In today's world, high-speed Internet services have become as important as other tools such as electricity and water. It is the gateway for everything from education to news,to and all modes of entertainment, from to – and even For most Americans, a reliable and is now a mandatory part of both work and family life.
The United States ranks 10th (see PDF report 2017) among countries with the highest average Internet speeds (at 18.7 megabits per second, or MPs), according to the latest available data. But to the shame of citizens and politicians, high-speed internet is not yet universally available. About 7% of the US population – that's 19 million Americans – still doesn't have access to a broadband connection, according to the FCC. And we can't even agree on the extent of the problem. A more recent survey by research company NPD Group puts the estimate much higher: It says that do not have access to 25 Mbps or faster internet speeds.
Read more: Life in the Slow Path: Welcome to the Rural Internet in America |
As I said, the majority of Americans have access to at least some type of high-speed service from their Internet service provider. Most often it is cable, internet or a digital subscriber line (commonly known as DSL) connection. If you're lucky, it's fiber. If you're less fortunate, it's a satellite or fixed LTE connection. As a last resort for those in far-flung rural areas and remote regions, there is dial-up internet connection. And now internet providers offering alternativesare starting to emerge. Here's how the different types of Internet services rank in order for the fastest Internet to become the slowest:
There are many variables involved in choosing an Internet service provider and Internet package. And further complicated things, these variables – Internet speeds, cost, reliability and customer service – can vary from place to place. Although the service provider is identical, the experience may not be: The Comcast experience in Oakland may be completely different from the one at Comcast Atlanta, just as McDonald's in your hometown may offer a different experience than the one in mine, even if they both serve the same menu.
As such, instead of trying to recommend the best ISP for you based on national download speeds or pricing, we are taking another effort. We let WhistleOut, a comparative shopping supplier, handle heavy lifting as far as speeds and prices for suppliers in your area (see below). And we have dedicated ourselves to mapping the pros and cons of the technology in question, along with some general buying advice.
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- Typical bandwidth: download 50-1,000 Mbps
- Average service price range: $ 50- $ 100 per month
Fiber optic cables form the backbone of the global telecommunications system, which serves as the main connection path for most of the world's Internet, TV and telephone services. Until recently, fiber optics were used exclusively to connect cities and countries. But in the last decade or so, some suppliers in some cities have begun to expand fiber optics to individual homes and businesses.
Fiber Optic Internet Service delivers the fastest and most reliable Internet connection, with speeds that can reach up to 1 gigabit per second to download and . These are orders of magnitude faster than the usual cable or DSL connection. Unfortunately, unless you live in a major US metropolitan area, a fiber optic network is probably not a viable option for you in the short term. About 25% of the US population currently has access to it.
If you live in a place that supports fiber internet, you're in luck. Fiber-optic broadband offers everything you want in an internet connection: symmetrical speed – meaning equivalent performance whether you download or upload; reliability; robust signal strength; and super-low latency. And even though the main fiber line can be shared between homes or businesses, it is unlikely that customers will experience the type of speed shared jointly for other types of shared connections during high usage hours. Whether you are streaming video, uploading large files to the cloud or playing the latest online games, a fiber connection will deliver fast, consistent performance with almost impossible delay.
- Extremely fast download speeds, low latency, reliable service
- No data capsules
- The best option for data-intensive applications such as streaming video and games
- Requires professional installation
- Fewer suppliers
- Very limited availability
The large telecommunications such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon continue to expand their fiber infrastructure throughout the United States. And other companies are also joining the business; Google Fiber is available to residents of Atlanta, Charlotte, Kansas City and a handful of other cities. But the large fiber roll-out, which has been saddled with various technical problems, is expected to lose for several years.
- Typical bandwidth: download 25-200 Mbps
- Average service price range: $ 50- $ 150 per month
The cable generally provides faster speeds than any other type of Internet service except for fiber, which makes it into a solid alternative for high bandwidth activities such as streaming video and music, gaming and downloading (or uploading) large files. It comes on the same physical line as cable TV service – and some providers offer discounts when you sign up for both. Although available in most of the United States, the cable Internet market is generally an oligopoly (at best), with two large companies dominating most states or regions, or (at worst) a monopoly, with only one licensed service provider. This can lead to high prices, lousy service and the existential anxiety to support a company you despise.
