Dial-up, Satellite, Cable, or FiOS: Finding the Right for Internet Service for the Whole Family

[This article is a guest post by Bobby Sledge. Bobby is a web developer who blogs about mobile technology from his home in northern California.]

Your spouse loves the convenience of Internet shopping. Your kids are absolutely addicted to online gaming. You just want to be able to access your email, pay your monthly bills, and keep up with the major headlines of the day.Photo of Internet Router.

So what type of Internet service is right for you and your family? With all of the options out there, making the proper decision can feel overwhelming. In the rapidly evolving world of computer technology, it seems as though new techniques, equipment and methodologies are unveiled on a daily basis.

If you’re feeling a little bit behind in the high-tech rat race, take heart in the fact that you aren’t alone. Bombarded with constantly changing information about servers, browsers, explorers, portals, and protocols, it’s easy to simply throw up your arms in frustration.

Before you tackle the daunting task of choosing an ISP, start with a quick review of some key terms and confusing jargon. For those of you who are already scratching your heads, let’s start with the acronym ISP.

  • ISP – ISP stands for Internet service provider. These are companies that provide online access in exchange for a monthly fee.
  • Bandwidth – You may have some idea that bandwidth is closely related to online browsing speed, but what exactly is it? In a nutshell, bandwidth is used to measure the overall capacity of any given Internet connection. Systems with more bandwidth can provide faster service. This means that you can access webpages, send messages, download files, and play games with fewer glitches and/or delays.
  • Latency – Closely related to bandwidth, this term refers to the amount of time needed to actually transfer data from one point to another. If the so-called “information superhighway” were an actual, physical road, bandwidth could be thought of as the total number of traffic lanes. Latency, on the other hand, would represent the overall travel time from your hometown to your destination city. Thus while increasing the number of lanes (“bandwidth”) can increase your speed, it won’t do any good if your cars can only travel 35 MPH (“latency”).

With these terms in mind, you and your family can now begin to assess your various ISP options. Let’s begin with the slowest and most affordable option: Basic dial-up.

  • Dial-up – Although adequate for the occasional Internet user who doesn’t mind slow speeds, dial-up is rapidly being replaced by much faster broadband options such as DSL, cable, and fiber. Activities that require more bandwidth (such as streaming online movies) are often impossible with basic dial-up service.
  • DSL – An acronym for Digital Subscriber Line, DSL services offer high-speed access over traditional phone lines that can handle most modern Internet applications. However, if your family regularly downloads large amounts of data or plays complex online games, you may experience latency issues. These issues can become particularly pronounced if your home is located over a certain distance from your provider’s central office.
  • Cable – Unlike DSL, cable broadband speeds remain constant no matter where your home is located. Fast and reliable, it can generally facilitate the vast majority of online uses, but it typically costs a bit more than both dial-up and DSL.
  • Fiber – Offering the fastest Internet speeds on the market, FiOS (or Fiber Optic Service) uses fiber optics to transfer data at the speed of light, according to VerizonInternet.com. Keep in mind, however, that FiOS is presently available in select markets only.

Editor’s Notes

  • I would not recommend anyone purchasing dial-up. It is antiquated, requires a traditional phone line, and is painfully slow.
  • Cable is not truly “constant” – it actually shares the pipe between all users in a specific geographic region – so the more users that are online simultaneously, the slower the connection becomes.
  • Fiber – AT&T and Verizon both offer fiber packages. It uses light-based technology, but don’t expect seismic based speed increases over DSL or Cable. I have Verizon FiOS in my home.

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