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Internet Service Providers

Dial-Up   aDSL   sDSL   Satellite   T1   T3   Conclusion


            In this essay, I will discuss various types of internet access in use today. I will give a brief explanation of how each service works and what equipment is required for each service. Second, I will explain some advantages and disadvantages of each method. Next, I will demonstrate rated speeds and actual everyday speeds associated with each service. Finally, I will explain the cost for each service, including equipment costs, setup costs, and monthly service charges.


            Dial–up internet access was one of the very first methods of connecting to the internet. Dial-up works by using an analog modem to modulate digital information into an analog signal that is sent across a telephone line. The same type of modem demodulates the analog signal back into a digital signal for use at the receiver’s end. As early as 1972, engineers had networked computers across the country. These networks operated over telephone lines and could transmit data at up to 56k. This may seem slow by today’s standards, but was revolutionary at the time, and only large educational institutions and the government were able to use the connections. In addition, in 1972, there were no graphical user interface (GUI) based operating systems, so all information was sent as text. Dial-up uses the same small copper wires as your telephone. Even though these wires are very small, they have the capabilities to carry much more bandwidth than is required to make a telephone call. Dial-up uses the same frequency range (0-3,400 Hz) for data

|modems first dial in to the internet connection. This means it will take anywhere from 45 seconds up to 2 minutes before you are connected to the internet. The biggest disadvantage of dial-up is download speeds, as it is only 1/30th the speed of DSL. Finally, do not be fooled by the term 56k. Typical connection speeds range from 25k to 35k, with very few users ever able to connect any faster than 40k. Personally, I connect at 26.4k every time I connect. (Side note: by the time I turn in the final version of this essay, I will not be using dialup any longer) This makes emailing pictures and large attachments a very frustrating experience.

            Dial-up, as one could expect from its limitations, is by far the least expensive internet service provider. Typical providers offer plans ranging from $4.95 per month to $14.95 per month. As I write this, I am using PeoplePC Accelerated, and pay $7.95 per month. I also use a dial-up accelerator called Active-Speed, but it was a free download.(Top)

Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (aDSL)

            Asynchronous DSL, or simply DSL to the millions of users that subscribe today, operates over the same phone lines as dial-up. It accomplishes its speed by using a much larger range of frequencies within the same copper wire that your telephone uses. DSL uses frequencies in the range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. Because of this wider frequency range, the same phone line can be used for voice calls and high-speed internet access at the same time. Telephone users will not hear anything out of the ordinary because the frequencies used are beyond the range of human hearing. This also improves downloads in the sense that it is a truly digital signal, but still requires that a DSL modem be connected to your computer. Installers further ensure no interference by installing low-pass filters on jacks only used by telephones. This means that you will not be able to connect your DSL modem to this jack without removing the filter.

            There are many advantages to using aDSL. The main reason installation remains simple is the use of a common telephone line. Another reason DSL greatly out rates dial-up is the fact that the connection is always on. Users do not have to wait for their dial-up modem to connect to a remote computer; they only have to open a browser, such as Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, or Mozilla. The second advantage is that because the connection operates outside the range of human hearing, users do not have to pay for a second phone line to their home or office. Users can surf the internet and talk on the phone at the same time, and never notice any degradation of their internet connection. DSL is currently available in many rural areas, but range is limited by distance between the user and the provider’s office. Finally, DSL offers download speeds of up to 768K (approximately 30 times faster than the average dial-up connection).

            Despite its advantages, DSL is not perfect. DSL is still slightly more expensive than dial-up was two years ago, averaging around $29.95 per month. DSL, unfortunately, is still not available everywhere. While download speeds are many times faster than with dial-up, upload speeds are marginally better (only about 128K). Finally, as distance from the provider’s office increases, speeds decrease rapidly. The current range DSL providers advertise is 18,000 feet (about 3 miles). However, users within 5,000 ft (about 1 mile) easily get higher access speeds. The area nearest my home that provides DSL is 18 miles away. It may prove hard to persuade them to build a new access point when there are perhaps only 20 to 30 people in my area that would use a DSL connection.

