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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
DSL speeds the internet
Box BBC
DSL uses standard copper phone lines
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

For years, I was satisfied to surf the internet in the slow lane.

The 33.6 kbits per second modem that I bought two years ago for $20 worked fine for simple e-mail and web surfing, but it was anything but fast.

Then my Internet Service Provider introduced a high-speed, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service in my area, and I was ready to hop on the fast lane of the information superhighway.

The relatively high up-front costs of a high-speed connection had initially kept me from upgrading.
RealMedia BBC
Streaming media over modems often buffers and splutters

DSL or cable modems cost around $150 and installation costs usually put the price of set-up at $250 to $300, and the monthly cost of DSL or cable high-speed access was at least double that of 56K dial-up connections.

However, ISPs have begun to believe that they can make more money by waiving installation and equipment fees and signing up customers to long-term contracts.

And when my ISP, Earthlink/Mindspring, waived nearly $300 in set-up, installation and equipment fees, and I only had to commit to a six-month contract at $49.95 a month, I knew it was time to get onboard.

Braced for the worst

I braced myself for a painful installation process - horror stories abound concerning DSL installations.

A Usenet newsgroup dealing with DSL has frequent mail from users across the country complaining about installations gone wrong and spotty service.

The demand for broadband service has swamped some providers, leaving customers complaining about missed installation appointments and deadlines even after several visits by technicians.


Ethernet card BBC
Many users will need to install an Ethernet card
I bought my DSL service not from my local telephone company, Bell Atlantic, but through a DSL re-seller, Covad Communications.

Under this arrangement, Bell Atlantic actually installs a second phone line in addition to my voice line for the DSL service as opposed to single-line service.

DSL can co-exist with traditional voice service on a single line, but the Covad installer said they used the second line to prevent interference on my home phone line.

The cost of the second line was included in the monthly price of the service.

Problem-free install

Despite concerns about the installation, I think the biggest problem for my installer was threading his way through the mass of phone lines outside of my house.

I live in a group house with three other people, and the telephone box outside the house is a mass of wires.

The DSL software took a call to tech support to configure on Windows NT, but after about 15 minutes on the phone, all was well.

Apart from a few dropped connections on the day of the installation, my DSL line has purred like a kitten.
Video BBC
Video streaming speeds over a modem and over DSL

My line has a maximum throughput of 1.5 Mbits per second downstream and 348 kbits per second upstream. Being asymmetric DSL, the downstream and upstream rates differ.

What does that mean in real life?

Web pages appear almost instantaneously. It's a matter of click and pop; the pages appear.

Tired of waiting for downloads? I recently downloaded a 17-megabyte file in a hair under two minutes.

Video streams buffer in a matter of seconds at 600 to 700 kbits per second, and with the new RealPlayer, video plays full screen at near broadcast quality at 400 kbits per second.

Recently, a friend asked what DVD I was watching on my computer. I said, "DVD? That's streaming video off of the Internet."

Thin content

Simply surfing web pages on a broadband connection is like driving an F1 car to the corner shop. Overkill.

High-speed internet access really shines with deeply interactive multimedia sites.

Admittedly though, sites built for narrow band content far outstrip rich multimedia content for broadband connections.

Some sites already boast high-speed features such as video-on-demand. However, in the main, the video is of movies and cartoons from before 1980.

But more than 2.2 million broadband digital modems were sold in just the first three months of this year.

As more internet users opt for high-speed connections, websites will begin to expand their rich, multimedia content to satisfy the growing appetite for broadband eye-candy.

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See also:

31 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Which broadband technology will win?
25 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
The DSL dinosaur?
05 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
UK broadband race hots up
30 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
ADSL priced high for consumer
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