Advantages Fast, don't get disconnected, frees up phone line
Disadvantages Still expensive, only certain areas
Once upon a time, when surfing the Internet was something that only geeks did, it was largely a waiting game, with very slow connection speeds and unreliable connections. Things improved a bit since then, as modems gradually became faster. However, there's a limit to how fast a normal modem can communicate with a normal telephone line, and this limit was soon reached. Meanwhile, web sites continued to grow larger and more complex. 'Dynamic' sites such as Ciao, which don't send pages from a server computer, but make them up when the user asks for them, grew unbearably slow. (Although Ciao is by no means the worst!) Fortunately, now the Internet is used by the masses for research, games, communication and enjoyment, there's another option.High-speed internet connections aren't really a new concept. Large businesses and even die-hard gamers have had services like ISDN and Cable Internet for some time. But as the digital revolution moves irresistably forwards, the traditional barriers associated with faster internet services, such as the use of normal phone lines, and in particular price, were broken down. Now, you can get a Broadband service such as BT's for under £30 per month (£27 for BT to be precise.)
So what is broadband? Well, basically it's just a method of making better use of the phone line that you already have. Ever looked at a phone plug? (I know you're curious but don't examine your internet one right now!) Well, it's connectd to lots of little wires, most of which are just wasted with normal voice and internet connections. Broadband allows you, by using a special modem which can 'understand' the data at a faster rate, to use the wasted wires for your internet connection, at up to 10 times normal speed. The other advantage of this is that you can use the internet and your phone line simultaneously. (Or alternatively you can use the internet while big sis gasses on the phone.)Another advantage is that you can quite happily remain on the internet for as long as you like. There's no automatic cut-off like with a lot of normal dial-up connections, and you won't be charged anything on top of the service charge, however heavy your usage. (Big sis still pays the bill, though - any voice calls are completely separate from internet and are billed in the normal way.)
So what's the catch? Well if you're willing to pay the price, and you live in a broadband-enabled area, there isn't one! (Whether you can get broadband depends on how far you are from your telephone exchange - you can check on BT's broadband web site, the address is at the end of the op.) One thing you might want to think about is security though. With broadband, so long as your computer is on, you're connected to the outside world. This makes you a sitting duck for any unscrupulous characters trying to find personal information. No Internet connection is 100% secure, but you can protect yourself very thoroughly with a software program. It's called a 'firewall' - all it does is keeps an eye on what enters and leaves your computer. You can get the software for free from many companies, and once it's set up it won't interfere with your surfing. (It's probably a good idea to do this even if you haven't got broadband, for peace of mind. But even more so with broadband.)One more thing - you'll need to organise your own email facility, as this doesn't come with BT Broadband (although some providers do offer this, mainly the dearer ones.) Free email accounts are everywhere, and domain names are cheap too these days.
So is broadband all it's cracked up to be? Well, I ordered BT Broadband near the end of November, and was told it'd be set up by the second week of December. Excellent, I thought. The ordering process is almost too easy - check availability in your area, and from there it's just a matter of saying 'yes' - the charge will just be appended to your phone bill.You need special equipment to access Broadband. As well as a new modem, for every phone socket in your house you need a 'filter' to separate the internet signal from the normal phone line, or your line'll sound like a badly tuned radio. BT offer to supply you with this equipment and deliver on your activation date, but I opted to buy this stuff myself. My modem was easy to configure, but I haven't any experience of the BT equipment. My modem cost £75, a shade cheaper than BT's £80 offering. I picked up filters for £6 each - try dabs.com. This meant I already had my service all set up before BT turned it on. Which was a good thing, because, BT being BT, they delivered my 'welcome pack' a day late. Luckily, being fairly handy with computers I managed to get my service running on the allotted day anyway, and I was far too busy surfing to notice BT's belated greeting fall through the door!
So what's it like? Well, it's fast. Really fast. Pages that used to have me clenching my fists in frustration now pose no problems. Whereas I used to wait a minute or two for all the images on a page on appear, now the graphics appear in their full glory not a second after the page. The biggest difference you'll notice though, is if you're into downloading large files, especially using sharing programs like Kazaa. For those interested in how fast it is technically, I tend to get about 50 or 60 kilobytes a second. If that doesn't mean much to you, bear in mind that on your old dial-up internet connection you were probably lucky to get 4. Oh, and it's handy for the online gamers amongst you as well - you'll no longer be left cursing the bloke who decapitated you while you waited for your connection to catch up.For me, it's been faultlessly reliable too - I haven't been disconnected once. For this reason I haven't had the occasion to contact customer services - I'll refrain from comment on this until I have.
Looking for things to do with your new broadband connection? Well as well as the things I've already mentioned, watching videos online is now far less painful. Radio stations are available too, with good quality sound. BT offer some services exclusively for broadband users - but they're nothing special, so I'd still stick to Ciao! (No extra community points for saying that? Darn!)I'm very pleased with this service - it's the best £30 a month my parents have ever spent (!) It's lightning fast, so fast we're planning to network up our computers so we can all use it at once. It's been very reliable, and with web sites becoming more and more complex and interactive, there's never been a better time to put your name down.
Interested? Head over to www.btbroadband.com to find out more, and to sign up. Thanks for reading!
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