It seems like everyone is keen to sell or even give you broadband access these days. What options do I have, and what should I look for?
What will Broadband do for me?
You will get "always on" internet access that does not tie up the phone line, much faster web browsing, shorter downloads, quicker response when playing online games. There are no call charges to worry about and you can use it as much as you like (with most ISPs).
One broadband connection can be shared between several computers so the whole family can surf at once!
Via a phone line
Many people now receive their broadband via a phone line using a technology called ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line). This is a popular technology that can work reasonably well for anyone within 4 to 5 miles of their telephone exchange. The majority of the telephone exchanges in the UK can offer this service now. Some of larger exchanges can also offer more advanced services like ADSL2 with faster speeds. A few excahnges also offer "Local loop unbundled" services. Here other companies are alowed to place their own equipment into BT's exchanges, allowing them to offer enhanced services to their customers.
The Cable Connection
Some town dwellers also have another broadband option: "cable". Hence if you can get cable TV, you can probably also get a cable broadband service. This uses the existing cable facility to allow fast data transfer.
3G Broadband using the mobile phone networks can also be an attractive option. Broadband with literally no wires that can work anywhere you can get a suitable mobile phone signal. Different packages are available for different levels of use. There are options ranging from packages designed for occational use (i.e. as an emergency backup broadband service), to high volume services designed for everyday use.
What about Wireless?
Not to be confused with mobile broadband described above, some companies are also now providing wireless "hot spots". These allow people (usually with laptop computers or suitable mobile phones) to get access to Broadband services while in some public places (restaurants, coffee shops etc). While handy, it is unlikely that this will help you get Broadband at home (unless you live over the shop!)
Wireless can help in some circumstances though, if you live just past the fringe of a area covered by a Broadband technology like ADSL, and you have an amenable neighbour who can get Broadband, you may able to access their service via a wireless connection.
There are also a few wireless "mesh" networks that intend to provide broadband into rural areas using a network of long range wireless LAN links.
Only for the serious
The other Broadband technology to consider has also been available for a long time. That is the use of a "leased line". A leased line it the way that big companies and academic institutions have traditionally connected to the internet. This gives you your very own connection to the internet such that you become a permanent part of the internet.
Leased lines are available in a huge range of speeds starting at 64K bits/second and rising to astronomical capacities. What's more - there is no contention with a leased line - you get all the bandwidth yourself.
There is a serious problem however: Price.
Expect to pay well into a four figure sum to get a leased line installed and rented for a year! If you hanker for a 1M bit/second T1 line, then make that five figures!
I want Broadband at
Thinking about getting
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