Tech Times Guide: Understanding Internet Connection Options, Speeds

30 December 2014, 2:10 pm EST By Christian de Looper Tech Times
Man outside Ecuador embassy reads out the internet to Julian Assange

The Internet is an integral part of society, making it important to understand the basics, especially when comparing Internet Service Providers, the companies like Comcast who provide Internet access.

There are a number of important things to consider when learning the basics of the Internet, including Internet speeds and abbreviations, as well as the different types of Internet delivery. Internet speed is essentially measured in how much data can be sent to the user, usually per second. The bigger the bandwidth, the faster data can be transferred. 

An average web page, for example, is about 1.5 megabtyes (MB) in size, while a text email you receive is about 15 kilobytes (KB). An MP3 file you might download is about 4 MB, and downloading an HD movie would take up about 10 gigabytes (GB).

Internet Speeds Explained

One thing to consider when comparing Internet service providers is the speed of the Internet. A number of abbreviations are used when explaining Internet speeds.

The slowest is Kbps, or kilobits per second. The bit is the smallest measurement of information and was used by mobile carriers until speeds got faster. A kilobit is 1,000 bits. The average dial-up modem operates at a maximum of 56 Kbps, however its speed is more often between 40 to 50 Kbps.

Next up is KB/s or kilobytes per second. A byte is made up of eight bits, and bytes are often the measurement used for files on a computer. An average image on the web is around 1,000 KB, and would take around 2 minutes and 22 seconds to download on a dial-up modem running at maximum speeds.

Just like 1,000 bits make a kilobit, 1,000 kilobits make a megabit. The speed of megabits is called Mbps, or megabits per second.

MB/s stands for megabytes per second. A megabyte is made up of 1,000 megabits, and is the unit of measurement for larger files. A typical MP3 is around 4MB and would take 1 second to download on a more modern Internet speed of 25.6 megabits per second.

The next level is Gbps, or gigabits per second. A gigabit is made up of 125 megabytes. The fastest commercial Internet speeds are currently measured in gigabits per second, such as the service provided in Minneapolis, which offers a whopping 10 Gbps. The speed rate of 10 Gbps basically means that users will be able to download their favorite flicks in under a second, according to US Internet, the company providing the Minneapolis service.

Types Of Internet Connections

The first type of Internet access connection is the dial-up connection. Using a dial-up connection, a computer will essentially dial a phone number using the telephone line, which requires the use of a modem. Dial-up Internet is extremely slow compared with more modern connection techniques, and users of this type of connection will not be able to use their phone while they are using the Internet. The average dial-up Internet connection is between 40 and 50 Kbps

The second type of Internet connection is Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, which allows for both the Internet connection and the telephone connection to be transferred at the same time by using different frequencies. This is generally available in cities, however less so in rural areas because it is affected by distance. DSL is currently the most used Internet speed.

Next up is the cable connection, which uses a coaxial cable. Similarly to DSL, it uses frequencies, but it uses many different frequencies rather than just two. It's quite a bit faster than the dial-up connection, too. The current minimum broadband Internet speed is 4 Mbps as a download speed, which is fine for browsing web pages, but inadequate for things like video streaming.

Next is the fiber optic connection, which is exceedingly fast compared with the other connections. Internet service providers are beginning to implement it, and speeds can be hundreds of times faster than with other types of Internet. Fiber optic cables essentially use light to transfer information, which is why it can be so fast. An example of this kind of Internet is Google Fiber, which is available in a few cities such as San Jose and Austin.

Wireless broadband is another type of Internet connection and uses a cabled connection for the ISP, which then sends out radio waves. Customers access the Internet through an antenna that picks up the radio waves. The wireless devices and the broadband Internet service make up your wireless broadband network, and areas that have that service are called hotspots. Many coffee shops and libraries offer Internet hotspots to provide wireless broadband Internet service, as do downtown areas in larger cities, college campuses and major airports.

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