Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    If you're growing old waiting for the Internet...

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #365 October 22, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    If you're like most of us, you've gotten at least a taste of the Net, but as you've waited 30 seconds or more from the time you clicked until the page, pictures and all, showed up on your screen, you may have wondered if this was what the fuss was all about.

    And as for the promises of online multimedia, you might as well forget it. If you're connecting with a modem, you may have found that it could easily take 15 to 30 minutes to receive what turned out to be a 2 minute video clip.

    New technologies featuring streaming and compression help a little-RealAudio, for example, delivers AM-radio quality real-time sound, even over standard modems. And you'll get a real performance boost by simply turning off the AutoLoad Images option in Netscape... of course, then you'll get funny little icons in place of all the graphics, but that will let you focus more on the actual information content. And you'll avoid most of the ads.

    But conventional modem technology is pretty much maxed out... while modem speeds are inching up, don't expect another doubling of performance like we've seen, moving from 14.4 to 28.8 (kilobits per second) in the past year or so. There are, however, a bunch of new technologies, promising to bring the Net into your home or office, at speeds meriting the superhighway cliché, rather than today's metaphoric country dirt road.

    * BC Tel's Advanced Communications people are offering a range of options. Like other phone companies nation-wide, they've been slowly expanding ISDN-what cynics have called a solution looking for a problem. You'll need to purchase an ISDN line for $200 or more per month, along with a digital modem such as Motorola's $700 BitSurfr-Pro. You'll end up with 128 kbs access-about 5 times as fast as standard modem speeds. But even 15 years after first becoming available, ISDN isn't an option everywhere. Elsewhere, BC Tel offers 56 kbs service-still about double the best modem speed. Of course, if you've got deep pockets are a real need for speed, the phone company will happily lease you a so-called T-1 line. 1,544 kbs (or 1.5 meg) -about 50 times modem speed. About $2000 per month. With one of these, you can give everyone on the company's network a high-speed connection. (; 454-1447)

    * While ISDN's been around for a long time, it may not really be fast enough to provide a long-term solution. Instead, the phone companies are readying another acronym-ADSL. Unlike ISDN, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines aren't here yet; the technology's just going into initial testing. It's too early to have any sense of the cost of this technology, but its big advantage is that it uses a pair of the existing standard copper-wire phone lines, letting customers continue to use their current phones while getting high-speed data at the same time. Again, you'll need special modems-these are just going into production, with early models costing $2,000 or more. It sounds promising, but it's not here yet.

    * Also promising, but still somewhere over the horizon is cable modem. Rogers Wave went into testing last Fall in Newmarket Ontario, and are now testing the service in Kerrisdale. It won't be available commercially here until 'sometime in 1997' according to the Rogers cable guy at the recent Power Up Internet Expo... and even then, only in selected areas. Cable modems promise speeds from 500 kbs to an eventual 30 megs-that is from 20 to 1,000 times as fast as today's modems. Users lease a cable modem from the cable company; rates are expected to be around $50 per month. And is there a cable-tv connection to your office?

    * The final option sounds the most like science fiction, but surprisingly, it's available now. DirecPC is a service of US-based Hughes Network Systems that provides Internet access via the Galaxy IV satellite, orbiting 35,000 km up. It's being handled locally by Surrey's Cyberion Networking (, 501-5400), and promises 400 kbs access-three times as fast as ISDN, and in the ballpark with cable's initial promises. To use the satellite, you need a 60 cm (24 inch) dedicated dish connected to your computer (PCs only-Macs need not apply, at least for now), which costs $1099; installation can add up to $450. Monthly rates start at around $20, going up with the amount of data transferred.

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