Understanding Internet Carriers and Terminology

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High Speed Internet Carriers

Internet Carriers offering true High Speed Internet access for home users are relatively new in the scheme of things. It has only been within the last 15 years or so that home users have had access to speeds higher than a megabit.

Those of us old enough to remember the “old days” of home Internet use can remember using a modem and a phone line to access the Internet, when downloading even a single photo in email would take 5-10 minutes. Now, we have Internet access that allows us to download that same photo in the time it takes to blink.

We’re going to take a look at some of the terminology, what speeds some of the larger carriers are offering — and what the future holds.

A Look at Internet Terminology

At first, the terminology that Internet techs and salespeople use may seem like either a foreign language, or something they’ve put together to confuse you and make it harder for you to make an informed decision. Neither is completely true, but both are somewhat true.

Networking and Internet engineers definitely do use words that sound like a completely different language: bandwidth, throughput. IP, URL, bits and bytes.

Bandwidth: Most simply stated, this is a measurement, expressed in bits or bytes per second of the maximum speed your Internet carrier is capable of supplying, or what your contract specifies.

Throughput: Throughput is very similar to bandwidth, with one major difference — throughput is the measurement of data-in bits or bytes of data that has been successfully transmitted or received through your Internet connection.

IP (Internet Protocol): In a strict sense, this is nothing more than the manner in which computers on the Internet communicate with each other. In a broader sense, IP refers to the numerical address of your computer or your connection to the wider Internet. Think of it as your house’s mailing address.

URL: This is something you’ve probably heard quite a bit, and may even have something of an idea about its function. It stands for “Uniform Resource Locator” and is basically the address you typed in when you came to this site (www.digitallanding.com). These are much easier for us humans to understand and remember than the IP address (166.78.51.253) that your computer actually uses to connect to the site. (Try it, type the number 166.78.51.253 into a new browser tab, hit enter and see where it takes you.)

Bits: A bit is defined as the smallest unit of data measurement for computers as well as the Internet and can have one of two values: one or zero. On or off. Bit is a contraction of “binary digit.” The measurement of a bit is represented by the lowercase letter b.

Bytes: Eight bits make up a byte. One byte lets us count to 255 in computer-speak. It’s also the measurement of the smallest addressable piece of computer memory. The symbol of measurement for the byte is the capital letter B.

Some High Speed Internet carriers will capitalize on the confusion between bits and bytes by telling you during a sales call that they can deliver a High Speed Internet (HSI) connection with connection speed of 10 megabits for $XX a month, while another one may say they can deliver a 5-megabyte connection speed for the same amount of money. But wait, I want the service that offers the 10-megabit connection because 10 is higher than five! Yes, but remember that a byte equals eight bits, the five-megabyte connection is actually faster. This is because for each of those five megabytes, there are approximately eight megabits. This means that the five-megabyte connection can deliver approximately 40 megabits.

In order to dismiss any confusion when buying HSI services, make sure that the salespeople all use the same terminology, and ask, “What is that in megabits/bytes?”

The Evolution of Internet Carriers and Internet Access

As I mentioned up near the top, home Internet access has gone through a number of changes, from using our phone lines to Cable Broadband/HSI. There are a number of providers that have been rolling out what we in the industry call FttH (Fiber-to-the-Home).

Those of us that can remember back to the early ’90s will not so fondly remember having to dial in to our Internet provider. We also remember that if someone tried to call us while we were online, we’d get “bumped offline.” We used a modem (modulate-demodulate) to connect to our provider and had to wait for the “handshake and negotiation” of the actual connection before we could log on and start browsing or checking mail. Our fastest modems delivered a max speed of up to about 56 kilobits per second (kb/s). This was the hated dial-up connection.

We next moved to the little-known ISDN (Integrated Services Device Network) — another type of Internet access through the phone. Not many areas had this service. There were two major differences from dial-up:

1. Shared line: No loss of connection when the phone rang.

2. Speeds were double what dial-up was.

The next major leap was DSL/ADSL-(Asynchronous) Digital Subscriber Line, which was another service that shared the phone line and didn’t cause connection loss when the phone rang. When first offered, DSL was about twice as fast as dial-up. Users can now purchase service with speeds up to 50 megabits in some areas.

Cable companies started offering their own broadband service soon after. This was called Cable Broadband Internet. At first, speeds were similar to early DSL but soon approached 50 megabits.

Hopefully, this look back at the evolution of Internet carriers and Internet terminology helped you understand the service a little bit better, and now you can understand your ISP (Internet Service Providers) better.

Photo Credit: Jonny Goldstein

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