Internet service has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Personal and public Internet service makes it easier to get online regardless of where you are. The airline industry, well-known for telling patrons to “turn off all electronic devices,” has even bowed to this growing trend, testing Wi-Fi service on flights, according to an MSNBC article. Yet, with so many types of Internet service out there, it can be hard to know which one is right for you. With some basic information about varied services, the process can become much easier for the average consumer.
Dial-up is the oldest method of Internet access, and it’s still around today. Dial-up access remains useful because of its low price. However, in an age of massive MP3 downloading and webcam chatting, the low bandwidth of dial-up renders this service less than desirable for advanced web surfers. Standard dial-up is still about 56 Kilobytes per second. At 56 Kbps, 1 MB of data would take 2.5 minutes to download, according to ConnectMyHighSpeed.com, a site powered by White Fence. A fast 6.0 Mbps cable connection could handle 1 MB in 1.5 seconds.
As the name implies, cable Internet service is usually piped into a home via the “Cable TV” cable. The cable must go through a hub or router to properly send Internet signals, requiring in-home setup by the provider—unlike dial-up service, which can be more easily installed directly by the user. Cable provides a number of speeds based on price; however, even if a higher speed is purchased by the consumer, the connection may still be limited if the computer’s internal Ethernet card is slow and outdated.
Typically more expensive than both dial-up and cable, T1 has impressive bandwidth best suited for businesses or multiple home computers. T1 is less widely available than cable high-speed Internet, further diminishing its relevance as a personal Internet service. When high-speed Internet first posed a direct challenge to dial-up, T1 was more readily offered as an alternative to cable. This is no longer the case, and T1 has fallen into niche business markets.
Wi-Fi service is wireless Internet, typically provided via cable connections; however dial-up and T1 wireless are also possible. Wireless takes an Internet input and broadcasts it wirelessly. Wi-Fi signal strength and speed depend largely on the wireless router used to broadcast the signal; however, internal and external wireless cards used to pick up the signal do have some impact on the transfer rate. Wi-Fi is typically part of a broader Internet package. However, with Wi-Fi capable routers available at major retailers, it’s also possible for consumers to set up their own wireless networks independently of their normal Internet service provider. Wi-Fi is also increasingly offered for free at many public locations like restaurants, bookstores and coffee shops.
Internet service is offered through many companies. The various types of Internet can be augmented with third-party service plans and customer support for a better Internet experience. Generally speaking, most brands are similar, and the transfer speed of each connection remains the most important element to consider. Popular companies include Road Runner, Charter Communications and AT&T. In some cases, the type of service and the Internet Service Provider (ISP) are limited based on region. In large cities, several providers will compete for your business, while in smaller areas, one company may have a pseudo monopoly on Internet service.