ISSUE 486: The high tech office
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/
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
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. *