I live in an area that’s not served by wired broadband providers such as DSL
or cable. Am I really stuck with only dialup? It’s so slow!
Surprisingly I can say this with all honesty:
I feel your pain.
OK, not the exact same pain, but my options are also limited, and it’s
Let me throw out the alternatives I’m aware of. Perhaps someone will chime
in with something new and exciting and we can both get a faster internet
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My neighborhood also has no cable. As a result, my only wired option is DSL
over the my phone line. Unfortunately, while I have a wonderfully strong
signal, the technology at the telephone company limits me to 768kbps down and
128kbps up. Once upon a time that was blazingly fast – today it doesn’t seem
so. Until they upgrade their end, it’s what I’m limited to.
So what options do we have?
Satellite is what most people think of first. Companies like HughesNet
(formerly Direcway) and StarBand give you a satellite dish, and you’re on the
net. It makes sense for many, many people, but there are drawbacks:
Speed: StarBand quotes speeds around my DSL speeds – between 500 and
1000kbps down and 100-256kbps up. That’s certainly not an improvement for me,
but it might be good for many. HughesNet quotes similar speeds.
Capacity: you may not get the highest speeds, and in fact you might be
speed-limited if you use too much. This varies, dramatically, based on how busy
the service is, but you can be reduced to nearly dial-up speeds without
Phone: Speaking of dial-up, some services use the satellite in conjunction
with a dialup connection. You may still need a phone line in order to connect.
Double check with the service to make sure it’s true “two way” satellite.
Latency: When you use a satellite the information is bounced off of that
satellite 22,240 miles above the earth in what’s referred to as the “Clarke
Belt” after science fiction author Aurther C. Clarke, who wrote about using
satellites in this fashion. 22,240 miles is a long way … long enough that it
takes about 1/4 of a second for the signal to make the 44,480 mile round trip.
That doesn’t seem like a lot to you and me, but to computers it’s an eternity.
In particular, certain communications protocols, often “ftp”, will have
problems and become very slow because of that delay. Normal internet browsing
and downloading is, apparently, not as severely impact by the delay.
Satellite might be an option for you depending on your needs, and your
usage. It’s not for me.
I’ve been quite surprised at how ubiquitous cellular coverage has become. As
I’ve mentioned before it’s my solution of choice for connectivity while
traveling, and it works well for me.
Once again, there are tradeoffs:
Speed: cellular data plans now connect at around 128kbps. That’s roughly
twice quoted dialup speeds (54kbps), but more like 3 of four times more common
actual dialup speeds of 28 or 33 kbps. There are new technologies in place such
as EVDO that, if supported in your area, can take that up to something like
800kbps – but what I’m hearing from users is that it rarely gets that high.
Regardless of technology, the speed may vary dramatically based on location and
the strength of the cellular signal. In any case, it’s once again no better
than my basic DSL speeds.
Cost: most cellular providers give you two options for data: a small feed
for a small amount of data (say $10/month for 10megabytes of data transfer), or
an unlimited data plan. The “problem” here is that, particularly with newer
technologies, I’m hearing reports that unlimited doesn’t always mean unlimited
– even after signing up for an unlimited plan, people are getting charged
additional if they go beyond a certain amount of data transfer. Now, I’ve not
encountered that, but I only use my cell as my primary connectivity while
traveling. The bottom line: question your cellular provider, and question them
hard. Skip the sales people and go directly to customer support or billing to
make sure you’re getting what you think.
Networking: most cell phones are designed to be plugged into a single
computer. That’s great when you need connectivity for only that computer. If
you’re attempting to set up a network, things get more complicated. The easiest
approach is, probably, to leave that one computer on at all times, and use
“internet connection sharing” to share the connection out its ethernet port to
the rest of your network.
Dropped Calls: they happen in voice, and they happen in data. Depending on
your phone, it’s likely that you’ll have to manually reestablish the
connection if the call drops.
I love cellular – it’s saved my bacon several times, but again, while
traveling. Add to that the fact that my home is in a fairly cellular dead zone,
it’s not an option for me at home.
But it could be for you.
ClearWire’s a cellular based ISP that attempts to address many of the issues
I’ve just listed. When you sign up with ClearWire, you get something that looks
more like a modem, into which you plug your computer or network. ClearWire then
uses the local cellular network to provide you your connection. No worrying
about dropped calls, limited data plans and the like.
And again, there are things to note:
Speed: 768 to 1500kbps download speeds are quoted. That’s, at best, 2 times
basic DSL, but represents great speeds using a cellular based system.
Availability: ClearWire is available in limited areas. For example, it’s not
currently available in the Seattle area.
If available in your area, ClearWire is worth a look.
WiMax is another wireless technology that promises to provide high speed
connectivity, along the lines of basic DSL, or somewhat faster, to large areas.
I think of it as WiFi on steroids. (I’ll speak to WiFi in a second.)
There are two problems with WiMax that I’ve seen so far: availability and
WiMax seems to be getting deployed slowly, and in limited, mostly
business-core areas. And when it is available, it’s prohibitively expensive for
the home, or even the small business user.
But it’s definitely a technology to keep an eye on.
WiFi, or the wireless connectivity that comes with many laptops today, is
not an option as a replacement for broadband connectivity, unless you happen to
live next door to an existing WiFi hotspot.
The problem here is simply that WiFi wasn’t designed for this. Wifi has a
limited range – roughly 300 feet unobstructed, less if there are things like
walls in the way. That implies that you’ve already brought internet into your
home through some other means, and use WiFi to simply connect your computers to
what’s already in your home.
With any of the solutions above, there are often ways to go custom or
extreme – fancy antennas to pull in a distant WiFi or cellular signals, custom
solutions from rural ISPs, and more. But those solutions typically require that
either you have the time and resources to figure out what will work for you,
and an ISP or other provider that will let you, or even help you,
There may be other solutions, and I’d love to hear about them. Both general
connectivity at that basic 768kbps DSL speed, and faster if at all possible,
for those of us who’ve run out of wired options.
And no, moving isn’t an option. :-)