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Building a Home Network, Part 2: Your Internet Service

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By Brien M. Posey, MCSE for TechRepublic.com

In the first article in this series, "Building a home network, part 1," I explained the necessary components and the costs involved in building a home network. In part 3, I'll begin explaining the process of actually installing that network. However, before you install your network, you'll need to decide what type of Internet connection you plan to use. In this article, I'll explain the various types of network connections available for home use, their differences, and the costs involved.

On This Page

Why Start with an Internet Connection?
The Difference between Internet Connections
Analog Modems
Cable Modems
ISDN
ADSL
Satellite
Leased Lines
Summary

Why Start with an Internet Connection?

The Internet connection is a very important part of your network because every PC will use it. Naturally, you'll want each PC on your network to be able to surf the Internet with optimum efficiency. Since the various types of Internet connections have different hardware and wiring requirements, it's important to have a good idea of your requirements before you begin installing the network.

The Difference between Internet Connections

You may be wondering what the differences are among the types of connections. In a nutshell, there are huge differences in speed, price, and reliability between the various types of connections. In the sections that follow, I'll outline these differences.

Analog Modems

Analog modems are perhaps the oldest and most common type of connection available to home users. Current analog modems are capable of achieving speeds of up to 56 Kbps (kilobits per second). Although modems are theoretically capable of reaching speeds of 56 Kbps, typical connection speeds are much lower due to phone line quality issues.

The primary advantage to analog modems is price. Analog modems can cost between $30 and $150, depending on the brand and whether you get an internal or an external modem.

The Internet service is typically cheap, too. Although service rates vary in different parts of the country, you can usually get unlimited dial-up Internet access for around $20 per month.

Cable Modems

Another connection option available in some areas is through a cable modem. A cable modem involves connecting a digital modem to the coax wire that you receive cable television signals through. The cable television company simply dedicates a portion of their bandwidth to transmitting data rather than television signals.

Instead of connecting directly to your PC through a serial port or an expansion card the way that an analog modem does, a cable modem plugs into your network card because the speeds offered by cable modems are too fast for a serial port to handle.

This means that the PC connected to a cable modem must have two network cards: one card to connect to the cable modem and another card to connect to the rest of your network. The PC must be able to route packets between the network and the Internet. There are a couple ways of accomplishing this, but I'll cover them in a future article.

The primary advantage to having cable modems is that they are much faster than analog modems—roughly 100 times faster. Cable modems are capable of downloading data at megabit speeds. However, be aware that your cable company may limit your upload speed to as slow as 128 or 256 Kbps. That's because they don't want you to run Internet businesses out of your homes without paying for the premium services. It also limits the amount of traffic on the cable.

Another advantage of cable modems is that there's a permanent connection to the Internet. If the cable modem and your PC are both turned on, you're connected. You also don't have to worry about tying up your voice line while you're on the Internet or buying a second analog line strictly for Internet purposes.

If cable modems are so great, you may be wondering why everyone isn't using them. Cable modems have a couple of disadvantages. For starters, remember the nature of cable television. As you probably know, a cable line services the entire neighborhood. There's nothing stopping everyone in your neighborhood from getting a cable modem. Because there's a limited amount of bandwidth that the cable is capable of carrying, this bandwidth must be shared by everyone on the segment who has a cable modem. Needless to say, if too many people in your neighborhood get cable modems, your Internet access could slow to a crawl.

A further disadvantage is privacy. Although privacy is definitely an issue on any Internet connection, it's especially true of cable modems. Since you share a connection with your neighbors, it's possible for anyone on the segment to use a packet sniffer to watch every move that you make.

As far as price goes, cable modems are only slightly more expensive than analog connections. Many cable companies offer cable modem service for about $35 dollars per month. There may also be some hefty installation fees. These fees can easily reach $300 to $400.

ISDN

ISDN is another type of digital Internet connection. ISDN uses a digital modem to achieve speeds of 128 Kbps. Unfortunately, ISDN service requires a special digital phone line. The service is also expensive. ISDN service can cost about $70 per month just for the phone line. Many phone companies also charge a usage fee for using the line. Because of the expense of an ISDN line, ISPs usually charge a higher rate for an ISDN account than they do for analog access.

Typically, you could expect to pay about $300 for the initial setup, $400 for an ISDN modem, $150 per month for the line (with usage charges for over 200 hours per month of connect time), and about $50 per month for an account with your ISP.