- Dedicated, standalone, always on connection
- Faster and more reliable than DSL, satellite or dial-up internet
- Good for data-intensive applications such as streaming video and online games  Cable advance:
- Surroundings share bandwidth, so heavy use of others can hinder connection speeds during holidays
- Installation fees and monthly service can be expensive
- Not available everywhere
Most cable companies charge between $ 50 and $ 150 per month for service, depending where you live and what level of service you choose. I pay $ 65 a month for Spectrum's standard cable internet service that offers speeds "from 100 MPbs." In reality, I get about 45 Mbps for download speeds and 10 Mbps when I upload to Wi-Fi (and closer to 65 Mbps and 10 Mbps when connected directly to the router). As with all types of Internet services – and every service provider – your own mileage will vary.
On the plus side, cable service generally does not have data capsules – which means you can suck up as much bandwidth as you want without being subject to the excess fees that plague other types of internet services. And a tip: Given that many vendors charge an extra fee to rent a modem / router combination, you may be able to save a few bucks and possibly improve your speeds and performance by purchasing your own router.
- Typical bandwidth: download 40-50 kbps (that's kilobytes per second)
- Average service price: $ 5- $ 20 per month
At this point There are Many reasons to recommend dial-up internet connection. Fewer and fewer suppliers offer it and it has become the alternative to the last resort for only the most rural and remote regions. On the upside, a prerequisite for dial-up is access to telephone service – if you have a landline connection you can access the internet.
- Run on a telephone line
- Multiple providers
- Highly available
- Some plans limit the number of hours you can be online  Extremely slow download speeds and upload speeds
- You cannot use the phone and the Internet at the same time (unless you have multiple lines)
- Requires a landline phone
But – as they will at a certain age remember from the the early days of AOL, Prodigy and their dial-up contemporaries – the connection is extremely … incredibly … devastatingly slow. Nowhere fast enough to do anything other than load a simple web page or send an email.
A handful of providers – including NetZero, EarthLink and Juno – continue to offer dial-up access, and the biggest name in the dial-up game, AOL, offers a range of plans. The monthly fee for the starting service is only $ 4.99 and offers 5 hours of connection. The top plan for the Internet, which costs $ 19.99 per month, offers unlimited access.
- Typical bandwidth: Download 5-45 Mbps
- Average service price range: $ 40- $ 80 per month
Technically, DSL is considered broadband Internet. And while DSL can be significantly faster than dial-up, it is also significantly slower than you might expect to get from a cable connection. It is enough for basic productivity tasks like surfing the web and sending emails, but not fast enough for data-intensive tasks such as streaming video or online games.
- Widely available
- Multiple suppliers
- Relatively cheap
- Bandwidth is dedicated, rather than shared with neighbors
- Low connectivity especially for uploading data
- Speed and performance depend on proximity to your Internet service provider
- Like telephone service, which is prone to interference with weather
However, DSL is widely available, given that it runs on telephone infrastructure. And even if it runs on a fixed telephone, the internet signal is transmitted at a higher frequency, so you can connect to the web and talk on the phone at the same time.
Note that there are two types of DSL connections: symmetric, which offers corresponding speeds for downloading and uploading data; and asymmetric, which gives you faster download speeds – which represents the bulk of most people's internet activity – than uploading.
Fixed wireless LTE
- Typical bandwidth: 5-10 Mbps
- Average service price range: $ 50- $ 85 per month
Fixed LTE Internet service is transmitted from the same wireless tower that enables LTE mobile phone communication. More common in rural areas that do not have reliable cable Internet service but are populated by cell towers, for fixed wireless LTE service you need to have a special antenna installed on or around your home.
Fixed Wireless LTE Pros:
- Provides Decent Broadband Internet Service in Rural and Remote Regions
- Does Not Require Cables or Cables Infrastructure Connected to Home
Fixed Wireless LTE Disadvantages] setting
- Physical and geographical barriers can reduce speed
- Can be expensive and / or require a multi-year service agreement
- Often subject to data capacity and / or high surcharges
- Higher latency times than faster wired services such as cable and fiber
Eventually, the next generation of wireless internet, 5G, will come to some fixed wireless networks. (More on that below.) But 5G and fixed wireless is not synonymous. Not all fixed wireless networks support 5G. And not every 5G network is necessarily a fixed wireless network.
At the moment, fixed LTE can be one of the most expensive types of Internet services since it usually comes with capsules on the amount of data you can download each month; extra fees apply if you exceed your contribution. For example, one of AT & T's fixed LTE service plans costs $ 50 per month for 215 GB of data – plus an additional $ 10 for each additional 50 GB of supplement. Similarly, the monthly price for Verizon's Internet Level is $ 80 per month (including a $ 10 monthly access fee) for 8 GB of data plus $ 15 for each additional 1 GB of data.
