A primer on the different types of internet connectivity
If you’re like most people, you don’t want to have to think about your internet service – you just want it to work, sort of like the electricity or the air conditioner. And that’s fair, given that whether you’re at home or at the office, more and more of everything you do requires some kind of connectivity.
Every so often, however – because of a move, or when a sub-standard internet service finally drives us to distraction, or when a bill arrives and it seems higher than it should be – we all have to think about new internet service for our home or business.
The challenge is that these days there are several options for connectivity, both at home and at the office, and it can be hard to know the difference.
Here, we outline the different options – and their pros and cons.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)
DSL is internet that uses existing telephone lines to deliver broadband internet. If you’re a certain age, you probably remember when DSL was an unbelievably big improvement over old-school dialup internet – and how expensive it used to be.
Today, DSL can deliver download speeds of 1-500MB and upload speeds up to 10MB (on average), and the costs are more reasonable. DSL is reliable, available just about anywhere landlines are, and are a good choice for homes and small businesses.
It’s important to remember that these days, DSL isn’t just restricted to normal phone lines. Most DSL providers in Ontario and Quebec also tap into fiber-optic cables – which means internet upload/download speeds can be much higher than traditional DSL on its own.
Like DSL, cable internet uses existing infrastructure (the lines installed to deliver cable television, in this case) to provide internet access.
Cable internet can deliver higher download/upload speeds than traditional (non-fiber) DSL, and some studies suggest that it can more consistently deliver these high speeds. However, if all your neighbours are watching Game of Thrones at the same time you are, that can affect your download speeds. And cable lines seem to be a little more susceptible to outages caused by power surges.
Fiber-optic internet uses tiny fibers, typically made of glass, to transmit data using beams of light. Pure fiber-optic internet access is super-fast, and it’s why you’ll hear IT-types speak longingly of living in Iceland or Sweden, where ‘everyone’ has fiber internet and gets download – and upload – speeds of 1GB.
In Canada, most areas don’t have pure fiber internet access, and where it is available, it tends to be pricey, and therefore used only by large businesses which can afford the higher pricetag.
However, many cable and DSL services in Ontario and Quebec have fiber connectivity in part of their systems, which can make a huge difference.
If you’ve ever spent a week at a cottage in Northern Ontario and still managed to have decent internet access, you’ve probably been using satellite internet. It’s often the only option in remote areas where there are no phone or cable landlines to tap into, and no nearby cellphone towers for wireless cellular.
Satellite internet is fine in a pinch, but both download and upload speeds can be slow, reliability can be affected by weather (and even trees), and tends to be costly. And of course you need a satellite dish installed.
Ah, dial-up. Again, those of us of a certain age will remember the interminable waiting while the computer actually dialed a phone number and tried to connect to the internet. It was slow, infuriating, unreliable – and even worse today, when sites have more photos and videos and graphics than they did in 1995 – dial-up just can’t handle that kind of data load.
Wireless: A use, not a connection type
It’s important to remember that ‘wireless’ isn’t really a type of connectivity – it’s a type of use you can put your connectivity to. A wireless router is connected to the cable, DSL or fiber connection and then the internet is distributed to users from there.
Which one is right for you?
Only you can determine the best combination of speed + price that works best for your needs, and you may be limited in choices depending on the geographical area you live in. But the more you know about your options, the easier it will be to make the right decision.