How to Choose an Internet Connection

Setting up an Internet connection requires three basic pieces of hardware: a computer, a modem and a network card. The modem deciphers the information that comes through the cable and converts it into a format usable by the computer or video game system. If you are sharing an Internet connection between multiple systems, you'll need to add a router to that mix. The router is the gateway that distributes the Internet connection to multiple sources.

The most important part of setting up an Internet connection is choosing an Internet service provider. The three main types of Internet service are DSL, Cable and fiber optic. Dialup Internet connections are still available, but their slow speed makes them a poor choice for anything other than reading e-mail.

DSL
DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is a high-speed Internet connection that runs through your existing telephone lines. Older style ADSL standards top out at eight megabits per second (Mbit/s), with the average Internet connection speed significantly lower. The newest standard, ADSL2+, delivers speeds up to 24 Mbit/s.

If you are considering using DSL, check with your local provider to determine which standard they use and what sort of connection speed you should expect. The further the signal has to travel from the phone company's equipment to your home, the slower your Internet connection speed. While DSL can theoretically be as fast as a cable Internet connection, it typically isn't. Realistically, DSL is a suitable alternative for people who don't want to pay the premium for cable Internet and don't need the blazing download speeds that cable Internet provides.

Cable
Cable Internet providers advertise speeds ranging up to 20 Mbit/s in residential use packages, although the average Internet connection speed is capped at 6 Mbit/s. These same providers offer higher speeds for business users of up to 50 Mbit/s. The speed and convenience of cable Internet makes it the most popular choice for Internet connections.

Many home users already have cable television, so adding cable Internet is typically as easy as making a phone call. Unfortunately, if you're not interested in cable television, a cable Internet connection by itself cost-prohibitive. Most providers offer a bundle discount that actually makes it cheaper to get basic television service with the cable Internet, even if you don't intend to use the television service.

The speed of your cable Internet connection depends on the number of people in your neighborhood who share the same coaxial cable line. If your neighborhood is densely populated with cable Internet users, your Internet connection speed could slow during peak usage times. Standard residential cable Internet is the perfect choice for a home user who wants to check e-mail, browse the Web and download the occasional movie trailer. If you rely on being able to transfer large amounts of data, look into the higher-tier residential or business cable Internet service for faster Internet connection speeds.

FiOS
FiOS, or Fiber Optic Service, is the most recent Internet connection service to hit the market. Verizon's answer to DSL and cable Internet, FiOS includes Internet, television and phone service. These features vary by region, so if you are considering FiOS, check with your local Verizon office to see what's available in your area. FiOS Internet connection speeds vary somewhere between DSL and cable Internet ranges, again depending on region.

In some places, FiOS speeds are comparable with a cable Internet connection, with offerings of 15 Mbit/s as a residential upgrade and a third tier of service up to 50 Mbit/s. The FiOS equivalent of a modem comes built into a wireless router, so if you choose FiOS service, no router is necessary to share the Internet connection among several devices. In fact, Verizon states that you cannot use any other router, as their router comes equipped with diagnostic tools specially designed for FiOS service.

Satellite
Several different protocols exist for satellite Internet connections, depending on your region, the company and your budget. The bottom line with satellite Internet is that unless you live in an area where you can't get Internet any other way, it's not worth the cost. All satellite Internet connections require expensive technology just to connect. The bandwidth is low, in some cases actually utilizing dialup for part of the data transfer.

Most satellite Internet providers put a very low cap on throughput, charging a significant price for going over the limit, or even making the service slower and reducing functionality of the service. If you're working on the road or living in a very rural area, it may be worthwhile to invest in satellite Internet access. If you want to use your laptop at any random point in a given city, consider getting a wireless card from your cell phone company that uses their wireless network to provide your Internet connection.

Putting the Pieces Together
Once you've chosen an Internet connection, it's time to hook it up to your computer. Most providers will send you an installation disk along with a modem, so you don't need to have a modem built-in to your computer, just an Ethernet connection.

Connecting directly to your modem is as simple as running a short Ethernet cable between the modem and your computer. If you're networking several devices, you'll need an Ethernet router and additional cables to share the Internet connection.

Alternately, you can purchase a wireless router and use wireless network cards or USB wireless receivers to share the signal. If you go the wireless route, it's a good idea to configure your Internet connection directly through a wired connection to a PC first. This will help you tell if any problems are coming from your Internet connection or your router.

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