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March 8, 1999 - March 21, 1999
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Alphabet Soup -- Faster Web Travels by Kilobit


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By Eugene D. Bronstein
Guardsman Online Editor
Published Mar. 8, 1999


Last issue we looked at how Web pages get to your browser. In this issue, we'll take a look at the most important way you can speed up the World Wide "Wait."

You have the most control over speed while connecting to your Internet Service Provider. A modem is used to convert computer data into a form understood by the telephone system. The modem dials your ISP's computer, like an ordinary phone call.

There are two factors here that control speed: your modem, and the type of phone connection to your ISP. Most phone lines are analog, meaning they don't understand the 1s and 0s of computer talk. That's where the modem comes in. It translates. Modems have maximum speeds. The faster they are, the faster you can download Web pages. The typical speed range of modems for ordinary telephone lines is from 14,400 bps to 56,000 bps (bits per second, NOT bytes per second).

Often speed is quoted in "kbps," or kilobits per second. One kbps is 1,000 bps, so you might say, "I have a 56k modem."

The average double-spaced, typed page has about 16,000 bits. The figure shows the approximate download time for a double-spaced page of text using different modems

The slower modems, 14,400 bps, are almost 12 times slower than a 128,000 bps Integrated Services Digital Network connection (see below).

To have a faster connection, buy the fastest modem you can afford. The 56k modems for PCs are selling for under $100 and almost all ISPs support modems up to 56k.

If you buy a 56k modem, make sure it supports the latest transmission standard, v.90, and make sure your ISP supports this new technology. Due to FCC regulations, you will get a maximum speed of 53 kbps with a 56k modem. The average is more likely to be about 43 kbps. If you have a bad phone line, the speed will be even lower.

For even higher speeds, you have to change your phone line. The faster service is called Integrated Services Digital Network.

This technology allows you to use your phone line for one or two digital channels of 64,000 bps each. There is no 53,000 bps limit with ISDN. As the figure shows, this is the fastest method. However, your phone line must be converted to ISDN (a large installation charge is likely), a special all–digital modem is required.

There may also be per-minute usage charges, and you may need to replace all your existing phone equipment. You may pay a premium to your ISP for the extra speed. But if it's speed you want, ISDN has it now.

In the near future, cable modems and a technology called DSL will provide really high-speed Internet access, but these are not yet available on a large scale.

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