Are you aware of the different types of internet connections that are available to you? If not, you have come to the right place. I am going to break down all the possible options and explain what you can expect from each one. With this guide, you will be able to determine which options will most likely suit your internet needs.
Depending where you live, some options may not be possible for you. You will need to do some research on your own to determine what is available in your area. That said, this post will give you an idea about which connection is best for you before you even begin your search.
Furthermore, I am confident that most of you will find there are only a few types of internet connections that will get you the bandwidth you want.
Before we take a closer look, here is an introduction to the internet connection types available:
Types of Internet Connections
Dial-up internet uses phone lines to connect to the internet. This was the first method for connecting to the internet and was popular in the 1990s. Now, dial-up internet is largely obsolete and there are better options out there for you. In any case, I have provided more information about dial-up internet in case you are curious…
To connect to the internet, your computer calls into the Internet Service Provider (ISP) (e.g. Verizon, Xfinity, AT&T, etc.). The ISP will then connect you to the internet and allow you to browse.
The trouble with this connection is that if you only have one phone line in your home, you cannot be connected to the internet and have a phone call occur at the same time. If someone picks up the phone to call someone while you are connected to the internet, you will lose your connection.
Dial-up internet is widely available. It is an internet connection option for many people, but it should only be used if there are no other options to choose from. This will most likely be the best option for those living in rural areas who do not want to pay for satellite internet.
Dial-up internet is extremely slow (by today’s standards), clocking in at a blazing 56 kilobits per second (kbps). It is only used by about 3% of Americans today.
If you are already paying for a phone line, you can use it to connect to the internet at no additional cost. If you do not have a phone plan in place, you will have to sign up for one (they cost $42/month on average). Also, if you do not already have a telephone jack in your house, you will need to have one installed.
At this price point, it is obvious to see much faster and cheaper options are available (keep reading!)
For a dial-up internet connection, you need:
- A dial-up internet modem and router
- A landline telephone line to connect to your modem
- A phone plan with an Internet Service Provider (no separate internet plan is required)
What can you do with a dial-up internet plan?
Not much. At 56 kbps per second, you will only be able to perform very limited browsing of websites. You can forget about streaming your favorite episode of Gossip Girl with speeds like this.
Also keep in mind that only one person can use the internet at a time for each phone line to your house. Since most houses have only one phone line, you will most likely be restricted to having one person on the internet at a time.
Digital Subscriber Liner (DSL)
Similar to dial-up internet, DSL uses a phone line to connect to the internet. The difference is that DSL allows you to both make phone calls and browse the internet at the same time.
With DSL you can expect speeds between 5-35 Megabits per second (Mbps). Although it is much faster than dial-up internet, it still provides speeds on the lower end of the spectrum. You will need to check with you ISP to determine the DSL speeds you can expect.
Other benefits of DSL include the fact that it is widely available (similar to dial-up internet), and it is usually cheaper than other options that may be faster (such as cable and fiber).
DSL will be an option for many people that also have the option of dial-up internet. This is a better option than dial-up if you are willing to pay the additional cost ($42.66/month on average for a DSL plan).
For a DSL internet connection, you need:
- A DSL modem and router
- A landline telephone line to connect to your modem
- An internet plan with an ISP (you don’t need to have a phone plan)
What can you do with a DSL internet plan?
You should have no problem if one person is browsing the internet, checking email, and using social media websites. If multiple people are using the internet at the same time, you may experience slow load times.
In addition, depending upon the specific bandwidth available to you, one person using the internet may be able to stream clearly. If you plan on streaming with other people using the internet at the same time, you should look into some of the other available options (cable or fiber).
You are probably most familiar with satellite internet from your experience on airplanes. Satellite internet is one of the two ways that airlines can provide internet access (via WiFi) to their customers.
Satellite internet is also a useful option in remote areas where other landline internet options are not available (e.g. DSL, dial-up, etc.).
It works by using satellites that are orbiting earth to relay the internet messages from your modem/router/device to a location on the ground that can carry out your request.
These satellites can be reached from any location on earth, so satellite internet is an option for everyone. With that said, it is not usually the fastest option and is only used when limited (if any) other options are available.