- Typical bandwidth: download 10-30 Mbps
- Average service price range: $ 50- $ 150 per month
How about an internet connection radiated from space? Satellite Internet service is just as it sounds: a dish placed on or around your home sends and receives signals from a service provider's hub via a satellite orbiting the earth. Most satellite Internet providers, such as Viasat or HughesNet, rely on a handful of large satellites in a geostationary orbit located approximately 22,000 miles above the earth.
- Widely available, even in rural and remote locations
- Several suppliers usually result in competitive pricing
- Requires installation of a satellite dish or home
- Can be expensive and / or require a multi-year service agreement
- Data capsules can lead to expensive overcharging or slower speeds
- Laggy and prone to disrupt
Although an internet connection with satellite is usually faster than a dial-up it is not always robust enough for modern applications. Latency can be a serious problem, and streaming video and games can be impossible when data is radiated into space over and over again.
It is worth noting that Elon Musk's SpaceX company is currently building and launching a new network of 12,000 satellites to provide commercial satellite internet connection. But it's probably too early to hold on until it's done; Musk does not expect the service to be up and running until sometime in the middle of the next decade.
New but not yet publicly available: 5G
- Typical bandwidth: 250-4,000 Mbps
- Average service price range: Determined
Next generation of cell technology – the fifth generation, hence 5G – promises to usher in a new era of Internet access, first on mobile phones and then at home, with dramatic improvements in network speed, coverage and responsiveness. CNET has already tested early 5G speeds in several cities around the world, from Los Angeles to Seoul. Andand may well be worth the wait.
For example: In some areas, Verizon's network has shown speeds in excess of 1 gigabit per second – that's 10 to 100 times faster than your typical cellular connection. It is even faster than the speed provided by a physical fiber optic connection to your house. And it's not just the speed: 5G networks have extremely low latency – so there's almost no pause between when you click the link and when the site or video loads. Sounds good, huh?
- High speed, low latency
- Dedicated bandwidth (no sharing with neighbors), no data capsules
- Perfect for data-intensive applications such as streaming video and games
- Nationwide rollout in progress
- Untested technology
- Doubtful signal strength
However, as with the previous generations of broadband, it will take years before 5G replaces 4G. The new network comes first to the next generation of high-end phones. In the future, the operators will extend the broadband offer to Internet and home users. But first, installers must distribute special high-speed broadband equipment that can retrieve the 5G signals and turn it into a home or business Wi-Fi connection so your other multiple devices can access the high-speed. (Note that 5G and fixed wireless networks are not synonymous. Not all fixed wireless networks support 5G. And not every 5G network is necessarily a fixed wireless network.)
Verizon's 5G broadband service costs $ 50 for wireless subscribers and $ 70 for everyone else – more or less in line with other broadband services. (You can find out if you are eligible for its broadband here.) AT & T's mobile 5G service is free for "selected" customers for the first 90 days. After that, the company will pay $ 499 for special 5G wifi hotspots – plus $ 70 per month for a 15GB broadband plan with a 15 GB data capacity.
Tips for choosing an Internet service provider
- Contact your neighbors: Ask what services and providers others in your area use (and avoid).
- Buy your own modem whenever possible / router: Many providers charge an additional fee for renting a combination modem / router and you may be able to save a few dollars (and possibly improve your speed and performance) with .
- Watch out for price spikes after "special offers" have expired: Many suppliers offer initial pricing every month for the first 12 months; The price you pay after that is the real price of your service.
- Beware of data capsules: Exceeding the plan's monthly download of data can result in expensive fees for excessive translation. providers in your area, you may be able to use an alternative provider's offer to lower the price of your current monthly service.
- Consider cutting the cord for additional savings: Check out .
Other things to consider when it comes to Internet service
The slowest part of your home network system – including the modem, router, device you uses (eg TV, laptop, phone) and your service provider – will ultimately dictate your connection speed and strength. A super-fast router does not help a laptop with ancient network hardware, and slow Internet service prevents all your online activities – from streaming services like Netflix and Spotify to surfing the web to sending e-mail.
In addition to the type of service you choose, there are a number of other factors that dictate the quality and speed of your Internet connection. As such, when a company advertises "speeds from X Mbps", it does not necessarily mean that you consistently get that speed.
Your neighbors' Wi-Fi, older devices, walls, floors and even your microwave can affect your Wi-Fi signal. Most Internet Service Providers offer a modem / router combo box that you can rent, but you can also buy your own router, add an extender if you need additional coverage or try a fully home Wi-Fi system. Even if you don't know anything about networking, you can adjust some settings to improve performance when you encounter problems.
Originally published earlier this year.
Correction, July 30: Corrects the use of megabits per second (Mbps), clarifies the nature of shared fiber optic cables.