            DSL costs are coming down rapidly. Surveying about 10 different companies, I have found that most range between $25.00 and $35.00 per month. The remainder fell in the range of $18.23 for the cheapest, about $50.00 per month for the most expensive.(Top)

Synchronous Digital Subscriber Line (sDSL)

            Synchronous DSL operates in much the same manner as aDSL, but uses a much broader range of bandwidth in the telephone line. Because of this, SDSL lines cannot be used to make telephone calls on the same line. The extra bandwidth used in this type of connection allows up to 1.1 Mbps download speeds, and the same upload rates. This type of connection, as is aDSL, is also ‘always on,’ so there is no connection time to worry about.

            SDSL shares many of the advantages of aDSL. An sDSL connection still operates over a regular telephone line. It offers the same (or slightly faster) download speeds, but the biggest advantage of sDSL is the much faster upload speeds. While aDSL may not be the best option for someone hosting a large website that changes daily, sDSL will shine in this instance.

            The main disadvantage while using an sDSL connection is the loss of your phone line for voice calls. New VOIP technology will quickly solve these problems, though. As with aDSL connections, sDSL is also limited by distance from the provider. 500 Kbps connections are common up to 3 and ½ miles away from the provider, but the fastest connections (1-2 Mbps) are only available within a 2-mile range.

            Because sDSL is mostly business oriented, the prices are understandably higher. A brief internet search revealed that most providers offer sDSL plans a little over $200 per month. TransEdge Pro was the least expensive, offering 1.1 Mbps service for $229.95 per month. Next was Covad Telespeed Service, which costs $239.95 per month. Towards the higher end is Monterrey Bay Internet. Understandably, costs here are higher, and $249.95 per month is the going rate in the Monterrey Bay area. (Top)

Satellite Internet

            In many rural areas, the only option for internet access besides dial-up is satellite internet access. This method uses a satellite modem to transfer information back and forth between the user and a network server via satellite. This method uses a satellite dish mounted to the outside of your home. Once a request for a webpage is sent, the provider’s network server loads the web page, and then sends it back to the user via satellite.

            There are many advantages to using satellite internet as a first step away from dial-up. It is considered high speed, with download rates of 500 Kbps. However, upload speeds are limited to 50Kbps. This method is truly available almost anywhere, as long as you have power and a clear view of the southern sky. In the area in which I live, this is perfect, as the only method we have to get television (more than three channels, anyways) is via satellite. This provides high-speed access in many areas where aDSL is not yet available, due to the large distances form the provider’s main office. This is an excellent alternative for dial-up users in rural areas.

            Internet access via satellite is not perfect, however. Compared to aDSL rates in urban areas, it is relatively expensive. The requirement for a clear view of the southern sky was not an issue for me, but if you live in a very mountainous area or have many large trees on the southern or southeastern part of your property, this may not be your best alternative. In addition to the higher monthly rates, you must also purchase the dish and satellite modems prior to the install. This equipment cost totals about $600. While you can install your dish for satellite television yourself, FCC regulations dictate that, because your satellite internet system sends and receives information that is bounced off a satellite, the dish must be professionally installed. This adds to the total cost of the installation. Finally, satellite internet is not truly as fast as most sDSL and some aDSL, but currently is the only option for people residing in rural areas.

            Given my current circumstances, I believe that the costs of satellite internet are relatively high, but not unreasonable. Monthly rates run $59.95, and the up-front equipment purchase will cost users $600. In my current situation, I feel that I must have this, and only have to convince my wife that we need it.(Top)


            T1 lines are the ultimate in speed for any small or medium-sized business. T1 lines usually operate over fiber-optic lines, but can be installed using two dedicated phone lines. One fiber-optic line can handle 24 voice channels (phone lines), and these voice lines are truly digital. While a phone line samples at 64 kbps, a T1 line samples at 1.544 mbps. If you desire to set up a small and cabled office network, a T1 line offers point-to-point file transfer speeds of up to 45 mbps. Another type of access, called frame relay, is much faster, but offers no error correction capabilities while transferring files.

