While analog and ISDN access make the most sense for now, new modem technologies offering even swifter service are starting to make a splash. Cable modems are one such technology. Although still only available on a limited basis, cable access is quickly gaining momentum. Check with your local cable provider to see if it offers cable modem access or plans to do so in the future.
Cable modems operate at an average speed of 30 Mbps, delivering high-speed performance at a substantially lower cost than anything you can currently get. Cable access is slightly less expensive than an ISDN connection. Time Warner Cable's Road Runner cable service, for example, which is available in more than 2 million homes in 17 cities nationwide, typically costs $39.95 per month, including cable modem rental; installation charges run around $99.
Experts believe a new cable standard will help cable modems avoid the incompatibility issues that have plagued other modem technologies. An industry specification known as Multimedia Cable Network Systems (MCNS) was recently adopted; at press time, some vendors had already released MCNS-compliant modems, with more expected to follow soon.
Despite the abundant benefits, cable modems only make sense for home users right now. Cable companies are working to provide access to more small-office environments, but they still have the highest penetration in residential areas. Richard L. Edson, senior vice president of new business initiatives at 3Com, says, "Because cable operators are more into home entertainment, SOHOs and consumers will probably be more easily captured by cable."