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2011 November 28 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Complex Applications Increase the Need for Speed

In accessing the Internet, first there was dial-up, which topped out at 56,000 bits per second. Then, in the 1990s, came digital subscriber line (DSL), with a common download speed of 1.5 million bits per second.

In the 2000s high-speed home and home office access to Internet was led by cable TV companies, later joined by telephone companies, with typical download speeds today around 12 million bits per second but reaching as high as 150 million bits per second.

Broadband Internet service, also known as high-speed service, is important for streaming video, downloading audio, teleconferencing, and other applications that require the transfer of large amounts of data. Applications such as streaming video depend more on download speed, which is a measure of the movement of data into your computer or network, while applications such as videoconferencing depend also on upload speed, which is a measure of the movement of data out from your computer or network.

How can you get this speed? And how do you know whether you’re getting the speed that you’re paying for?

Broadband Internet options are largely a factor of geography. Because of the cost involved in laying the physical cables that are typically used, you usually have limited options in high-speed providers. According to a recent survey by PC Magazine, 20 percent of respondents said they had the choice of only one broadband provider.

A number of websites have tools for finding out which broadband providers offer access in your area, such Broadband Expert (www.broadbandexpert.com) and ConnectMyHighSpeed (www.connectmyhighspeed.com). These and similar sites aren’t 100 percent accurate or up to date, so you’ll need to verify by contacting providers directly.

The largest broadband provider in the country is Comcast (www.comcast.com), founded in 1963 as a cable television company. It currently offers its Xfinity services in 39 states.

Comcast provides a number of different levels of Internet service based on coaxial cable connections. Its mid-level “Performance” package offers download speeds of up to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 2 Mbps. Its “Economy” package is up to 1.5 Mbps down and up to 0.34 Mbps up. In April the company announced its “Extreme 105” package, which provides up to 105 Mbps down and up to 20 Mbps up.

Comcast was rated at the top in the latest Internet service provider ranking by TopTenReviews (isp-review.toptenreviews.com).

The upstarts in broadband Internet service are the telephone companies. Verizon (www.verizon.com) was originally one of the seven “Baby Bells,” companies formed as a result of the court-ordered breakup of AT&T in 1983. Today it offers its FiOS Internet packages in 12 states plus the District of Columbia.

Verizon’s packages range from up to 15 Mbps down and up to 5 Mbps up to up to 50 Mbps down and up to 20 Mbps up, based on fiber optic connections. The company also offers a plan of up to 150 Mbps down and up to 35 Mbps up but only in areas serviced by a special “GPON” central office.

Verizon received top honors among broadband providers in the latest customer satisfaction survey by PC Magazine (www.pcmag.com).

Other well-known broadband Internet service providers include Time Warner, AT&T, Cox, Earthlink, Optimum Online and Charter.

Satellite Internet providers generally rank lower in terms of customer satisfaction than fiber optic or coaxial cable providers, with wireless broadband and DSL providers in the middle.

No matter what type of broadband Internet service you have or which service provider you subscribe to, there are ways to measure just how much speed you’re getting. The services of Ookla (www.ookla.com), a broadband testing and network diagnostics company headquartered in Kalispell, Mont., are recommended by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, a networking expert and blogger at ZDNet (www.zdnet.com/

Like many Internet companies, Ookla provides both free and paid versions of its tools, which include Speedtest, Pingtest, and Net Index. Speedtest, the most well known, provides you with your download and upload speeds.

Don’t be too surprised if you’re not getting quite the speed you expect. As with many businesses, Internet service providers are often a bit optimistic in their advertising.

But sometimes the problem can be at your end. Often the best solution is the quickest. Just unplug your modem, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in to reset your connection. Sometimes with a home network you also have to unplug and replug your router.

The same solution applies to general computer problems. Restarting a desktop, laptop, or netbook PC is often all the solution that’s needed.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com

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