If you think about it, your internet requests travel from your device to the satellite in space, and then back to the earth’s surface where your request is carried out. A response is then sent back to the satellite, where it is relayed back to your device.
That is a lot of ground to cover for each request you send. This makes any real-time communication like Skype calls really difficult.
Delivering speed up to 100 Mbps, satellite internet is faster than dial-up and can even be faster than Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) depending upon your location. This option can’t compete with some of the faster land-based options like cable or fiber-optic internet, but it is a good option in terms of speed when these options aren’t available.
On average, satellite plans cost about $100/month. This is one of the most expensive internet options available, which is another reason why it should only be utilized when suitable landline options aren’t available.
For a satellite internet connection, you need:
- A modem and router
- A cable internet plan with a satellite internet provider
- A stationary satellite device
What can you do with a satellite internet plan?
Your internet experience can be very similar to DSL with a satellite internet plan. You should have no problem surfing the internet or using social media. You will likely have trouble with streaming and any real-time communication with this service, however.
Another factor to keep in mind is that although satellite internet can be very reliable (if you are in an open area), bad weather can negatively affect your connection. The weather is out of your control, so your internet connection is a victim of the conditions surrounding you. This is just another data point to consider if you are looking at a satellite internet plan.
Cellular internet uses the same channels as your cell phone to access the internet. Radio waves from your phone are sent to a cell tower, which connects to the internet for you and relays your requests.
You have probably used this type of connection when browsing the internet using your cell phone’s data plan, or if you have used a hotspot before.
This will most likely be a good option for you if you want to use internet devices (e.g. tablets) that do not have cellular plans and you are away from home. It is rarely used as a home internet option unless there are limited options and you have minimal internet needs.
Using cellular internet, you can get speeds up to 53.3 Mbps. The speed you get depends upon the strength of the cellular signal in your area. You will most likely get around 35 Mbps or less so you need to take this into account.
If you are going to use your phone as a hotspot, you will be using the data plan of your cellphone. There will be no additional cost unless you overrun your monthly data limit.
If you are going to purchase a hotspot, you will need to buy the physical device. In addition to the hotspot device, you will need to buy a data plan for it. Cellular providers have different data plans based upon your needs (anywhere from $10-$100 monthly), similar to a cellphone. If you are going to go this route, you will need to contact your cellular provider for more information.
For a cellular internet connection, you need:
- A hotspot device (unless you will use your cell phone)
- A cellular plan with a cellular provider
What can you do with a cellular internet plan?
Depending upon the plan you sign up for, you should be able to perform most basic tasks on the internet. You should be able to have a few people browsing the internet, checking email, and using social media websites at the same time. You may also be able to support streaming for one person. Overall this is a good option for one person who needs internet access at random times while he/she is away from home.
This is one of the most common types of connections. Cable internet connections use the same coaxial cable provided by the ISP for your cable television subscription.
It is widely available in most urban areas of the United States and will be an option for most people.
With cable internet, you can expect speeds much faster than DSL and dial-up. Speeds for cable internet range from 10-500 Mbps. These speeds are generally more than enough for multiple people to use the internet at the same time.
A monthly cable subscription is usually more expensive than DSL, but if you can afford it you will have a much more enjoyable experience. On average, cable internet plans cost about $58/month.
One item of note is that ISPs usually offer multiple plans for cable internet, each with different available bandwidths. This gives you the opportunity to select the plan that best fits your needs. It goes without saying, the faster connections are more expensive.
For a cable internet connection, you need:
- A modem and router
- A cable internet plan with a cable/internet provider (for most providers you don’t need to have a cable television plan as well)
What can you do with a cable internet plan?
Depending upon the plan you sign up for, you should be able to do most things on the internet. You should have no problem with many people browsing the internet, checking email, and using social media websites at the same time. Your cable internet connection should also be able to support multiple people streaming/online gaming at once.
Fiber Optic Internet
Fiber-optic cable internet is the cream of the crop when it comes to internet connections. It offers blazing fast speeds that should meet all your internet needs. To learn more about the benefits of fiber internet, check out this video:
Fiber optic internet utilizes fiber cables instead of the copper wires used by cable, DSL, and dial-up internet. These fiber cables transfer data with light waves instead of electricity, which is what the other internet connection methods use.
