This is a frequently asked questions list, also known as a FAQ. Click on any question that interests you. There will be a link after the answer that will return you to this list of questions. The FAQ is a single Web page, so you can print this page and have a paper document with all the questions and answers.
How much faster is broadband Internet, really?
What can I do with broadband that I couldn't do with dialup?
How hard is it to share my Internet connection?
Should I use wired or wireless connections?
How hard is it to share the printers in my house?
I want to play music from the Internet through my home stereo. Can I do it?
I travel and need to access the Internet from the road. Can I still dial in?
Can I access my home email accounts from my computer at work or from the road?
Should I be worried about the safety of my computers on the Internet?
Cable Internet advertisements deliberately dodge the question of how fast the connection actually is. This is because connection speeds can vary widely. Be assured that the worst performance you should ever see on a cable Internet connection will be many times faster than the best dialup connection. The optimum speed, or bandwidth, of the connection is roughly 1.5 million bits per second for data sent from the Internet to your PC, and about 300 thousand bits per second for data sent from your computer to the Internet. This translates to roughly 27 times the speed of a 56K dialup for downloads and about five times the speed for uploads - not quite the factor of 50 that shows up in many ads. The 50x figure is based on the actual speed of many dialup connections, which can be far slower than 56K.
Those speeds are not the end of the story, however. A great deal can happen to slow down the performance of your network connection. If the cable needed to connect your Internet service to your computer is very long, or if it runs too close to electrical wire, the signal can weaken, reducing data transmission speed. In addition, the bandwidth that comes into your house is actually shared with other people - probably just your block, but possibly your neighborhood - in a group called a segment. As more people in your neighborhood sign up for cable Internet and become active users, that million bits per second will get spread around and effective speeds will drop. In my experience, the download speeds experienced in busy neighborhoods can drop to around 300,000 bits per second - five times the speed of dialup, and far more reliable. That's fast enough to download a full CD, 650 megabytes, in well under two hours.
Many services exist on the Web that will measure the speed of your Internet connection, whether it's dialup, DSL or cable. Many of these are thinly veiled efforts to get you to download and install additional software on your PC. CNET, a reputable Internet news organization, provides a test that works purely by downloading a temporary file to your PC and measuring the elapsed time. You can find that test here. Use it to measure the true speed of your connection.
The broadband ads don't exaggerate when they say you'll be able to use the Internet for things you've never been able to do at home before. The increased connection speed is only a part of the reason why. It's the combination of high speed and the ability to stay online all the time that makes broadband Internet such a powerful tool. You'll be able to be notified at all times about incoming email messages - when you're computer is on, it's on the Internet. Your instant messaging clients can run whenever you want them to. Web services are available instantly, and programs that rely on Web resources, like Microsoft ClipArt, can seamlessly mix data on your computer and data that's out on the Internet.
But the advantages of cable Internet go way beyond the things you already do. Want Internet radio? Spinner.com provides hundreds of channels of genre-specific music, just like satellite radio, but completely free. All you need is a good set of computer speakers - and a high speed Internet connection. Do you want to try using your computer as a telephone? Net2Phone can let you call any telephone in the United States for two cents a minute, anytime. And while you're listening to music, or making phone calls, or videoconferencing, or playing real time online games, your email and instant messaging programs are still working. That's just the beginning of the capabilities that come from high-speed, always-on connection to the Internet. Call or email us more information on these or other services.
Sharing is easy, and there are several ways to accomplish it. We recommend using a router, a piece of hardware that manages all aspects of an Internet connection and shares the connection with four or more computers. A router also adds valuable services like a firewall, which can stop some kinds of security threats from ever reaching any of your computers. And it doesn't matter whether your home systems are Windows PCs, Macs, Linux computers, or a combination of the above. Once the router is configured, they'll all talk to the Internet - at the same time, and running any combination of programs.
