In today's world, high-speed internet service has become just as important as other utilities such as water and electricity. It is the gateway for everything from news to education, dating toand all forms of entertainment, from to – and even For most Americans, a reliable and is now a mandatory part of both work and family life.
According to the latest available data, the US is in 1
Read more: Living in the slow lane: Welcome to the internet in rural America |
That said, most Americans do have access to at least some sort of high-speed service from their internet provider. Usually it is a cable, internet or digital subscriber line connection (commonly known as DSL). If you're lucky, it's fiber. If you are less lucky, it is a satellite or fixed LTE connection. As a last resort for people in remote rural and remote areas, there is dial-up Internet access. And now internet providers offeringoptions are starting to pop up. Here is how the different types of internet services rank in order from fastest internet to slowest:
There are many variables involved in choosing an internet provider and internet packages. And to make things even more complicated, those variables – internet speeds, costs, reliability and customer service – can vary from place to place. Even if the service provider is identical, the experience may not be: The Comcast experience in Oakland can be very different from that of Comcast Atlanta, just as the McDonald's in your hometown can offer a different experience than mine. although they both serve the same menu.
Instead of recommending the best internet provider for you based on national download speeds or prices, we take a different path. We have WhistleOut, a comparison store provider, arrange the heavy work up to the speeds and prices for suppliers in your region (see below). And we have spent our time mapping out the pros and cons of the technologies in question, along with some general buying advice.
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- Typical bandwidth: download 50-1,000 Mpbs
- Average service price range: $ 50 – $ 100 per month
Fiber optic cables are the backbone of the global telecommunications system and serve as the most important connection routes for most internet , TV and telephone services in the world. Until recently, fiberglass was used exclusively to connect cities and countries. But in the last decade, some providers in some cities have begun expanding fiber optics to individual homes and businesses.
Fiber-optic internet service provides the fastest and most reliable internet connection, with speeds that can go up to 1 gigabit per second for downloading and uploading . These are orders of magnitude faster than the typical cable or DSL connection. Unfortunately, unless you live in a large metropolitan area in the US, 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 with fiber optic internet support, you are lucky. Fiber optic broadband offers everything you want in an internet connection: symmetrical speed – which means equivalent performance, whether you download or upload; reliability; robust signal strength; and super low latency. And although the main fiber-optic line can be divided between homes or businesses, customers are unlikely to experience the type of speed load that is common for other types of shared connections during peak hours of use. Whether you stream video, upload large files to the cloud or play the latest online games, a fiber optic connection delivers fast, consistent performance with almost imperceptible delay.
- Extremely fast download speeds, low latency, reliable service
- No data caps
- The best option for data-intensive applications such as streaming video and gaming
Fiber optic disadvantages:
- Requires professional installation
- Fewer providers
- Very limited availability
The major telecom companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon continue to expand their fiber optic infrastructure in the US. And other companies also participate; Google Fiber is available to residents of Atlanta, Charlotte, Kansas City and a handful of other cities. But the great fiber rollout, which is saddled with a variety of technical problems, is expected to last for years.
- Typical bandwidth: download 25-200Mpbs
- Average service price range: $ 50 – $ 150 per month
Cable generally delivers higher speeds than other types of internet services, except for fiber optics, making it a solid band is an option for activities with a high bandwidth, such as streaming video and music, gaming and downloading (or uploading) large files. It comes on the same physical line as cable TV – and some providers offer discounts when you sign up for both. Although it is available everywhere in the US, the cable internet market is generally an oligopoly (in the best case), with two large companies dominating most states or regions, or (in the worst case) a monopoly, with only one licensed service provider. This can lead to high prices, worthless service and the existential fear of supporting a company that you despise.
- Dedicated, independent, always active connection
- Faster and more reliable than DSL, satellite or dial-up internet
- Good for data-intensive applications such as streaming video and online gaming  Cable disadvantages:
- Neighborhoods share bandwidth, so heavy usage by others can hinder connection speeds during peak hours
- Installation costs and monthly service can be expensive
- Not available everywhere
Most cable companies charge between $ 50 and $ 150 per month for service , depending on where you live and the level of service you choose. I pay $ 65 a month for Spectrum & # 39; s standard cable internet service that offers speeds "from 100 Mpbs." In reality I get around 45 Mbps for download speeds and 10 Mbps when uploading via Wi-Fi (and closer to 65 Mpbs and 10 Mbps when connected directly to the router). As with any type of internet service – and any service provider – your own mileage will vary.
On the positive side, cable internet service generally does not have data caps – which means that you can suck up as much bandwidth as you want, without having to deal with the excessive costs that other types of internet services inflict. And a tip: since many providers charge extra fees for renting a combination modem / router, you may be able to save a few dollars and possibly improve your speeds and performance by purchasing your own router.
- Typical bandwidth: download 40-50 Kbps (that is kilobytes per second)
- Average service price range: $ 5- $ 20 per month
there are not many reasons to recommend dial-up internet. Fewer and fewer providers are offering it and it has become the last option for only the most rural and remote regions. On the other hand, the only condition for dial-up is access to telephone service – if you have a fixed telephone connection, you can access the internet.
- Operates on a fixed telephone line
- Multiple providers
- Widely available
- Some plans limit the number of hours you can be online
- Extremely low 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
But – as those of a certain age will remember from the early days of AOL, Prodigy and their dial-up contemporaries – the connection is extremely … provocative … 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 price of the boarding service is only $ 4.99 and offers 5 hours of connectivity. The first-class internet plan, which costs $ 19.99 per month, offers unlimited access.
- Low connection speeds , especially for uploading data
- Speed and performance depend on the proximity of your internet provider
- However, like telephone services, the likelihood of weather disruption
DSL is generally available as it runs on telephone infrastructure. And although it works on landlines, the internet signal is sent at a higher frequency, so that you can connect to the internet and make calls at the same time.
