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ISSUE 486: The high tech office

ALAN ZISMAN

Affordable, high-speed access to the Web
is easier for home users than for business

If the Internet seems better de-
scribed as the World Wide Wait than the World Wide Web, you're in luck -- Vancouver is one of the first places anywhere that users have not one, but two popularly priced high-speed Internet options.

First off the mark was the use of the TV cable system to also carry Internet signals--marketed as The Wave and more recently as @Home by Rogers, Shaw and some of the other cable companies. These services are now available in most Lower Mainland homes. (Check availability at www.wave.ca/Home/.)

More recent is a service that's known to the technically minded as ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Service Line, since you asked), but is being called Multimedia Gateway by BC Tel. It has recently become available in some neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland and some other B.C. cities (check availability at www.bctel.ca/
multimediagateway/.
)

Both systems use the wiring that's already installed in most homes to provide high speed (10 to 20 times as fast as 56k modems), always-on (no more dial-in and log-on delays) service by installing a network card into your computer and connecting it to a dedicated cable or ADSL modem. Each charges about $100 for installation and about $50 - $60 a month for home service.

There are some technical differences. All the cable modem customers in a neighbourhood form a single network node, sharing bandwidth. This means that when more of them are using the service the speed drops, though, at its worst, it remains several times better than traditional modem speeds. Each ADSL user has a dedicated amount of bandwidth but, with this system, performance depends on distance from a local phone company office.

Despite these differences, users of both services will find overall Internet performance is more affected by traffic outside the cable or ADSL system. At peak times, the whole Net slows down, just like highway traffic does at rush hour.

Both systems produce their share of satisfied customers. John Hamm of East Vancouver's EastSide DataGraphics is a new @Home user.

"There is no comparison. It is quite astounding. The Visual Studio 6.0 service pack took two min-
utes exactly to download 14.7 Mb. I subscribe to about eight newsgroups. New message download took a couple of minutes instead of my two-hour, once-a-week ritual," he said.

West End computer consultant Morrie Eaman is equally enthusiastic about his new ADSL connection.

"The speed is spoiling me and BC Tel has been uncharacteristically friendly about support. The only real problem is a definite trend to addiction and becoming even more out of shape than before," he told me.

Eamon points out that on a high-speed system, the Internet's rush hour slowdown becomes more ap-
parent than on slower systems.

While both the cable companies and BC Tel are marketing their services directly to the end users, if you opt for a cable modem, you get the cable company as your Internet Service Provider (ISP) -- or the U.S.-based @Home network for Rogers customers. With Multimedia Gateway, you opt for one of a short list of ISPs -- including, but not limited to, the phone company's Sympatico service. BC Tel provides the wiring and the hardware, while the ISP's servers provide your e-mail and access to the Internet.

There's another downside common to both schemes. Neither the cable companies nor BC Tel are particularly interested in providing their services to businesses. Most businesses lack the TV cable wiring that the Wave/@Home access needs -- and if you're in a downtown office tower, just try getting TV cable installed.

And while virtually everybody has the copper phone wiring that's used for ADSL, the phone company is also limiting their product to home users. Businesses inquiring about Internet access are offered either a very expensive dedicated T1 connection, hardwiring their network to the Internet, or a much slower, old-technology ISDN connection -- much less power for more money than home users are paying for ADSL.

In Ontario, by comparison, Bell Canada is not marketing ADSL directly to customers. Instead, it is selling it to ISPs, who can then offer it to home users or businesses, as they choose. BC Tel's offerings here are, however, more available in more areas right now than Bell's in Quebec and Ontario.

So the good news is that in many local neighbourhoods, you have more options for relatively affordable high-speed Internet access than in most other places in either Canada or the U.S.

The bad news is that if you're not a home user, no one wants your business. *



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan