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DSL, Fiber Optic and Cable Modem Speeds

Types of Modems: Are Wireless Cable Modems a Good Choice?

A cable modem is low cost, with good speed. Are wireless cable modems a good choice? How does a modem work? By converting digital data over a cable line to the Internet. How to setup wireless network?

Let's take a look at DSL, cable and fiber optic modem speeds and compare them. One of the biggest factors that people use when making a decision on Internet service (and on service providers) is speed and reliability.

No one likes to wait for a webpage to load, or a file to download. As websites get more interactive and become a richer multimedia experience, the need for speed has grown. The most common question people ask about modems is which service is faster?

First, you should know how bandwidth speeds are measured. Speed is measured in bps, or bits per second. Here's how it works out:

  • 8 bits = 1 byte
  • 1,000,000 bytes = 1 MB (megabyte)

So, if you are achieving speeds of 1 Mbps (Mega bits per second), then you are downloading 1/8th of a MB per second. So in order to get download speeds of 1 Megabyte per second (notice Megabyte vs Megabit), you would need to have a speed of 8 Mbps.

Cable Modem Speed

One of the first things you may notice about cable speeds is that providers do not lock in to a specific speed. This is because the speed you get will vary based on a few different factors. Theoretically, cable service can reach download speeds of up to 30 Mbps. In reality, you will probably never reach this.

When you get cable service, what you are actually doing is hooking into a local area network. All cable users in your area are basically connecting into the same "pipeline" to the Internet. The number of people that are connected into that pipe will in part determine the speed of the connection you get. The more people connected, the less room there is in the pipe for your traffic.

You may also find that your Internet service provider (ISP) puts a cap on speeds. If there are only a few users in your area, your ISP will put a limit on how fast your connection is. Normally this will be in the range of 2-4 Mbps, but may vary by provider. There are a few reasons that your provider may do this:

  1. Providers may limit bandwidth so that they are able to fit more users on their network. If they are worried about their network capacity, limiting bandwidth will help them to manage it better.
  2. Providers may have a tiered service, allowing them to charge users more for higher speeds, so they will limit bandwidth in order to try and entice you to pay for a higher speed.
  3. Providers may also limit your cable modem speed so that you don't get faster speeds than your neighbor, who would then complain to the ISP.

DLS Modem Speed

DSL modem speeds typically range from 128 Kbps to 1.54Mbps. There are a few factors that can greatly affect the speed that you will get from DSL. The biggest of these is the distance you are from the ISP. Because DSL is a distance sensitive service, the further from the ISP you are, the slower your speed will be.

The quality of the DSL line will also have an effect on how fast your connection is. As with a cable modem, DSL providers will also put speed limits on the speed of your connection. They will limit speeds to allow them to have more users on their network, and to allow for multiple tiers and pricing plans.

Fiber Optic Modem Speed


I personally have not used fiber optic yet, it is not available in my area, but will be getting it as soon as it arrives (can hardly wait). However I have friends who moved into a new residential building that had fiber optic service installed; they are delighted with the speed of service!

When you want the fastest speeds outside of a T1 line, fiber optic is the way to go. Fiber optic speeds normally range from 15 Mbps up to 30 Mbps.

Due to the cost of infrastructure development, there are still only a limited number of providers that will supply fiber optic service; in a limited number of areas. In the United States, Verizon is one of the leading providers and in Canada, both Telus and Bell are rolling out fiber optic services.

Fiber optic connections to-date are not capped or limited in any way as of the time of writing this. I cannot see any reason to do so, as you will normally pay a bit higher of a premium for the service over cable or DSL.

What about Wireless Cable Modems?

The three types of modems are internal, external and a pc modem card. The internal modem is directly integrated into your computer system. The external modem can be wireless or wired: they have their own power supply. The telephone line or cable line plugs into a socket on the rear panel of the modem. Lastly, the pc modem card, which is better known as a wireless modem card, is for laptops and notebooks that need to access Wi-Fi internet services.

Many manufacturers have started to provide modem/router combinations; make for an easy setup wireless network.

Next Page - Fiber Optic, Cable, and DSL Modem Service Availability

Return to Modem: Which Service is For You? Conclusion.

Return to Computer Modems: Comparisons

Return to Build Your Own Computer Home Page from DSL, Fiber Optic and Cable Modem Speeds

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