Speedy Net connections offer promise, problems
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Toronto Computes,
For most of us, the promise of the Internet seems to
always remain just
that?a tantalizing promise. A taste, but never the full meal deal.
Graphics, audio, video from around the world are out
there, but getting
it just takes too long to be practical. A wealth of free software
for you to download, complete with the warning: 4 and a half hours at
Graphically intense pages that take several minutes to appear on
It just isn?t fair!
Many Canadians, however, are finding themselves with
not one, but two
competing schemes to bring high-speed Net access into their homes. This
leaves them faced with two decisions?whether to trade their dial-up
for more expensive fast access, and if so, how to choose.
First off the mark was the TV cable companies,
upgrading their cable
network, to allow Internet signals to piggyback into users homes. First
marketed by many cable companies as Wave, more recently, Rogers and
are offering services from the US-based @home network while other cable
companies are continuing to use the Wave name for their offerings.
is now available in most Canadian metropolitan areas.
More recently, Canadian phone companies have begun to
ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line?aren?t you glad you asked?)
to home users. In BC, this service is marketed directly to consumers by
BC Tel, under the name Multimedia Gateway, while many Bell Canada
can purchase ADSL service directly from one of several service
Currently, availability varies greatly?in some areas, service is fairly
widely available, in others it?s still in the testing stage.
Where available, for the end-user, these competing
services are more
similar than different. Both provide high speed, always-on Internet
using wiring already installed into most homes. (Many users suggest
the always connected feature is as compelling as the higher speeds).
work by multiplexing their signals, so that a single TV cable or copper
phone wire can carry both the standard signals (TV or phone) and the
information, without the signals interfering with one another.
In both cases, a so-called modem is provided as part of the package,
bearing little resemblance to the standard modems used for
services. And in both cases, your computer needs a standard Ethernet
interface card to connect to the cable or ADSL modem.
Installation for either system will cost users more or
less $100, including
a visit from a computer technician to ensure the network adapter is
installed. (If you have your own adapter already working, check whether
you can save some money on the installation?but if you?re running a
at home, you will need a separate network adapter for the modem
Afterwards, be prepared to pay higher monthly rates than for dial-up
about $50 per month for the various cable systems, and $60-70 per month
for the ADSL systems plus service provider. (Costs vary from company to
company, province to province). As a result, the people most likely to
opt for one or the other are users who have installed (or were
installing) an additional phone line dedicated to their computer?in
case, the costs come close to what they?re currently paying.
There are some differences, though, due to the nature
of the technologies.
All the cable users in a neighborhood are on a single network node?as a
result, they share bandwidth. That means that when more users are
using their cable connection, speed drops. On my Wave connection,
are markedly faster in the early mornings when fewer users are online.
Unlike cable, ADSL users each have dedicated
bandwidth. Here, the limitation
is distance from the phone company?s office?the further you are from
office, the lower your performance. Users who are too far away (more
a couple of kms) simply won?t be able to get ADSL at all.
The speed of your connection, however, is just one of
the factors affecting
Internet performance. The metaphor of the powerful sports car on the
at rush hour remains true?even with high speed access, users will find
that access to some Web sites will slow to a crawl from time to time,
on traffic to the site and other factors that aren?t under the control
of the cable or phone companies.
Other differences are not driven by technology. ADSL
get the service through any of several Internet Service Providers, and
get an e-mail address and optional web site through that ISP. Cable
will get those services through Wave or @home.
The cable companies are not aiming their services at
don?t have TV cables installed at any rate. And BC Tel also is steering
businesses away from ADSL. Businesses serviced by Bell Canada may be
to get ADSL through one of their local ISPs.
Many Canadians still lack access to either technology.
Others only have
one to choose from (in most cases, cable). For those lucky enough to be
serviced by both high speed technologies, both provide premium Internet
access at a premium