If you're looking for better performance than an analog modem can deliver, take a look at ISDN. While it has suffered from a bad reputation in the past, improvements have been made in recent months, which make it a more viable solution.
The fastest option with widespread availability, ISDN offers twice the speed of a V.90 modem connection. Unlike 56K modems, which are asymmetrical, an ISDN connection sends and receives at 128K, so users benefit from the same fast rate whether downloading or uploading. ISDN also has two "channels," or connections, that each perform at 64K. So if a user receives a phone call while online, a channel will be available to answer the call. For the price of a single ISDN line, you can have Internet access and a phone or fax connection.
ISDN offers a step up in performance for a relatively minimal increase in cost. But getting started requires more work than with an analog connection. You'll need to order an ISDN line from your phone company, connect a digital modem to your PC, and order ISDN service from your local phone company. Start-up fees typically cost several hundred dollars, but some monthly fees are less than $30. ISDN service is available to about 85 percent of the U.S. population. Phone companies are also more familiar with the technology, making it easier to install and maintain.
For small businesses in a LAN environment, technology vendors have rolled out new products that provide ISDN connections. 3Com's OfficeConnect ISDN LAN modem ($499), for instance, provides LAN and Internet access in one unit. This product integrates a four-port Ethernet hub, an Internet Protocol router, two analog voice/fax ports and an ISDN line. The OfficeConnect line also has a remote access product, the OfficeConnect Remote 521 ISDN Router ($995), for providing remote office workers with a connection to the LAN.