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Upgrading and Repairing PCs Tip #16: High-Speed Internet Access: Which Type is Right for You?

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In this excerpt from the 22nd edition of Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Scott helps you make sense out of the confusing morass of plans available from cable modem, DSL, fixed wireless Internet, and satellite vendors.

Find more tips from Upgrading and Repairing PCs here.

From the book

One way of making sense out of the confusing morass of plans available from cable modem, DSL, fixed wireless Internet, and satellite vendors is to calculate the average cost per Mbps of data downloaded ($/Mbps). You can calculate this figure yourself by dividing the service cost per month by the rated or average speed of the service:

    Cost ($) / Speed (Mbps) = $/Mbps

You can use this formula with any broadband or dial-up service to find the best values. Note that this simple calculation doesn’t take into account the cost of any required equipment, such as modems, filters, satellite dishes, activation fees, and so on. If you must pay extra for equipment or installation upfront, divide the upfront cost by the number of months you plan to keep the service and add the result to the monthly service charge to get an accurate figure.

For example, if cable modem service costs around $45 per month and has an average (not peak) speed of 12Mbps, divide $45 by 12Mbps, and the cost is $3.75 per Mbps. The only extra equipment generally required is a cable modem, which you can purchase for around $50 or rent for around $5 per month.

By comparison, a typical DSL service can cost around $20 per month (it can be as low as $10 per month if you qualify for that rate) and has a speed of 0.768Mbps. Divide $20 by 0.768Mbps, and the cost is $26 per Mbps, or only $13 per Mbps at the $10 rate. The only extra equipment generally required is a DSL modem and some microfilters, which you can purchase for around $50 or rent for around $5 per month.

How does a typical 56Kbps modem compare, assuming 50Kbps (0.05Mbps) download speeds? Using the Platinum dial-up service from NetZero ($11.95 per month), the cost works out to $239 per Mbps. That is 64 times more money per Mbps for service that is hundreds of times slower than a typical cable modem. NetZero also offers DSL in some areas with a maximum speed of up to 6Mbps (varies by location) for $11.95 per month.

The services offered in my area stack up as shown in Table 15.2, listed from slowest to fastest download speed. Note that WISP service is not listed, as it varies widely in availability and price.

Table 15.2 Comparing Connection Types and Speeds

Connection Type

Download/Upload Speed (Mbps)

Dial-up

0.05/0.03

Basic DSL

1.5/0.384

Basic satellite

5.0/1.0

Basic cable

15/1.0

Premium satellite

15/2

Premium DSL

24/1.5

Premium cable

110/5

The values in Table 15.2 indicate the connection types and speeds available in my area; the offerings and speeds available in your area may vary.

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