Most ISPs already utilize fiber-optic cables to transfer the data you send over the internet. These cables transfer data over long distances much faster than copper wires can. This is the only way ISPs can provide you with the seamless internet experience you want. Fiber-optic cable internet takes this one step further.
With fiber-optic internet, rather than using fiber-optic cables for just the backbone of the internet, ISPs use fiber-optic cables to deliver the internet to your home as well.
This will only be an option for you if an ISP has installed fiber-optic cables to your area. For many people, this has not been done yet. In some cases however, you will be able to schedule and pay for the installation of fiber to your home.
In terms of availability, about 40% of the United States has access to fiber-optic internet. It is still a fairly new technology and the infrastructure is not yet in place to offer it across the U.S.
When it comes to speed, there is no better option. Fiber-optic cable internet speeds can range from 250-1,000 Mbps (1,000 Mbps is equal to 1 Gigabit per second).
Another benefit of fiber internet is the fact that upload speeds are usually the same as download speeds. Upload speeds are important when you are either streaming live video from your home to the internet, or you have to consistently upload large files to an external website for work or school.
Surprisingly, fiber-optic internet is not the most expensive internet option. For the areas where the infrastructure is in place, plans cost about $56/month on average. There are a variety of options and pricing plans for fiber-optic internet based upon the provider and the infrastructure they have in place, so you will want to contact your provider for specific speed/pricing plans.
One thing to keep in mind is that fiber-optic internet prices are expected to fall in the future as it becomes more widely available with the advent of 5G technology. If fiber internet is currently not an option for you (or is too expensive), you have something to look forward to.
For a fiber internet connection, you need:
- A fiber-compatible modem and router
- A fiber internet plan with an ISP
- Fiber installation to your home from ISP (depending upon your location and fiber availability)
What can you do with a fiber internet plan?
The better question is probably: what can’t you do with fiber internet? Fiber internet should provide you with the ability to do anything you want on the internet. Especially with upload speeds that are equal to download speeds, you should be able to livestream without disruption, if that is something you are into. If the price of fiber-optic cable is not an issue and it is available in your area, I promise you will not be disappointed if you go with this option.
Which internet type is best for me?
So which connection type should you choose? Hopefully the information presented above will allow you to narrow your choices. Some of the factors you should consider when picking the best option are as follows:
- What providers/plans are available to me?
- What do you use the internet for? Browsing? Social media? Streaming? Live communications?
- How many people will need to use the internet at once?
- What is my budget for my monthly payment?
This site will help you determine which options are available to you. Just enter your zip code and click “Search Providers”
Another important item to note is that you will rarely get the top internet speed that providers advertise. There are a multitude of reasons for this (your modem/router, signal interference, congested lines, etc.). The bottom line is that you should subscribe to a plan that has a safe cushion on top of what you think you will need during peak internet usage. You need to plan for your highest internet demand and make sure your plan can support it if you want a seamless internet experience.
To summarize the expected speed and monthly costs of the different types of internet:
|Type of Connection||Speed||Monthly Cost|
|Dial-Up||45 kbps||$42 (average)|
|DSL||5-35 Mbps||$42.66 (average)|
|Satellite||Up to 100 Mbps||$100 (average)|
|Cellular||53.3 Mbps (average)||$10-$100 (based upon data plan)|
|Cable||10-500 Mbps||$58 (average)|
|Fiber-Optic||250-1,000 Mbps||$56 (average)|
What is the most commonly used internet connection?
Most households in urban areas either opt for cable or fiber internet because they provide the best experience. People are reliant on the internet more than ever before, and they need connections that support their needs.
Nothing is more miserable than watching a YouTube video and having it stop because you don’t have enough bandwidth.
Or being on a Skype call with coworkers and not being able to understand them because of low bandwidth.
Or not being able to game online with your friends because your parents are watching Netflix.
Spend the money for proper bandwidth. It will make your life much easier, I promise.
I hope this guide gets you one step closer to being able to enjoy the internet without restriction.
If you found this information helpful, check out some other posts I’ve written on similar topics:
Does an Old Computer Affect Your Internet Speed?
Does a Router Affect Your WiFi Speed?
Does Your Modem Affect Your Internet Speed?
Can an Ethernet Cable Slow Your Internet Speed?
Please feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions about your needs.