Internet Speed Guide Basics

internet speedThere are different kinds of broadband plans and each can be measured in many different ways.  Understanding all of the basics really entails understanding the common definitions of the most common terms used and how they really apply to the broadband experience.  Here is you Internet speed guide 101:

DSL: Internet Speed Demon From Your Telco

Digital Subscriber Lines are a telecom-based broadband service that is delivered over telephone networks.  DSL systems come in many different levels and tiers, and are generally regarded as very stable and low latency.  Because the frequencies used by DSL are outside of those allocated for telecom duty, you can browse and use the telephone at the same time so long as special noise isolating filters are used.

Cable Modems: Internet Speed Demon From Your Cable Company

Cable modems are modems that send and receive data over a digital cable network.  Generally regarded as a slightly faster but slightly higher latency option compared to DSL, cable modems are one of the longest running competitors in the broadband internet segment.  As digital cable has evolved, most cable companies have evolved to challenge telecoms with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) digital telephone systems.

Dial-Up: The Internet Speed Equivalent of a Snail

Dial up is certainly going the way of the Dodo, and uses an analog technology to communicate in a near-audible spectrum.  The handshaking screech that occurs as speed and protocol negotiation takes place is certainly audible.

Fiber Optics: A Ferrari in the Broadband World

All major networks use fiber optics to move tons of data back and forth, but some companies are using fiber all the way to the customer!  This can be called fiber to the house, fiber to the property, or any number of other things, but this is essentially the pinnacle of broadband technology and shows no signs of letting up the pressure on the competition!

ISDN: A Dinosaur to Most, Digital Salvation to a Few

A predecessor to DSL, the Integrated Services Digital Network system was a special network that offered better than dial up performance prior to the evolution and widespread availability of DSL.  There are some DSL systems that use ISDN networking, but they are uncommon in this day and age.

Kbps/Mbps: The Basic Internet Speed Ratings, But May Be Misleading Out of Context

Kilobits and Megabits per second.  These terms are used to describe how much data can be sent and received during a second.  Keep in mind that these speeds are rated in bits, not bytes, and so moving a 1 megabyte file at the theoretical maximum speed of 1 Mbps would take at least 8 seconds plus a second or two extra for error correction.  Most online systems refer to either their download speed exclusively or their download speed and their upload speed like this: 10 Mbps/ 768 Kbps to indicate 10 Mbps download speeds and 768 Kbps sending speed.

Latency: The Bane of Gamers

Latency is the term used to describe how long it takes data to leave your device and return after going to a specific relay point on the Internet.  Because the Internet is involved, you are really measuring a lot of different things with latency from the device, the local network, the carrier, and even the Internet.  Low latency makes connections just seem snappier and faster overall.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: Unshakable vs. Affordable

There are two basic types of network communication types: synched and non-synched.  Synchronous or synched means that for every bit of data in a bit of data goes out.  This creates a situation where sending and receiving data are both very quick.  Asynchronous means that the two are not 1:1, and typically there are far more downloaded bits of data than uploaded bits of data due to how wide area networks function.

Bandwidth Cap: A Good Thing or a Bad Thing Depending on Who You Ask

Some carriers have limitations on how much data can be used during a given period on their network.  What happens when these limits are reached vary on the provider and sometimes even the plan, but common responses are the automatic or optional purchase of additional block(s) of data, a mandatory decrease in performance, or even an all-out shutdown until the start of the next billing period.

3G/4G: Wireless Standards, Not Math Gangsters

These terms are loosely used to describe different types of wireless mobile carriers.  These systems offer great performance for mobile users, but may not be the best solution for people at home or the office unless there are no alternatives.

Switch vs. Router: What Is That Box Anyhow?

Many people confuse a switch with a router, and given their appearance that makes some degree of sense.  Routers are essentially switches that have the ability to serve as a bridge from a modem of some kind to many different PCs and/or devices on your network, enabling them all to share the same address.  Switches can be manually configured for similar access, but it is not nearly so simple or easy.

photo by: Gilgongo