Improving Internet connectivity with ISDN, ADSL, cable, broadband and mobile broadband

by Crucible Multimedia

Once you have been using a dial-up Internet connection for a while you may find that it is useful but the connection and download speeds are frustrating and decide it is time to upgrade.

The initial connection to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) could be faster. Once you're connected you may want web pages, e-mail and attachments to download more quickly. You may want your call charges to be included (unmetered), or for the connection to be "always-on", so you receive e-mail as soon as it arrives at your ISP. You may want remote workers to be able to connect to your office network over the Internet, rather than by dialling in at long distance or international rates over the telephone network.

Let's start from scratch. With a modern computer fitted with a modem and Internet browser software such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator, you can connect to the Internet over a standard analogue phone line. You will need the phone number of an ISP's dial-up server, a username and password.

Many ISPs have proprietary software available on disk to help you to connect, but others will allow you to register online using standard browser and e-mail software. Using Windows Dial-up Networking (under My Computer or Control Panel), a few will let you dial in to an advertised number using a general username and password without any registration at all.

Faster connection and download with ISDN

An ISDN connection works in the same way as a standard dial-up, but you need a digital (ISDN) line (marketed by BT as Business or Home Highway) and an ISDN card, external ‘modem’ (terminal adapter), pbx or router.

ISDN will give you a faster and more stable connection - a few seconds to connect rather than the 20-30 seconds experienced with an analogue modem - and faster downloads. Web pages should appear about 30-50% faster. And ISDN is nearly twice as fast as the best modem connection for uploading data, so sending e-mail and uploading to a website will be quicker too.

An ISDN line gives you two channels, which can be used as two separate phone lines. Call costs per minute and per channel are the same as for an analogue line, while line rental for a business line is about twice as much as for one analogue line (after inclusive calls and discounts).

In addition, there is an initial installation fee and the cost of the new ISDN "modem", but since you have the usability of two analogue lines it doesn't cost any more to run than two analogue lines. 

Unmetered means inclusive call costs - not always-on

You pay a monthly or annual subscription to an ISP and they give you a freephone (0800 or similar number) to connect with. Packages with inclusive call costs, known as unmetered Internet access, are available by agreement between BT (which owns most of the local wiring infrastructure), the other telcos and the ISPs.

This depends on BT giving the others freephone numbers at a fixed cost per subscriber, rather than for timed or data traffic usage, but there is more to this than money. If many people were to subscribe to these services and stay connected for much longer periods - or even all day - then exchanges and trunk lines could become overloaded, resulting in many more engaged tones. For this reason many ISPs automatically disconnect dormant connections after a certain period of inactivity.

"Always-on" cable and ADSL connections are becoming more widely available

These give you a permanent connection and much faster data speeds. For ADSL you need a standard BT telephone line, and pay for a connection through an ISP which provides an ADSL “modem" as part of the installation cost. BT replaces the standard socket with a '"splitter" box, which gives you a normal phone socket as well as the ADSL socket. There is now a self-installed option at lower cost for a residential account but not yet for business accounts.

The ADSL modem or router connects your standalone PC or network to the ADSL network. You can use the standard socket for analogue voice calls at the same time as the ADSL line is being used for your Internet connection, but there could be some problems or limitations using it with an analogue modem or fax machine.

Connections from a single computer to the modem could be by USB or by Ethernet card and cable, in the same way as for a LAN. There are business and residential services with different contention ratios, service levels and costs, there are single and multi-user connections, and there are three different download speeds.

Some ISPs will give you one or more fixed IP addresses, so you can run a server over ADSL, although as the service has no Quality of Service guarantee it would be unwise to run a business-critical server application over an ADSL line.

Similar considerations apply to cable connections, which differ slightly according to the cableco involved.

Mobile ‘on the move’ and wireless ‘on the pause’ connectivity

The latest mobile phones offer Internet access on the move using WAP (wireless application protocol) and GPRS, and ‘3’ now offer third generation UMTS over a growing network. Connection may be made through a laptop using an appropriate card or via a mobile phone handset using a cable, infrared or ‘Bluetooth’ connection.

WiFi  (802.11 standard) ‘hotspots’ are springing up in airports, railway stations, hotels, coffee shops etc. where local wireless network connections are available if you have a wireless card in your laptop and a subscription to the relevant service.

Satellite could bring always-on downloads or broadcast Internet channels

A mass market satellite connection means having a dish on the exterior of the building for download and a normal telephone or some other connection for upload. Download speeds can be similar to ADSL or Cable modem but upload is limited to the dial-up speed. Two-way broadband satellite is now available across the UK but installation and running costs are relatively expensive when compared to ADSL or Cable.

The mass market is for Internet through a TV whether by satellite or other form of digital link. But home usage is likely to be different from business usage, and services may develop accordingly.

Leased lines for permanent connection with Quality of Service guarantees

This is the way corporate and specialist service or heavy user companies connect. They run servers that require high or guaranteed upload capacity, serving applications which are core or critical to their businesses. For most small businesses it is more economical to have servers co-located, or server applications hosted and possibly maintained by specialist companies. Remotely located servers can have operating systems and applications administered by you or your staff using a more economical Internet connection. An economical alternative to the traditional Leased Line could be an SDSL (Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) connection, operating at 2Mbps in each direction, although these are likely to be limited by technological limitations and commercial viability to a radius of around 3km from major city centre exchanges.

Reviewed January 2011

last updated : 21/01/2011

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