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How Fast Do You Want to Go?

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There are three basic types of modems: standard, cable and ISDN.Cable and ISDN modems are high-speed solutions that go two to threetimes faster than standard. These high-cost modems are not meant toenable you to fax your documents along at 10 pages-per-minute;rather, they are designed with heavy Internet access in mind. Thespeed difference when "surfing the Net" isremarkable--Web pages that would take a minute or so to downloadcan appear almost instantly, and movies that would take severalminutes to preload before playing can start playing immediately. Ifyou are searching for the Web sites of companies similar to yourown--in order to keep abreast of what they offer to the market, orcheck their growth over time--this kind of speed can save you hoursotherwise spent waiting, hours you can use to improve yourcompany.

Standard Modems

Standard modems connect to ordinary phone lines and allowtransmittal of data at current speed maximums of 33,600 kilobytesper second, or 33.6 Kbps. (Faxes transmit at a maximum of 14.4Kbps.) These modems are relatively inexpensive (around $200), andare very simple to install and use. The only drawback, however, isthat these modems hook into a phone system that is straining underthe rapid growth of Internet users and providers. Ask anyone youknow who surfs the Web how often they cannot get access or, worseyet, lose access in the middle of sending or retrieving a document.Often, data may be transmitted at roughly half--sometimes as low as10 percent--of the modem's maximum rate. If you plan on usingthe Internet as a powerful resource to drum up business, thesekinds of faults can be quite critical.

Cable Modems

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

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

ISDN Modems

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

Before you do commit to ISDN, you had better be certain you willbe able to use all that horsepower you'll be investing in.Confer with your Internet Service Provider (ISP), as they may notbe able to properly support the boost in bandwidth. As you call inand connect with your ISP, they in turn connect remotely to anothersource, one closer to the "heart" of the Internet.Unfortunately, all it takes is one clog upstream in yourprovider's pipeline to cripple the high-speed connection. Youshould also try to find out if the Web sites you wish to access cansupport high-level bandwidths, or you'll have to constantlywait for the information to download, despite your high-speedhardware.

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