Note that there are two types of DSL connections: symmetrical, which offers comparable speeds for downloading and uploading data; and asymmetric, which gives you higher download speeds – which represents the lion's share 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 sent from the same wireless towers that allow LTE mobile phone communication. More often in rural areas that do not have a reliable cable internet service, but that are well populated by radio towers, a fixed wireless LTE service requires that you have a special antenna installed on or around your home.
Fixed wireless LTE professionals:
- Provides decent broadband internet service in rural and remote areas
- Requires no cables or cable infrastructure connected to the house
Fixed wireless LTE disadvantages:
- Antenna installation and configuration
- Physical and geographical obstructions can reduce speed
- Can be expensive and / or require a multi-year service contract
- Often subjected to data caps and / or high exceedances
- Higher latency times than faster wired service such as cable and fiber optics
Eventually, the next generation of wireless internet, 5G, will come on a number of fixed wireless networks. (More on that below.) But 5G and fixed wireless are not synonymous. Not all fixed wireless networks support 5G. And not every 5G network is necessarily a fixed wireless network.
Fixed LTE can currently be one of the most expensive types of internet services, as it usually contains limits on the amount of data you can download each month; additional costs will follow if you exceed your reimbursement. For example, one of AT & T & # 39; s fixed LTE service plans costs $ 50 per month for 215 GB of data – plus an additional $ 10 for each additional 50 GB increase. Similarly, the monthly price for the Verizon internet entry model is $ 80 per month (including a monthly access fee of $ 10) 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
What about an internet connection from space? Satellite internet service is exactly what it sounds like: a dish on or around your house sends and receives signals from the hub of a service provider via a satellite that orbits the earth. Most satellite internet providers, such as Viasat or HughesNet, rely on a handful of large satellites in a geostationary orbit about 22,000 miles above the earth.
- Widely available, even in rural areas and remote locations
- Multiple providers usually result in competitive prices
- Requires the installation of a satellite dish on or around your home
- May be expensive and / or requires a multi-year service contract
- Data caps can lead to expensive overdose costs or lower speeds
- Laggy and prone to disruption
Although a satellite internet connection is usually faster than a dial-up connection, 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 sent to space and sent over and over again.
It is worth noting that Elon Musk's company, SpaceX, is currently building and launching a new network of 12,000 satellites to provide commercial satellite internet access. But it's probably too early to hold on until it's done; Musk does not expect the service to be operational until sometime around the middle of the next decade.
New, but not yet available everywhere: 5G
- Typical bandwidth: 250-4,000 Mpbs
- Average service price range: To be determined
The next generation of mobile technology – the fifth generation, hence 5G – promises to herald 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 multiple cities around the world, from Los Angeles to Seoul. Andand it is worth the wait.
For example: Verizon's network has shown speeds of more than 1 gigabit per second in some areas – that is 10 to 100 times faster than your normal mobile connection. That is even faster than the speed that is provided by a physical fiber optic connection to your home. And it's not just the speed: 5G networks have extremely low latency – so there's virtually no pause between when you click on the link and when the website or video loads. Sounds good right?
- High speeds, low latency
- Dedicated bandwidth (do not share with neighbors), no data caps
- Great for data-intensive applications such as streaming video and gaming
- Nationwide roll-out running
- Untested technology
- Questionable signal strength
However, as with earlier generations of broadband, it will take years for 5G to replace 4G. The new network is the first to come with the next generation of high-end telephones. In the future, carriers will expand the broadband offer to private and business internet users. But first, installers must use special high-speed broadband equipment that can pick up the 5G signals and turn them into a Wi-Fi connection at home or in the office, so that your other multiple devices can access the high speed. (Note that 5G and wired wireless are not synonymous. Not all wired wireless networks support 5G. And not every 5G network is necessarily a wired 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 check here whether you are eligible for broadband.) AT & T & # 39; s mobile 5G service is free for "selected" customers for the first 90 days. The company then charges $ 499 for special 5G Wi-Fi hotspots – plus $ 70 per month for a broadband subscription with a 15 GB data cap.
Tips for selecting an internet provider
- Consult your neighbors: Ask which service and providers other people in your area use (and avoid).
- If possible, buy your own modem / router: Many providers charge extra costs to rent a combination modem / router and you may save a few dollars (and possibly improve your speed and performance) ) with .
- Beware of price increases after "special offers" expire: Many providers offer monthly introductory prices for the first 12 months; the price you pay afterwards is the real price of your service.
- Beware of data caps: Exceeding the monthly data download threshold of your plan can lead to expensive costs that are too high.
- Negotiate your way to a lower bill: If there are multiple 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: View .
Other things to consider when it comes to internet service
The slowest part of your home network system – including the modem , the router, the device that you use (eg set-top box, laptop, telephone) and your service provider – ultimately determine the speed and strength of your connection. A super fast router does not help a laptop with old network hardware, and a slow internet service hinders all your online activities – from streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify to surfing the internet to sending e-mails.
In addition to the type of service you choose, there are a number of other factors that determine the quality and speed of your internet connection. So if a company advertises "speeds from X Mbps", this does not necessarily mean that you get that speed consistently.
Your neighbors' WiFi, older devices, walls, floors, and even your microwave may affect your WiFi signal. Most internet providers offer a modem / router combination that you can rent, but you can also buy your own router, add an extender if you need extra coverage, or try a Wi-Fi system for the entire house. Even if you don't know anything about networking, you can adjust some settings to improve performance when you encounter problems.
Originally published in 2019 and periodically updated.
Correction, July 30: Corrects the use of megabits per second (Mbps), clarifies the nature of shared fiber optic cables.