Needless to say, ISDN service is a bit pricey. However, it does have its advantages. Like I said, ISDN is much faster than an analog connection. An internal ISDN adapter will offer even higher performance than an external adapter. This is because external ISDN adapters connect to your PC via a serial port. As you may know, a serial port is limited to 115 Kbps speeds. An internal ISDN adapter will allow you to use the full 128 Kbps.

The one advantage to an external ISDN adapter is that many include two POTS (plain old telephone service) ports. These ports enable you to plug analog devices such as telephones or fax machines into your modem. An ISDN line actually consists of two analog phone numbers.

It's important to point out that you shouldn't attempt to replace your analog phone service with ISDN, even though you can use analog devices off of it. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Each POTS port can only handle the load of one telephone, fax machine, and so forth. Therefore, if you try to run every telephone in your house off of a line connected to a POTS port, you risk burning out your ISDN modem.

  2. Although ISDN offers enough bandwidth to talk on the phone and surf the Web at the same time, your Internet connection will slow down to 64 Kbps when you pick up the phone. If you're using both phone lines for analog purposes, there's no bandwidth left for your computer to use.

ADSL

ADSL is, in my opinion, the best value for the money. ADSL works like a cross between a cable modem and an ISDN line, offering the best of both worlds. An ADSL signal is transmitted on regular phone lines at a higher frequency than analog data. Therefore, it's possible to talk on the phone while surfing the net with no decrease in bandwidth.

An ADSL modem plugs into your phone line and into a network card on your PC. Like a cable modem, an ADSL modem requires your PC to have two network cards if you plan to share the Internet connection with other PCs, but it also offers a permanent "always on" connection like a cable modem.

Although you may have to pay up to $300 for installation, the cost of about $50 per month (which includes the line and ISP service) is a small price to pay for the blindingly fast 1.5 Mbps (megabits per second) connection that ADSL offers. However, one major drawback to ASDL is that the speed of your connection may decrease the further you get from the phone company's central switching office. The further you are from the switch, the slower your connection. Also, although your download speed may be many times the speed of an analog connection, the phone company may limit your upload speeds the same way cable companies do.

Satellite

A less popular method of Internet access is through your satellite dish. A satellite connection works similarly to a cable modem connection, except it requires an Interface box that connects your PC to your satellite receiver. Unfortunately, although satellite connections are relatively fast, satellite signals are receive-only. You must still rely on an analog modem for sending information to the ISP. Because a satellite link requires two connections, it tends to be prohibitively expensive. Another disadvantage is that bad weather can interfere with your satellite signal, thus temporarily shutting down your Internet access.

Leased Lines

Another alternative is a leased line. Leased lines, however, are usually reserved for businesses because of their outrageous price tag. Although leased lines offer data speeds of 1.544 Mbps and higher, it's not uncommon for leased lines (such as a T-1 line) to cost in excess of $1,200 per month—well out of the range of most home users.

Summary

Analog Modem

Pros: Cheap, high availability

Cons: Slow, tend to drop connections

Cable Modems

Pros: Fast, constant connection, reasonable price

Cons: Bandwidth can decrease as more people in your neighborhood get cable modems, not available in all areas.

ISDN

Pros: Moderately fast

Cons: Expensive, not widely supported

ADSL

Pros: Extremely fast, constant connection

Cons: A bit pricey, not available in all areas

Satellite

Pros: Fast downloads

Cons: Expensive, requires an analog connection in addition to the satellite connection, bad weather can interfere with your connection

Leased Line:

Pros: Extremely fast

Cons: Extremely expensive

Brien M. Posey is an MCSE and works as a freelance technical writer and a network engineer for the Department of Defense. If you'd like to contact Brien, send him an e-mail Brien_Posey@xpressions.com . (Because of the large volume of e-mail he receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)

The above article is courtesy of TechRepublic http://www.techrepublic.com .

We at Microsoft Corporation hope that the information in this work is valuable to you. Your use of the information contained in this work, however, is at your sole risk. All information in this work is provided "as -is", without any warranty, whether express or implied, of its accuracy, completeness, fitness for a particular purpose, title or non-infringement, and none of the third-party products or information mentioned in the work are authored, recommended, supported or guaranteed by Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft Corporation shall not be liable for any damages you may sustain by using this information, whether direct, indirect, special, incidental or consequential, even if it has been advised of the possibility of such damages.


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