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The Road Fast Traveled

Tired of being in the Information Superhighway's slow lane? Here's how to change gears.
April 1, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/38774

Don't touch that dial-up. You don't need it. We mean it-hands off. This isn't about sending e-mails to Grandma or stocking up at the Target.com online clearance-you're starting a business. You've probably already figured out that 56 Kbps might as well be two cans tied together with a string for all the good it'll do you. When it comes to Internet access for your growing Web business, the parable of the tortoise and the hare just doesn't apply. You want the fastest rabbit you can get your hands on.

Even if you're hosting your Web site on somebody else's servers, where it can benefit from their high-speed connection, your office needs speed, too. You need to conduct regular checkups on your site, send in updates, upload and download, and handle all that office e-mail. So when it comes to bandwidth, would you rather have a Yugo or a Ferrari? That's right-take the Ferrari.

In this column, we'll look at what's available for your business to connect to and give you a few pointers on picking out your new speed-demon Internet access.

Roundup

Cable: The same people that bring you Law & Order reruns 24/7 and in-depth coverage of lumberjack contests also supply cable modem connections. If you order cable Internet access, you won't get the Baywatch channel, but you will get speeds of about 1Mbps, up to a theo-retically possible 5Mbps. And because access is through the cable line, you don't have to sacrifice a phone line.

Cable modem connections are also available through non-TV companies like Excite@Home, Road Runner and Verizon. Visit their Web sites to check availability and find a local dealer, or contact your resident cable provider.

If you're starting up from your living room, you can look into residential rates (beginning at about $50 per month), but if you're wiring up an office, you'll need to deal with the commercial or business department at the provider of your choice. Cable can be connected to your LAN through Ethernet to make it available to your network.

Comcast Commercial Online, for example, starts at $225 per month for a 256Kbps connection for one to eight users on a LAN. The installation cost will run you $1,295 for a basic install. Higher speeds will add to your monthly costs. Taking advantage of cable's full 1.5Mbps capabilities clocks in at $695 per month. Keep in mind that the listed speeds are burstable, meaning they represent the maximum the connection can achieve. Actual speeds will vary with the number of users and demand, much like a LAN.

DSL: DSL is cable's main competitor. DSL works through regular phone lines at downstream speeds of up to 1.5Mbps-though, as with cable, actual speeds depend on how much you're willing to spend. DSL allows both voice and data to run simultaneously on the same line, so you don't need an extra voice line. Like cable, DSL is always on. While cable lines are shared, meaning more users can slow down the connection for everyone, DSL is a dedicated, unshared line. DSL speeds are more likely to be limited by your physical distance from your service provider's central office. Past a certain distance, the degradation of your average connection speed is so great that it's not worth using.

DSL is still expanding across the United States, so it's not available everywhere yet. Visit The List (www.thelist.com), an ISP buyer's guide, to search for options and providers in your area. Most major metropolitan areas are covered, but if your business is located somewhere out in the boonies, you might need to look elsewhere for your high-speed Internet access.

DSL can be fairly cost-effective when it comes to business services. Earthlink's Biz DSL (www.earthlink.net), for example, starts at $129 per month for 144Kbps. At the top range, the cost is $349 per month for speedy 1.1Mbps serv-ice. Initial equipment costs for installation run $499; a one-year contract is required. Compare this to the cable costs we looked at above. Prices will vary from ISP to ISP, so always shop around. Check with providers and with your local phone company for cost and availability.

T1: While a T3 Internet con-nection is the stuff that IT workers dream about, hookup can cost $20,000 or more. So unless you're rolling in heaps of VC dough, a T1 connection is friendlier to your start-up budget and still offers speeds of up to 1.5Mbps. It's also ideal if you're hosting your Web site on your own servers at your office instead of out-sourcing. As with cable and DSL, connection speed is scalable. You'll pay more for more bandwidth. But if you're hosting and you expect a lot of traffic, you'll want to go with the higher connection speeds to avoid Web site slowdowns.

We visited Zyan Communications to get an idea of what a T1 costs you. Monthly fees for average bandwidth range from $450 (for up to 128Kbps) to $1,450 (for more than 1,024Kbps). The set-up fee will run you $600 with a one-year contract or $1,200 without. Equipment costs must be taken into consideration as well. You can't just plug your modem in to a wall jack and connect to a T1. Budget in another $2,000 to $3,000 for a router and hardware. And don't forget the cost of on-site installation.

ISDN: ISDN is old news on the access scene, but it's worth mentioning. With speeds of up to 64Kbps, it's fairly slow compared to the other options. It's often sold in pairs to achieve 128Kbps data connections. ISDN, usually available from your local phone company, requires phone company installation and terminal adaptor hardware (starting at about $300), and you'll need to sign up with an ISP to access the Internet. It's wise to go with a package hardware and installation deal to prevent the headache of setting it up yourself. ISDN may be a consideration if you're located in an area without DSL or cable service.

Any one of the above access solutions will do your business justice. You might be able to save by shopping around for installation and equipment specials. It's a highly competitive marketplace out there, and deals pop up as often as hungry gophers. Choosing a service provider can come down to pricing, availability and customer service. Pay special attention to that last one. Check the company's service policies. If your connection fizzles at 3 a.m. on your site's launch day, you won't want to wait 48 hours for someone to come fix it. And while you're shopping around, keep an eye on the staying power of your DSL provider. The past year has seen hard times for some independent DSL carriers in the face of strong competition, particularly from the Baby Bells. It won't hurt to poke around online to make sure your company of choice is in good shape to offer services down the road.

Say goodbye to dial-up and hello to broadband.

Click on it

Answer all your cable, DSL or T1 conundrums at these Web sites:

www.cable-modem.net: The Cable Modem Information Network. Everything under the cable modem sun is covered here.

www.cable-modems.org: Includes "Tutorial" and "Toolbox" pages with a test for checking your connection speed.

www.dslmarketplace.com: Allows you to search for DSL service providers by area code; also includes FAQs and information on business providers.

www.dslreports.com: Cluttered site that includes news, reviews, directories and community discussion forums.

www.everythingt1.com: Includes FAQs, message boards, hardware information and references for T1 as well as links to consultants and service providers.

www.bandwidthplace.com: Offers Internet access news, resources and a marketplace for requesting service quotes.

Coming to terms

It's a jungle of abbreviations and acronyms out there. Here's your quick-glance guide to sorting the broadband vocabulary out:

Cable modem: modem that connects to the Internet over cable TV lines

Dial-up: accesses a network via a regular phone connection; operates at up to 56Kbps

DSL: digital subscriber line; works over normal copper phone lines; operates at up to 1.5Mbps Fractional T1: purchasing the use of only some of the 24 64Kbps channels that make up a T1 line

ISDN: integrated service digital network; like DSL, it works over regular phone lines; operates at up to 64Kbps Mbps: million bits per second

T1: dedicated connection capable of speeds of up to 1.5Mbps

T3: faster than T1 lines; high-speed T3 lines comprise the "backbone" of the Internet