It's called the information super-highway, but too many of us are still travelling on donkeys. The thrill of riding high-speed through cyber-space to the information society awaits. You might even do it “wireless” or “naked”!
But it can be difficult choosing the right technology, internet service provider (ISP) and plan that is suitable to your needs and budget. Fortunately, DiVine is here to help.
The importance of internet access
Staying on the right side of the “digital divide” is becoming increasingly important. The gulf between those who know how to get, create and share digital information via the internet, and those yet to learn, is getting serious. People with the ability to use the internet arguably have the key to the greatest gateway to new opportunity in human history. People without “digital literacy” might start to find their opportunities diminishing.
The good news is that the internet is becoming easier and cheaper for people to use. The Federal Government, in conjunction with the states, is also working on implementing a national broadband strategy. The strategy aims to improve the access to high-speed internet connections around the country, including regional Australia.
People are already using the internet for:
- health, including online discussion of services and treatments
- education, including long-distance learning and personal research
- employment, including finding work, and working remotely
- communication, including sharing news, photos and videos with friends and family
- entertainment, including video-on-demand
- hobbies, including sharing ideas and resources with others
- political participation, including campaigning and organising.
Many people with disabilities are also enjoying new ways of communicating, the freedom of shopping or working without as many physical barriers, and socialising freely with the online “cloak of disability invisibility”.
So, what’s the best way to be travelling the net?
Selecting your virtual vehicle
The right connection, internet service provider and plan for you will include a combination of:
- data allowance
- other features like mobility.
Once these components are understood, you can use the excellent Broadband Choice Plan Finder (opens new window) to produce a list of currently available plans that fit your needs.
The faster your connection, the less time spent waiting around for things to download. This also means a better quality internet experience when doing data-intensive activities like watching streamed videos or playing online games.
Below are the speeds of the various broadband connection types in ascending order. Note that not all types are available in all areas. Also, real speeds vary due to factors like your distance from the telephone exchange (for phone line-based services) or the number of cable connections in your area. The bracketed figures are maximum actual download/upload speeds and quoted as megabits per second (Mbit/s):
- Telstra cable network (30/1 Mbit/s)
- Optus cable network (20/0.5 Mbit/s)
- ADSL2+ (20/1 Mbit/s)
- ADSL (8/1 Mbit/s)
- 3G mobile (3.6/0.38 Mbit/s) - uses the 3G mobile communications network.
Cable uses the same network that pay television uses. ADSL runs over existing telephone lines. Mobile broadband services use the mobile phone network.
Most portable computers can connect to the internet wirelessly via a Wi-Fi connection. Wi-Fi hotspots can be found at many places such as public libraries and cafes. They are often free to use.
Many people also have wireless routers at home that enable them to roam around the house (and even the garden) while still picking up their own Wi-Fi signal.
For absolute mobility, there is also the 3G Mobile Network, which connects computers (and mobile phones) to the net nearly anywhere you go. However, the speed is lower than more traditional internet access and the price is significantly higher.
Your data allowance or quota is the amount of stuff you can download per month. Remember that downloading audio and video files can chew up your allowance quickly if you are on a modest plan more suited to basic email and web browsing.
Most people start with a low quota and just upgrade if required, but beware if your plan charges heavy fees for going over your quota. Many people prefer plans that simply throttle (significantly reduce) your speed if you go over your quota so you don’t get a rude shock when your bill arrives. Plans with extra “off peak” allowances often provide good value for nightowls.
Internet connections based on phone lines are usually clothed in telephone services. But why pay twice for the same wire? Going naked means shedding the traditional telephone part and using the line exclusively for your internet access.
With internet telephony you can still have a telephone via your net connection, and it’s usually much cheaper for making calls. Read my article on internet telephony for more information.
Competition between internet service providers is fierce so it’s best to stay contract free to take advantage of new plans as they arrive. Of course, many providers seek to lock customers into contracts when they sign up, so you might not have a choice.
Internet service providers are often happy to supply all the hardware you need to get online, usually at a reduced rate. These days modems and routers (a device that can share your internet connection) are often in the one convenient box, and some even have telephone handsets or plugs to accept any standard telephone.
Whirlpool (opens new window) is a good place to get more information. Whirlpool is a long running community-focused site dedicated to discussing internet access. It includes:
- hardware reviews
- surveys of internet service provider customer satisfaction
- a list of questions to ask when shopping around for an ISP.
See you all in the fast lane!