Explaining the 5 Types of Internet Connections
Why should you care about what type of internet service you get? The type of internet connection you use affects not only the speed of what you do online but also the quality of your online experiences.
Unfortunately, the best way to get internet depends heavily on what is available in your area. The different types of internet connection types depend on where you live — more urban areas tend to have faster and more up-to-date internet service providers. Major metropolitan areas benefit from technology like fiber optic, which we explain later in this article.
Here we look at the five ways to get internet service, their cost, reliability, speed, and how easy they are to use.
Internet Service Terms You Need to Know
Before selecting one, knowing a bit about internet services can ensure whichever you pick is best for your situation and needs.
Internet services providers are companies that offer the internet — Comcast, WOW, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are just a few examples of ISPs.
The difference between broadband DSL vs dial-up is that broadband is “always on.” At least, you HOPE it’s always on. Broadband is high-speed internet access through DSL, cable, fiber optics, wireless, and satellite technologies. Dial-up is only on when you dial in and connect; and, in the 2020s, dial-up is nearly obsolete.
Megabits per sec (Mbps) is how fast you can download or upload data using your internet service. Gbps, or gigabytes per second, is 1,000 Mbps. Here’s an idea of what speeds you need for specific tasks:
- Email — 1 Mbps
- Zoom-type meeting — 2 Mbps
- Streaming video — at least 3 Mbps (standard definition videos); HD (high-definition) videos require a minimum of 5 Mbps; and 4K requires a minimum of 25 Mbps.
- Live TV — 8 Mbps
- Gaming — minimum 4 to 8 Mbps; better is 10 to 25 Mbps
1. Dial-Up Internet Service
Dial-up, the oldest (since the late 1990s) type of internet, may still be available where you live. In 2000, about 34% of households used dial-up internet service, according to Pew. Today, it is less than 1% (Reviews.org).
This type of service is often found in rural areas where high-speed internet isn’t available or affordable. Dial-up requires a regular phone line (landline) and is the slowest internet service. Due to its slow speed (up to 56K), you might find dial-up takes a considerable amount of time to connect if it connects at all. However, dial-up should suffice if you only want to use the internet to check your email or browse basic web pages like news sites. However, performing other tasks such as playing games requires faster internet service. Dial-up is the cheapest service at about $5 to $10 a month and easiest to set up. To use, you simply plug your phone line into a modem and get on your computer. When using dial-up, you won’t be able to use your home phone. One distinction that dial-up service has that others don’t is that it makes a host of unmistakable sounds that include screeching, beeping, and clicking when connecting to the internet.
2. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)
More than 70% of households use some sort of broadband in their homes, which includes DSL, cable, and fiber. What is DSL?
Like dial-up, DSL uses a phone line and modem to connect to the internet. However, the speed of DSL is much faster — up to 100 Mbps. This increase in speed is ideal for light to medium use like streaming videos, searching the web, and some gaming. DSL allows you to use your home phone while connected to the internet. You can set up a Wi-Fi network in your home, giving you the freedom to use multiple devices that don’t need to be “wired” to your modem. However, Wi-Fi can be complicated to set up and use. DSL is costlier than dial-up, with prices ranging from $20 to $70 per month.
3. Broadband Cable
For internet users who want more than what dial-up or DSL offer, cable internet is a good option. Although cable internet service uses the same technology used for cable TV services, you don’t have to have cable TV to have cable internet. This type of internet service, like DSL, uses metal wires, which can heat up during use, causing a weak signal and interference. In addition, too many cable users at one time in your area can cause interruptions in service. However, like DSL, you can get Wi-Fi with cable internet, and broadband cable is much better than DSL if you have several connected devices (TV, computers, tablets, smartphones, security systems, etc.). The average cost for cable internet runs between $20 to $100 a month.
4. Fiber-Optic Internet
Fiber internet is the fastest technology, with speeds up to 1 Gbps. This fast speed is ideal for gamers, video chatting, and uploading or downloading files. For example, downloading a 2-hour HD movie takes seconds over fiber, versus 30 minutes or more using traditional internet service. Because fiber internet service uses fibers in lieu of copper wires, it is more reliable than its predecessors and is excellent for Wi-Fi needs. Surprisingly, with the improvements in reliability and speed, fiber internet service is comparable in price to DSL, about $35 to $100 per month. The biggest downside to fiber-optic in the 2020s, however, is that it is not yet widely available.
5. Satellite Internet Service
Satellite is one way to get WiFi without cable. This alternative internet option uses a satellite in space to receive internet signals from your ISP then sends those internet signals to your modem. Satellite is one of the best alternatives to cable internet if you live in a rural area that lacks access to cable, DSL, and dial-up services. Because your signal source is in space, interference is common, as is latency (delay between your request for data like clicking a web page and displaying it on your computer). The speed of satellite internet averages between 25 Mbps and 100 Mbps, lower than cable and fiber options. The biggest advantage of satellite is that it is available virtually anywhere you need it; the biggest downside is its slower speeds and reliability, especially on bad-weather days. Monthly charges for satellite internet range from $30 to over $100.
With all the different options, it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed when shopping for the right internet service for your needs. So, how do you find which ones are available in your area? Visit HighSpeedInternet.com or AllConnect.com to search by address, state, or ZIP code.