Much has been written about the value of wireless networking. It certainly offers flexibility that wired networks can't match - the ability to work anywhere in an area, and to have access to a network in places where running wires is impractical. Set up a wireless network, and you have the convenience of connecting with no further effort. Wireless networking is not, however, the answer to all networking problems. There are two reasons why stringing cable may be worthwhile: security and speed.
First, security. Wireless networking works by broadcasting data from a device called a wireless access point to receivers incorporated in network cards. These broadcasts can be encrypted, or scrambled, making interception of data by unauthorized people more difficult. However, most wireless systems are not configured to encrypt data by default. This means that any data transmitted across your network - passwords, credit card numbers, email - can be received by any computer within range of your signal. Unencrypted networks are also prone to service theft - someone outside your household "hitchhiking" their way onto the Internet using your connection. This can be a special problem for apartment dwellers, whose wireless signal can be received in many nearby apartments. It isn't difficult to prevent this kind of theft - but it does require planning and configuration.
The second issue is speed. Wired networks can move data between computers at very high speed, generally 10 million or 100 million bits per second. This speed can be very important when sending data from computer to computer within a network, but it also provides a reserve of speed that is important when trying to use high-speed services like streaming video. Normal wireless networking offers 1.5 million bits per second, shared among all of the computers using the connection - and the speed may be even slower, thanks to other common appliances that broadcast at the same radio frequency, like wireless phones and microwave ovens. If you're sharing your Internet connection with two other people, and one person starts watching a move trailer while the other reheats nachos and makes a phone call, don't expect the best possible Internet surfing experience.
The fact is, there's a place for both wired and wireless networks. For computers that stay in a fixed location, and those that are providing services like printing to the rest of the network, a wired connection may be the best way to go. For laptops that may be used anywhere in the house, or for computers in locations that are difficult to wire, a wireless network offers a flexible, easy and low-cost solution. Some installations may require a combination of the two. We can assess the conditions at your location and recommend the best networking plan for you.
Not hard at all. Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000 and XP all provide built-in facilities for sharing printers. So do all versions of the Macintosh operating system. If you already have a printer attached to one of your computers, all of your computers can be using that printer in fairly short order. Other resources like disk space and fax modems can be shared as well.
Your computer can play high quality streaming audio through its own speakers. It can also send that signal to your home stereo system, either through audio cables or through wireless broadcast.
Access to the Internet from outside the home can be a problem for cable Internet subscribers who travel. Most cable Internet companies provide minimal or no dialup access to the Internet, or charge high prices for phoning in. If you travel and need to get to the Internet, you should consider keeping your existing dialup Internet service or purchasing a contract from a dialup provider who has a strong nationwide network of dialup numbers, like Earthlink or AOL. You'll be able to access the services you get from your cable provider through the dialup connection, so that provider won't need to provide you an email address or other Internet services like Web space. If you stay with your current dialup provider, it's likely you'll be able to reduce the level and cost of your contract, since you'll no longer be using that service to access the Internet from home. If you can't get a deal you like from your current provider, then shop around and consider switching.
An added benefit of keeping your dialup provider is that you won't have to lose your old email address - you can not only keep it, but you can access it at high speed from home using your broadband Internet connection.
Yes! The email system used by cable Internet providers is built on standard Internet protocols and can be reached from any Internet connection, dialup or high-speed network. So you can take your laptop to work, or on the road, and continue using Outlook Express, Eudora or other mail programs to pick up and answer your mail. Further, most cable Internet providers offer email access through a Web browser, so you can handle your home email even through your work system or through public Internet facilities like cybercafes or libraries.
Unfortunately, yes. The combination of high speed and constant connection make your computer a more tempting target for malicious activity of all kinds. Further, activities like music sharing and online gaming, in which your computer shares its resources with the rest of the Internet, often introduce additional programs that may allow others to misuse your computer's resources and data. With proper precautions, you can engage in all of these activities safely. But an unprotected system can be exposed to a number of risks, threatening the loss of your personal data, damage to your hard drive or loss of control of your computer to others. We can audit your computer and provide you with tools to alert you to potential or real threats to the security of your system and data.