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Choosing an ISP: Connection Type
There are dozens of internet service providers (ISPs) available, all offering different packages at a broad range of prices. Selecting the right one for you will depend on a variety of factors. First and foremost, you need to consider the tasks to which you will be putting your internet connection. This will help you to ascertain what type of connection will best suit your needs.
Dial-up internet connections are out of fashion now, and with good reason: they are slow (with a rarely-reached maximum speed of 56kbit/s) and unreliable, it can take several minutes to establish a connection, and they use your phone line, meaning that unless you have a second phone line installed, you cannot both use your landline telephone and be connected to the internet at the same time.
With the price of better alternatives falling, dial-up packages are only really of value to those who intend to use the internet very infrequently, and who will never need to make any large downloads. Since dial-up internet is usually charged at your local phone call rate, if you use the internet very little indeed, it may be worth your while. However, many internet users who have never had an internet connection at home before are surprised at how much they come to rely on it; you may quickly find that your needs outstrip the capabilities of a dial-up service.
In remote areas, dial-up could be the only option open to you, as other internet services may not be available. Since dial-up can be used anywhere that there is a telephone line, it is flexible and useful for travellers.
High-speed dial-up services compress files in such a way that page loading times are faster over a dial-up connection. Connection to the internet is usually faster when using a high-speed dial-up service, but file transfers are not any quicker, and image quality is sometimes reduced by compression.
ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) is one of the most popular ways for home users to connect to the internet. It works by using frequencies of the telephone line which are not used by voice calls, meaning that you can be connected to ADSL internet and use your landline telephone at the same time. ADSL modems are usually connected to the user's computer via USB, Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Because of the physical limitations of landline telephone networks, ADSL broadband is often available only in well-populated areas where the telephone lines are connected to a dedicated internet network.
ADSL is ideally suited to those who wish to download more than they upload (hence "asymmetric"). The high speeds that some packages offer make it attractive to those who download large quantities of data, such as films, or who play MMORPGs (massively-multiplayer online role-playing games). It is not suitable for business users who are likely to require faster upload speeds. It can sometimes be tricky to install. Advertised ADSL download speeds range from 1.5Mbit/s to 24Mbit/s, but the advertised rates are rarely achieved in practice because of high traffic levels. Upload speeds are usually less prominently advertised, but they tend, in theory, to be approximately 1.0Mbit/s.
The price of ADSL broadband has fallen considerably over the last few years, especially as users can now usually install the modem themselves rather than a technician being required. There are excellent ADSL broadband packages available for office use, as well.
Cable broadband can offer users exceptionally high-speed services, from about 2Mbit/s to about 20Mbit/s. Like ADSL, these advertised speeds are rarely reached because of high traffic, especially at peak times.
Cable broadband is generally dearer than ADSL broadband, especially if it is not purchased as part of a bundled package that includes cable television and/or telephone services. This is because physical cables may have to be laid in order to provide cable broadband access to a new residence, and this is expensive. However, if you have cable access at home already, going for cable broadband may well be an economically sound choice, and the high speeds available make it very attractive. You should also be aware that VoIP (voice over IP) telephone services, which can be used via a cable connection, often offer very competitive prices when compared with standard landline telephone services.
Unless you're on a very tight budget, or expect to use the internet only once in a blue moon, you should definitely consider opting for broadband. Cable is best suited to home users who already have cable service, while ADSL will serve most home and office users' needs.
Once you've decided which connection type you require for your home or business, you will need to decide which company and package you need. See part two of this article, Choosing an ISP: Company and Package.
By Helena Henderson