October 4, 1999
Go, Speed Racer!
Faster Internet connection alternatives are here
If slow download time is keeping you away from the Web, your troubles may be over. New technologies available from many local telephone, cable and Internet service providers will let you toss away your dial-up modem and go for the gold or, more appropriately, the Java, Flash and streaming video.
To find out if each of these services is available in your area, visit GetSpeed.com (www.getspeed.com). Once you enter your ZIP code, area code and exchange, you'll get a checklist telling you which of the services is offered, the names of the providers and links to their Web sites. We've broken down the services to help you choose which is right for you.
Digital subscriber lines (also known as ADSL or asymmetric digital subscriber lines) use existing copper telephone wires to send and receive data at high speeds. Users can send information at speeds up to 640 kilobytes per second and receive it at up to 6 megabytes per second as much as 30 times faster than a 56-kbps modem. With DSL, you can talk on the phone using the same line while you're on the Internet. Services generally range from $50 to $300 per month, depending on the access speed you desire. Although DSL is not currently available in all markets, more telephone companies and ISPs are investing in the technology; especially on the East Coast, many companies now offer the standard "G.Lite" DSL modem and accompanying services.
Currently the most popular choice of high-speed access for residential users, cable modems offer the fastest speeds available to home users about 30 mbps, 500 times faster than a 56-kbps modem and much faster than corporate T1 lines, which are typically 1.5 mbps. Many local cable providers offer this service and will send technicians to your home or office to install the modem; prices are $40 to $45 per month plus installation fees. Cable modem users maintain a constant connection to the Internet and don't tie up their phone lines or have the hassle of busy signals. The service isn't available in all areas yet and is mostly monopolized by two service providers, @Home and Road Runner, which align themselves with local cable companies, so there's rarely much choice when signing up for a service. Some cable modem users complain that the more users who are on-line at a time, the slower the connection but that's true with dial-up access as well.
Satellite Internet access has gone nationwide, thanks to pioneer companies such as DirecPC. DirecPC will act as your ISP or allow you to retain your current ISP; then you buy and install a satellite dish with modem, which you can use for the Internet only or combine with TV service. The equipment prices start at $199, and service prices are $20 to $110 per month not including Internet access and $30 to $130 per month including access. Speeds are only about 400 kbps, but your Internet connection won't slow down during heavy-traffic times of the day. Services expected to become available in the next year or so will be more convenient because they won't require phone lines, modems or extra ISPs.
Next on the horizon is wireless Internet access. Partnerships between wireless carriers such as Sprint PCS, Internet companies and digital phone manufacturers will create devices that send signals to a wireless system's antenna and connects with the carrier's data network to reach the Web. A few hand-held devices such as the BlackBerry pager and 3Com's Palm VII can already send and receive e-mail remotely. According to The Wall Street Journal, devices such as these will take off in the next year or so, though services allowing wireless Web surfing won't be as widely available until about 2001 or 2002.
- by Stacey King