the imposed amount while some throttle back speeds to 256k or lower.

The Technology

Cable – Uses the cable TV connection, known as coaxial, to run the internet connection over wire. It won’t interfere with your television service and is relatively easy to install as most homes are wired for cable. Cable has been known to oversubscribe their users at ranges of 30-1 or even 50-1 in some areas. Ask your neighbors how their internet access functions at peak times, 3pm-9pm, to gauge the overall quality of the connection.

Streaming Movies Recommended: Yes

Speed: 1.5mbps – 105mbps

Cost: $20 – $200/mo

DSL – Uses copper phone wires to transmit data digitally using a direct line back to the carrier’s hub. DSL uses higher frequency bands for transmitting data so it won’t interfere with your home phone. You’ll just need to attach very simple filters to your phones which most carriers provide (they literally just plug in). DSL has the limitation of distance and can sometimes be difficult to attain faster speeds in more rural areas.

Streaming Movies Recommended: Yes

Speed: 256k – 40mbps

Cost: $20 – $70/mo

Fixed Wireless Internet- This technology uses wireless modules installed at the user’s home to communicate back to an access point which is then routed to long-haul transport. Wireless ISPs (WISPs) are sometimes the only option for last-mile users in rural settings other than mobile providers. Wireless internet providers tend to oversubscribe at lesser ratios than wired providers but must be able to maintain wireless links between many wireless modules. One nice touch to a WISP is that they are usually run as a small business and customer service can be more friendly. You may run in to issues with latency, lower speeds, or bandwidth caps in some areas where bandwidth is scarce. Expect speed choices of 256k to 20mbps.

Streaming Movies Recommended: No

Speed: 256k – 20mbps

Cost: $20 – $200/mo

Mobile – For some folks this is their only option. No cable, no DSL, no fixed wireless… who wants to sit around and wait for dial-up? The major carriers all have some sort of data cap or bandwidth throttling. If you are considering streaming video then think again. A single 2-hour HD movie is about 1.8GB in size. If your data is capped at 5GB per month then you’re going to be able to watch two total movies. If you’re checking email and generally surfing the net then you will simply not go over your data limit. If you do it while listening to music, you might. Be wary of the policy your cellular wireless internet carrier has toward data overages before entering in to a contract. Expect 4G speeds of up to 20mbps, 3G speeds of 2mbps, and legacy speeds of 256k in rural areas.

Streaming Movies Recommended: No

Speed: 256k – 20mbps

Cost: $35 – $65/moLegacy – Also known as dial-up, is your last-ditch option for internet access. This connection ties up your phone line when using the internet, provides horribly slow speeds, and gets you nowhere quick. If you’re currently using dial-up internet access we recommend that you either search for a wireless provider in your area or consider satellite internet.