A friend of mine wrote me and asked which broadband solution she should choose to connect with her office from home. This is not the first time others have asked this question of me, so what with me experience with multiple broadband customers I felt a blog post was in order.
So what rural broadband solution is the right one? Well, you might as well ask the question “what is the best way to eat eggs”, several options exist, and all of them are essentially about providing you with high speed Internet access, just as eating eggs is about feeding your hunger. Deciding the right broadband connection is similar to eating your eggs over easy, sunny side up, poached, or hard boiled – there is no one solution.
The right choice is dependent on exactly how fast you want your connection, bandwidth restrictions, and the availability of connection types in your area etc. One of the first questions you should ask yourself is “what is that I need Internet for?” If you only want email and browsing of the web, then a moderate speed DSL line may suffice. In my friend’s case, she wants to connect to her office, and so will need a broadband line with more oomph.
Before getting into the practical details of broadband options, it is worth mentioning that all broadband companies are crooks – IMHO they all charge far too much money for the service they provide, customer service typically stinks, and I hear all sorts of horror stories about bad service, installation, or billing. My advice – ignore the company, find the service you want, and prepare yourself to yell at your broadband provider from time-to-time.
Broadband Internet connection is currently available in three flavors: Satellite, DSL, Cable, and FIOS. Each differs in price, level of service, and installation -:
Satellite offers very low bandwidth because of the limitation in the technology used. Those unfortunate people, living in the middle of no-where without any cable or DSL options have no choice but to use satellite. If you live in an area supporting alternative forms of broadband, stay away from satellite. Satellite may be a viable option for TV – typically offering more channel options than cable for a cheaper monthly price, however, expect bad reception in poor weather conditions.
I had cable for the longest time and was happy with it until late last year. Cable is the only other alternative to satellite for TV reception in my area, so it made sense to bundle in Internet. Cable Internet offers download speeds ranging from 1.5mbps (mega bits per second – about 187 thousand characters a second) up to as much as 8mbps a second, and upload speeds from 512kbps up to 2mbps. The typical monthly price for cable Internet is about $30-$50, depending on the speed package.
Most urban areas have one cable company, providing them with service, which means the cable company has a monopoly on your business, and can charge what they like for service. I find that this can affect the attitude of customer service.
DSL works over an existing copper line telephone system, and as long as the phone company has a DSL substation in your area, they should be able to provide you with DSL service. Download speeds range from 128kbps (double modem speeds) up to 3mbps, making it competitive with cable Internet. Upload speeds are typically a quarter to half the download speed (similar to cable) for residential service to dissuade hosting of web servers etc.
DSL speeds are typically the cheapest broadband you can buy, ranging from $12 a month for low-end bandwidth, and up to $40 a month for the fastest connection. Your local phone service provider typically provides DSL, but third party providers, like AOL and EarthLink, may offer a repackaged deal.
If you are considering VOIP (Voice over IP – Phone service over the Internet) forget DSL, because you will still need local phone service – an unnecessary cost. Verizon provides a service called “dry-loop,” which is effectively DSL without local phone service (credit card billing).
FIOS is the newest broadband technology on offer, using fiber-optic technology. Currently FIOS is a Verizon product, and only available in certain locations (check http://www.verizon.com/fios for availability). Regardless if you have phone service, Verizon will install a fiber line to your property (assuming the service available in your area), convert your local phone from copper, and install an ether net CAT 5 socket in your residence for Internet.
FIOS connection is lighting fast, with the lowest plan starting at 5mbps download, a middle of the road plan at 15mbps and a super fast plan offering 30mbps. As with DSL and cable the upload speed is about half that of the download speed to dissuade service hosting. For most uses the 5mbps plan is adequate for all uses, including web surfing, downloading email, and VPN connectivity to the office. For those that download a lot of data and need a fatter pipe, the 15mbps plan offers three times the speed for about $10 extra a month (most value for money). If most of your bandwidth usage is in bursts (web browsing and email etc) and you do not need a constant stream of bandwidth, then the 15mbps won’t appear much faster than the 5mps plan, especially considering that some web server cannot deliver content at 15mbps. The 30mbps is for those with deep pockets, and frankly a waste of money at $150 a month IMHO.
Local phone service is not required for FIOS, which means you can take advantage of VOIP on your fast link. Verizon does insist that you subscribe to credit card billing to use FIOS without phone service.
VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is not a broadband Internet service; it is a phone service that makes use of an available broadband Internet connection. Many customers are switching from their local phone service to VOIP because the call quality is comparable, all calls in the US and Canada are free, and the normal high-priced additional features, like caller ID, call waiting etc, are included in the low monthly fee (approx $40). VOIP eliminates the need for a long distance plan, and International calls reasonably priced (in line with calling card rates).
VOIP is involves a conscious decision because it affects the choice of broadband connection. VOIP over DSL is a royal pain because DSL requires local phone service. VOIP works great over cable as well as FIOS.
Several companies offer VOIP out of the box, and establishing service is quick. Installation is as easy as plugging a VOIP box into your Internet line, and an existing analogue phone into the back of the VOIP box.