ISSUE 402: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Faster Internet surfing no longer a pipe dream
for those equipped to ride the Rogers Wave July 8
Are you tired of trying to access the Internet
and waiting and waiting and waiting? Good news: significantly faster
Internet service is quickly becoming available across the Lower
Local TV cable company Rogers Cablesystems
is busy expanding access to its Wave cable modem service, neighbourhood
by neighbourhood. Available to only a fraction of Vancouver at the
moment, Rogers already claims to be the largest cable modem provider in
the world, and expects to have the service throughout the city by
year-end. (Check whether your neighbourhood's connected at db.on.rogers.wave.ca/
Through the luck of being in a neighbourhood that was
connected early, I've been able to use this service for a couple of
Here's how it works.
You get two installers. A computer technician who
actually works for SHL SystemHouse International comes to
install an Ethernet network adapter into your PC, Mac or notebook, and
to make sure that it's properly set up and running. (Cable modems
aren't really modems, which are devices to convert computer data to
phone line sound. Instead, they're actually computer network devices.
No phone line is required, which means no more competing with the
teenagers at home for a turn to tie up the line.) Simultaneously, a
cable technician checks to make sure you have a strong, clean cable
signal, and runs a standard TV cable line over to your computer. The
cable modem -- a space age device looking most like a high-end car
stereo amplifier, cooling fins and all -- is hooked up between the
Ethernet card and the TV cable.
The computer installer updates your network settings
with the correct obscure Internet addresses and makes sure you have the
latest versions of Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Then, after a bit of a wait to make sure that you're properly
recognized by the network, you're ready.
While a standard high-speed modem is running at about
33,000 bits (33 Kbps) of data per second, and digital ISDN
lines boost that to 128 Kbps, Ethernet is capable of 10 million bits
per second (10 Mbps). Rogers is currently limiting its service to a
mere 500,000 bits per second, which is still 10 to 15 times faster than
modem speeds and three times as fast as ISDN.
Of course, anything that sounds that good must have a
There are a couple.
Modem speeds are only one of several things slowing
down current Internet access. No matter how much bandwidth you throw at
a connection, if you're trying to connect to the same site as hundreds
or thousands of others worldwide, you're going to have to wait your
turn. The Wave doesn't do a thing for the time it takes to connect to a
busy site. But once you're connected, you'll get what you want
At least most of the time. At peak evening times, I've
measured data transfer rates that at times were almost as pokey as
modem rates. But at off-peak times, I've often measured speeds at 15 to
20 times what I'd expect with a standard phone line and modem
connection. For example, I'd been avoiding downloading the 17MB update
for Windows NT, which with a good modem connection would mean tying up
the phone line for an hour and a half or more. With the Wave, it took
me just under seven minutes (and didn't require a phone line at all).
Just as your TV is connected to the cable whether or
not you turn on the set, with the Wave, you're connected to the
Internet at all times, whether or not you're using your browser. That
means no more log-ons. As a result, I find I'm more likely to leave my
browser running in the background for hours at a time, and am more
likely to open it up whenever I need or want a bit of information from
the Internet. Not needing to calculate the time and cost involved or to
worry about the family dynamics involved in hogging the phone changes
how I use the Internet in the same way that getting hooked up to the
city water main differs from having to go out to the well with a
The cost is $150 to install ($200 for Macs or
notebooks) and a $55 to $65 monthly charge, on top of your existing TV
cable bill. For many people, that sounds expensive, but for users
already paying for an additional phone line for their computer, along
with the $20 or so charged for Internet service, it may be worthwhile.
Expect Rogers to be marketing a service aimed at business users by