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Having internet is essentially a requirement for the modern home. As the dependency on technology in today’s world increases, so too does reliance on fast internet. There are a few different types of internet available to consumers, ranging in availability, price and speed.
Americans care a lot about their internet speeds. And to be fair, the modern world is heavily reliant upon the internet. This article explains how internet speeds are measured and the different types of internet connections available to people across the country.
When you perform a internet speed test or read through different internet service provider (ISP) plans, you are bound to see numbers measured in Mbps. Mbps stands for megabits per second, which is a measurement of how much data (or data packets) is transferred through the connection per second. Most modern internet plans fall somewhere in the 25-940 Mbps speeds range.
There are also two types of internet speeds: download and upload. Download speed refers to how fast the data from a server is loaded onto your computer or other device. An example of this could be how long it takes to load up your Twitter feed. Some download activities take much more data to load, meaning they take up more of your internet plan’s bandwidth. Other activities, such as streaming a song or reading a news article, use up hardly any download data in comparison.
The second type of internet speed is upload speed. This refers to the process of uploading a file or other form of data from your computer or another device to a different server. This could be uploading a photo to Facebook or a video to YouTube.
It is very common for download speeds to be much faster than upload speeds since most customers will be downloading far more data than they upload.
A bit is a zero or one, as part of a binary code, that is combined in a sequence of eight to form a byte. Bits are essentially the building blocks of computer and internet language. They can be combined in a plethora of ways to create virtually anything.
As previously mentioned, Mbps is a very common speed measurement for internet connections. The root “mega” means million, so if an internet speed says it is 25 Mbps, this means there are 25 million bits per second of data traveling through that connection.
It is very rare to see internet speeds measured in bytes per second, but if you are curious on how many MBps (megabytes per second) your speed is, just take your Mbps measurements and divide it by eight, since there are eight bits in one byte.
Internet speed is the speed at which data travels through the connection. Bandwidth is the measurement of your internet connection’s actual capacity or volume.
This difference can be seen most clearly when examining ISP advertisements. An ISP will usually advertise their plans’ bandwidths instead of their actual speeds. This is because, technically, their connections can support speeds “up to,” say, 500 Mbps, but that does not mean speeds will always reach that mark. A variety of issues can cause speeds to not reach their full potential, such as network clogging, data caps in place and other scenarios.
A good way to think of internet speed versus bandwidth is to think of a busy road. The number of lanes on the street is like bandwidth. If there is traffic or road work, the cars on the street, like your data’s internet speed, are likely not moving along at their maximum potential speed.
This table summarizes and explains the main types of internet available to customers. Some are more expensive, high-speed and localized while others are quite extensive with infrastructure that spans the country.
|Type||Common providers||Best for||Availability|
|Dial-up||AOL||Very light usage (emailing, reading news, social media)||Widespread|
|Satellite||Viasat, HughesNet, Starlink||Moderate usage (some streaming, gaming)||Completely nationwide|
|Fixed wireless||AT&T, Starry, T-Mobile, Verizon||Moderate usage (some streaming, gaming)||Widespread|
|DSL||AT&T, Windstream, CenturyLink||Moderate usage (some streaming, gaming)||Widespread|
|Cable||Spectrum, Xfinity||Moderate to high usage (streaming, gaming)||Widespread|
|Fiber-optic||AT&T, Frontier, Verizon Fios||High usage (intense streaming, gaming)||Uncommon but increasing|
Dial-up connections require only a phone line, making it a usable (and sometimes the only) option for many people, including lots of rural Americans. The speeds are slow but the plans are usually very inexpensive.
Satellite internet plans can be quite expensive because of the sheer hardware involved in getting your home connected. You need a large satellite dish in an open location and a satellite orbiting hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of miles away in space which is responsible for providing you with your connection. This means that there will always be a noticeable latency (or lag) when performing tasks such as gaming. However, providers such as Viasat, HughesNet and Starlink are a great option for rural folks who still want high-speed internet since satellite internet providers can cover the entire country.
Fixed wireless internet uses an antenna on your home to capture radio waves from nearby towers. It is another good option for rural Americans because all the hardware you really need is an antenna.
DSL connections use existing phone lines to transmit internet data. Because they use telephone lines, which are extremely widespread across the United States, DSL is a very common and relatively inexpensive option. However, telephone lines also mean there are speed limitations.
Cable internet uses coaxial cables (just like cable TV) to connect your home to the larger ISP cable infrastructure. Cable internet is widespread with high-speed options available but due to its nature of being quite common and used in neighborhoods, you are bound to experience heavy traffic during peak use hours when everyone is online at the same time. Check out Spectrum to learn more about cable internet connections.
Fiber-optic internet uses glass or plastic “fibers” (which are thin cables) to transmit data in the form of light signals. This technology is new and as a result its availability is quite limited, though definitely growing in both scale and popularity. It brings the highest internet speeds possible along with prices that are usually very close to cable connection costs. Learn about AT&T FIBER.
National Broadband lets you compare ISPs in your ZIP Code. Visit nationalbroadband.com/offers to get started.
Where available, definitely fiber. Its technology is the newest, its speeds are fastest and it has prices that are comparable to cable. For rural folks, if you want high speeds, your best bet is wireless internet or satellite internet. Just be sure to note that it may be expensive.
Bandwidth is the measurement of your internet connection's data transfer capacity. Think of bandwidth as the number of lanes on a street while internet speed is how quickly the cars are driving on it.
Latency refers to the time it takes for a signal to be transferred from your device, to the server and back again. In other words, it is the lag you experience when browsing the internet, streaming or gaming.