Being serious internet users, my wife and I have chosen broadband 100 cable internet for our home. We are both very pleased with our broadband 100 megabits-per-second service, and would recommend it to people with similar home-office situations. But cable and ADSL are not the only options for getting online. Broadband (highspeed) internet can be achieved a variety of ways. About.com explains your 4 major broadband choices below. If you can average 10 to 25 megabits-per-second down speeds with your connection, you should have a smooth daily internet experience, whichever connection method you choose.
1. Cable Internet
- Down speed (more is better): 25 to 100 megabits per second
- Up speed (more is better): 2 to 8 Mbps
- Latency: (less is better) 150 to 500 ms, depending on your area
- $25 to $90 per month, plus installation fees
- Cable internet is the fastest overall choice in 2011.
- The best choice for heavy file sharing, heavy downloading, and sending/broadcasting your own streaming video.
- A good choice for serious gamers, as latency is moderate.
- A good choice for families, as multiple computers can easily share a single cable connection.
- Available to most people in metro areas.
- Many users already have a cable connection for their TV, so setup can be fast.
- If combined with TV and VoIP telephoning, an all-in-one media bundle package can be a very attractive setup for your family.
- The special modems can sometimes be quirky
- You may need to have the tech install booster devices if you do a lot of downloading
- Bandwidth can be high, but gaming latency can also be higher than DSL
- You will share your bandwidth speed with your neighbors. This means that if you happen to live next door to many serious downloaders and movie-streaming fans, your own speeds will decline sharply when they are online.
Example: here is Shaw cable internet.
Editor's comment: cable should be the first choice for 99% of urban users.
TV cable internet is arguably the best choice for urban residents. Depending on your location, you can get blazing fast download speeds of 30 to 100 megabits-per-second (Mbps).
Cable internet is a service offered by your television cable provider, and the type of cable hardware they use supports these phenomenal connection speeds. The one major downside is that cable internet often shares your download speeds with your neighbors, in the same way your hot water tank is shared across your whole house. If you happen to live near 2 or 3 hardcore file downloaders in your neighborhood, you will see your download speeds drop to as slow as 5 Mbps during simultaneous heavy usage.
Cable internet requires special modems, and a hard line will need to be either wired to your house, or your existing TV cable will be spliced to bring internet into your home.
2. ADSL: Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line
- Down speed: 1.5 to 15 Mbps
- Up speed: 128 kbps to 1.0 Mbps
- Latency: (less is better) 75 to 400 ms, depending on your area
- $35 to $50 per month, plus installation fees
- Very convenient for users who already have telephone subscriptions.
- Available in more rural areas than cable.
- No sharing of bandwidth with your neighbors: your speeds should be very constant through each day.
- Perhaps the best choice for gamers, as DSL commonly has lower latency than cable.
- The monthly price should be cheaper than cable internet, so watch that you are not gouged.
- ADSL speeds will be considered slow by 2013.
- Not the best choice for heavy downloading and file sharing.
- Not always the best choice for families, as many ADSL providers limit the number of computers to 2 for addressing reasons.
Example: here is TELUS' ADSL internet.
Editor's comment: ADSL should be the second choice for most users, after cable internet.
ADSL, or often just called 'DSL' for short, is a type of telephone connection made for internet signals. If you already have a telephone hard line in your home, it can be quite quick to enable internet DSL for your computer.
ADSL achieves speeds that are not as fast as cable, but can be quite fast for most users: 8 to 15 megabits per second. Unless you are a hardcore downloader, this is plenty fast for daily Internet and gaming needs.
ADSL does require special modems and small devices called microfilters.
3. 3G/4G Wireless Cell Phone Internet
- Down speed: 0.4 to 50 Mbps
- Up speed: 0.2 to 6 Mbps
- Latency: (less is better) 250 to 800 ms, depending on your area
- $30 to $110 per month, plus startup fees
- Ideal for travelers, field workers, and rural residents.
- Can be convenient; no need to find a new hotspot network as you travel around your state/province.
- If you can afford it, down speeds on 4G can be 21 Mbps or faster.
- Within a few years, 4G will provide 100+ Mbps down speeds.
- Expensive: 3G/4G can range from $30 to $120 per month.
- Reception can be flaky, depending on how close you are to a cell phone tower.
- Up speed is slow for lower grade connections, so sending file attachments and file sharing can be frustrating until you purchase the more expensive subscriptions
- Only one computer can go online at a time; not a good choice for families using multiple internet machines.
Editor's comment: while this is the third choice for metro users (after cable and DSL), 4G is the first choice for travelers and rural residents. 4G and its HSPA+ technology is getting better, and we can expect to see 100 Mbps wireless speeds as a standard in a couple of years. If the 4G providers manage the target market well, 4G wireless will become the worldwide standard in internet connectivity within a few years.
3G and 4G are named for '3rd generation wireless' and '4th generation wireless' networking. They are essentially cell phone internet connections. Both 3G and 4G wireless use cell phone towers and cell phone signals to provide your internet connection.
3G download speeds are significantly slower than wired cable and DSL. Expect a 3G connection to average 1 to 4 megabits-per-second down speed, and even less up speed. 4G connections, however, are much faster at 14 to 42 Mbps downspeed, and easily rival cable and DSL connection speeds.
As a 3G or 4G user, your wireless modem will likely be a 'dongle': a small device that will connect to your laptop USB port. As long as you are in a cell phone coverage area, you should get wireless Internet with the same reliability that you get cell phone service. You will only get to have one computer on the internet at a time with your dongle, so this is not a good choice for families with several machines. But as an individual traveling user, 4G is an excellent way to get online.
4. Satellite Internet
- Down speed: 0.5 to 1 Mbps
- Up speed: less than 1 Mbps
- Latency: (less is better) 800 to 2500 ms, depending on your area
- $100 to $250 per month, plus $300 to $1000 for the satellite dish, plus installation fees
- Can bring internet to remote users.
- Very slow, and latency is often over 800 milliseconds.
- Expensive to install, expensive to subscribe to.
- Can be unreliable if your locale is cloudy and rainy, or if your line of sight to parts of the sky are obscured by trees and mountains.
Example: here is WildBlue satellite internet.
Editor's comment: don't even bother looking at this satellite choice if you can get cable, DSL, or 4G.
Satellite is prohibitively expensive, and should be the last choice for any private user. But if you live in a remote area with no cell phone coverage, satellite may be your only choice. Satellite internet is available as a down-only connection (you cannot send emails or file share; you need to use a telephone modem to do that), or as a full two-way connection which is much more expensive.
Installation of the satellite dish on your home will cost you over $1000, plus the time and effort to do the install. And monthly subscription costs are often $100 to $250, depending on your provider.
Down speeds with satellite internet are 0.5 to 1 megabit-per-second, and up speeds are much slower. Latency is very poor, often 800 ms and worse.