Considering high-speed internet service? Do you know how the services differ? How will you choose one that is right for you? As you begin your research you’ll discover there are many types of internet services: digital subscriber line (DSL), cable, private microwave (also known as fixed wireless), and fiber optic. All can be referred to as broadband, meaning upload and download speeds are faster than a dial-up internet service. Understanding the key differences among these services will help you choose which type best meets your needs.

DSL Internet Service

DSL, commonly the slowest of the three, uses a phone jack and telephone line to provide dedicated broadband internet service.  DSL internet services are reliable, widely available, and affordable. Rural or underserved areas and small companies that didn’t have a need for heavy Internet used to find DSL service sufficient for email or browsing the web. DSL supports live streaming of standard video and music; however, high-definition video streaming can be a little slower.

Cable Internet Service

Cable internet service takes its name from its source: cable television. The pervasiveness of cable television makes accessing this service easy. Cable internet uses copper cable wires, rather than telephone wires, resulting in faster service. Cable internet has been an affordable solution for many businesses, from small start-ups and non-profits to large corporations.

Cable internet service can be more reliable than DSL. A 2016 Federal Communications Commission Broadband Progress report found most of cable and fiber internet providers delivered download speeds as fast as or faster than advertised. DSL providers did not.

It’s important to remember, cable internet shares bandwidth so download speeds can be impacted at times of peak use (everyone in your neighborhood live streaming Game of Thrones on Sunday nights). If the cable provider oversubscribed that area−selling customers more bandwidth than a network can supply, hoping that not all connections would use their maximum sending rate at the same time−speed can vary greatly.

Private Microwave   

Private microwave, also referred to as fixed wireless, is high-speed internet access that uses microwave radio signals rather than cables to provide internet service. The earliest users of private microwave services include people in areas that lack access to fiber optic cable, DSL or cable television lines. Private microwave and wi-fi have seen significant growth in rural areas that don’t have a fixed infrastructure or the resources to build one to access other Internet service options. Fixed wireless can be used for online gaming, live streaming, VoIP, and other applications that require low network delays.

Private microwave utilizes transmission towers and ground stations, maintained by internet service providers, that communicate with each other and with the subscriber’s transceiver location. Subscribers install transceiver equipment, consisting of a small dish or rectangular antenna with a radio transmitter, on their building to communicate with the fixed wireless ground stations.

Fixed wireless service often requires direct line of sight access between the subscriber and the ground station. Trees, hills or other obstructions can prevent it from being installed in rural locations.

Fiber Optic

Fiber optics are bundles of very thin glass or plastic strands that transmit data in the form of modulated light. The Fiber includes a core, a protective core cover that reflects the light back to the it, and a buffer coating that acts as a protective sleeve. Hundreds or thousands of these fibers are bundled into a single optic cable, allowing digital information to travel far distances with very little degradation in data quality.

Fiber internet service doesn’t use existing cable or telephone lines like DSL and cable, so installing new fiber optic cables is required to offer service in a given area. In some areas, fiber internet isn’t as widely available as DSL or cable internet service.

How do you choose?

Now that you understand the internet service options available, the next step is choosing the best service for your needs. Two factors to consider are:

1) What’s available where you live, and 2) how much speed do you require?

While your location may leave you little to no choice among internet providers, understanding the differences between the broadband services offered in your area and balancing it with your needs will enable you to choose the internet service that makes the most sense for you.

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