            The advantages of a T1 line are many. The ability of the cable to carry 24 digitized voice channels makes it very powerful when considering a small office building that needs several phone lines. Each channel can also carry data at up to 192 kbps per channel. This is approximately 60 times the speed of dial-up. T1 lines are also very reliable. When a customer signs up for a T1 network, the provider usually guarantees a certain amount of network “up-time.” This guarantee is usually 95%, but different providers do vary. If normal aDSL speeds are desired, a single T1 line can usually handle about 200 users without any noticeable degradation of access speed. Finally, a T1 line is connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (within the limits of the 95% up-time guarantee). The ability to run over two dedicated phone lines also makes a T1 a serious contender if a small or medium sized business is looking to connect multiple users to the internet.

            As with any networking area, T1 lines do not offer everything and ask nothing. The biggest disadvantage to installing a T1 line is the cost. Next, trained professionals must complete the installation, and subscribers must have T1 lines in the near vicinity of their office or building. This leads to the biggest hurdle in a T1 installation. Most medium to large cities abound with T1 lines, but I doubt very much that a T1 connection will be available in my area, ever. By the time DSL has been provided for a few years, new technology will probably replace DSL.

            The costs of a T1 line are the second highest in this survey, but not totally out of reach of a small business that want to host a respectable website or operate partially or fully online using emarketing. A brief survey concluded that T1 lines can range anywhere from $500 per month to $1200 per month. The average rate reported was about $800 per month.(Top)

T3 (DS-3)

            At the very top of the connectivity speed food chain is T3. This is not a connection for the faint of heart. A T3 line is the combination of 28 T1 lines, or the equivalent of 672 voice lines! This is a truly massive fiber-optic network. This type of connection is usually used as the major backbone of networking for high volume corporations and larger universities. In this sense, the fiber-optic lines are used full duplex, meaning they can carry voice and data signals at the same time. These powerful lines have the ability to carry voice, streaming video, data, and still provide for internet access.

            There are really only three advantages to a T3 line. First is the pure power and networking capability it provides. Try to connect 400 computers with high-speed access regular phone lines, and you risk certain fire hazards and cable routing problems. The second advantage is the speed. No other widely available networking solution can even approach the speeds of a T3 line.

            Now that we have reached the best of the best, if you will, the disadvantages and advantages have seemed to reverse order. T3 lines guarantee the ultimate in speed and connectivity, but it is not cheap. The cable itself and the installation can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Finally, T3 lines are still not available in many places at a reasonable cost for businesses.

            The cost of a T3 is the reason this type of connection is suitable for medium to large companies only. Costs vary widely, and most providers do not even advertise rates until you contact them with installation details and infrastructure requirements. Judging from the few providers that will give you an estimated price, most T3 lines can run as high as $15,000 per month. Not exactly for the home user who uses their computer for two to three hours a night to play games and check their email.(Top)


            The “internet” as we know it today, technology in electronics, and computers have advanced a thousand fold since the US government formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1957. The first cross-country computer link was created in 1970, and technology today provides processor speeds and download speeds never even imagined 20 years ago. Today, there are many different types of internet access, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks. The ability to use more of a telephone line’s bandwidth led to the introduction of DSL. Fiber optic technology has only proved to break higher and higher speed barriers. While laser technology developed along with fiber-optics beginning in the 1950s, it has only recently been employed in high-speed computer networks. Wireless technology of the 1990s has lead to “wireless hotspots” that allow mobile computer users to connect with no cabling at all. It will only be a matter of time until 802.11G technology fades and something faster is in common use. What will the future hold? Only time will tell, but I am already waiting for the day when I can tell my son (now 4) that, “Yes, we used to have to connect computers with cables to make them communicate.”  Ah, technology. First, we create it, then we become slaves to it.(Top)



















Works Cited