There are three basic types of modems: standard, cable and ISDN. Cable and ISDN modems are high-speed solutions that go two to three times faster than standard. These high-cost modems are not meant to enable you to fax your documents along at 10 pages-per-minute; rather, they are designed with heavy Internet access in mind. The speed difference when "surfing the Net" is remarkable--Web pages that would take a minute or so to download can appear almost instantly, and movies that would take several minutes to preload before playing can start playing immediately. If you are searching for the Web sites of companies similar to your own--in order to keep abreast of what they offer to the market, or check their growth over time--this kind of speed can save you hours otherwise spent waiting, hours you can use to improve your company.

Standard Modems

Standard modems connect to ordinary phone lines and allow transmittal of data at current speed maximums of 33,600 kilobytes per second, or 33.6 Kbps. (Faxes transmit at a maximum of 14.4 Kbps.) These modems are relatively inexpensive (around $200), and are very simple to install and use. The only drawback, however, is that these modems hook into a phone system that is straining under the rapid growth of Internet users and providers. Ask anyone you know who surfs the Web how often they cannot get access or, worse yet, lose access in the middle of sending or retrieving a document. Often, data may be transmitted at roughly half--sometimes as low as 10 percent--of the modem's maximum rate. If you plan on using the Internet as a powerful resource to drum up business, these kinds of faults can be quite critical.

Cable Modems

Cable modems are just what the name implies: modems that connect to the same kind of cable that plugs into your television set, utilizing the miles and miles of cable already laid across the country. Their "bandwidth," or data transferal rate, is approximately 128 Kbps--about four times the rate of standard modems.

The nation's cable companies are pushing for this technology to become an established standard in this country, but cable modems have yet to enter the mainstream due to their limited availability. They have been test-marketed, but the full implementation of the technology just isn't available now. It has yet to be seen if they will become a viable alternative or just another flash in the pan.

ISDN Modems

ISDN is a relatively expensive solution, yet it's available immediately. Unlike cable modems, you can call up your phone company today and ask to have your office wired for ISDN lines as soon as possible (the lines are not the same as your existing phone lines). You could then call up a mail order computer catalog and arrange to have an ISDN modem delivered to your door the next morning. With bandwidth on the order of 128 Kbps, ISDN modems are also about four times as fast as standard modems. One downside is that you will need to fork out roughly $75 per month, per line, for this service. Contact your phone company to determine if this service is available in your area.

Before you do commit to ISDN, you had better be certain you will be able to use all that horsepower you'll be investing in. Confer with your Internet Service Provider (ISP), as they may not be able to properly support the boost in bandwidth. As you call in and connect with your ISP, they in turn connect remotely to another source, one closer to the "heart" of the Internet. Unfortunately, all it takes is one clog upstream in your provider's pipeline to cripple the high-speed connection. You should also try to find out if the Web sites you wish to access can support high-level bandwidths, or you'll have to constantly wait for the information to download, despite your high-speed hardware.