How To Set up a Home Office Network
Part 1: Getting Internet Service
The first step in setting up a home office network is to figure out how you are going to connect to the internet. You need an on-ramp to the information superhighway. There are several different ways to get on the Internet. This is good because competition lowers prices and improves features, but bad because marketing geniuses have a gift for confusing everyone about their choices.
Choices for Internet Service
In a nutshell here are some brief descriptions of the available technology:
1. Dial-Up – Dial up is the slowest internet access available. It uses an analog signal over a regular phone line. It’s okay for email and very basic web pages. It will drive you mad if you need to access rich-media websites or download anything but the smallest files.
2. DSL – Digital Subscriber Line is a good economical choice for broadband internet access if it is available to you. It delivers internet access through your existing phone line. Even though DSL shares the line with voice traffic, the two functions operate on different frequencies and do not interfere with each other. This allows you to make and receive phone calls while downloading files and surfing web sites.
3. Cable – Cable internet comes in on the same coaxial cable that delivers your cable TV signal. It is generally faster than DSL but is also generally more expensive.
4. Satellite – Satellite internet is more expensive and generally slower than DSL or Cable. It is the broadband of last resort. It works by routing data from earth to a geosynchronous satellite 22,000 miles up in space to your professionally installed 2-way satellite dish and back again. This 44,000 mile round trip takes some time, but it is still much faster than dial-up.
5. Fiber Optics – Fiber Optics to the curb or house will be increasingly available over the next few years. Telephone companies like Verizon are laying the cable in an effort to compete with Cable providers for voice, telephone and internet. Fiber Optic cable is a tiny glass fiber surrounded by lots of protective insulation. Instead of electrical impulses, light pulses travel down the glass fiber to transmit data. This technology will offer high speeds and bandwidths at a reasonable price when it becomes widely available.
So how do I choose which technology is for me
The descriptions above should get you started thinking about what you need but I am going to make it simpler than that. You have two questions to ask yourself:
- How much speed do you need?
- What is available?
What do you do on the internet now? What do you want to do in the future?
If you only use email or view basic web pages you may be able to get away with a dial-up connection. However, my bet is that you probably want to do more. I recommend that you forget about dial-up unless you have no choice. In many areas, entry level DSL is as cheap as dial-up and you get at least 5 times the speed.
With entry level DSL you can easily download small-medium files and view more graphic and media intensive websites. With mid-tier plans you can download bigger files and also do streaming audio and video. If you download a lot of medium-large files, use an Internet phone (VoIP), teleconference, or simply do a lot all at once, then you will need to start looking at the faster plans.
Just so you get an idea, I classify the download speeds as follows: 256 Kbs is entry level speeds, 1-2 Mbs (1,000-2,000 Kbs) is mid-tier speeds, 3-6 Mbs is fast, and 6-10+ is very fast. You are going to get a lot less upload speed: 128-256 KBS is entry level, 512-728 Kbs is mid-tier, and anything over 1 Mbs is fast. Upload speeds are very important for teleworkers, internet phone users and people that need to upload files.
I hope I have convinced you to look at broadband. Don’t worry it actually gets easier here. Most of the confusion will disappear by eliminating the choices that are simply not available. Availability is likely to be the most important aspect of your decision making process.
If you are on a tight budget, you want basic broadband, and DSL is available, then get the entry level package and call it a day. DSL is generally the cheapest form of broadband at the low to mid speed ranges. The problem is that DSL is only available within 3 miles of the central office (CO). This puts many suburban households out of range for DSL.
If you are looking at the mid to high speed ranges see if anyone has put in a new fiber optics network yet. This stuff is coming in at cable prices and is much faster.
If you are not one of the lucky ones with fiber, then you need to start comparing prices. In most places, if you can get it, DSL is still cheaper than Cable at the mid-tier range. However, at the mid-high speed levels it can go either way.
When you are comparing prices you want to find out the download and upload speeds. Upload speeds are usually much slower than the download speeds.
When comparing DSL and cable you may hear the argument from DSL marketers that when you use cable internet you are sharing your connection with the whole neighborhood. The implication is that your performance suffers. Don’t buy into this argument. These days there is plenty of capacity to go around and you won’t notice any competition for bandwidth.
At the end of the day, when it comes to choosing, look at the speed and look at the price and make your decision.
Check out our Resource Directory for a list of Internet Service Providers complete with community feedback. Be sure to leave comments to share any experiences – good or bad – you have had with any ISP.
To see what is available in your area you should check out Broadband National. You simply enter the phone number of the place you want internet service and it comes back with all the options available to you. You can sort by price, specials, speed, and company. If you find something you like, you can order it directly.