You’ve decided to upgrade from dial-up to broadband but are unsure of the equipment you’ll need. Does it just involve a phone line and some software on your computer? Read on for our lowdown on the exact equipment you’ll require for the various types of broadband available.
There are several ways to get a broadband internet connection - ADSL, cable, satellite and mobile (or ‘3G'). Whatever your connection, do remember that you need at least a Pentium II computer with 64MB of RAM.
The most widespread type of broadband is ADSL and you will need a high-speed modem or router, plus a microfilter to get it.
You get ADSL broadband via your telephone line. You will need to have your phone line upgraded - known as line activation.
The microfilter plugs into your phone socket and cuts out the hiss caused by broadband sharing your phone line. It is a small plastic box that looks like a phone line splitter. Your ISP should supply it and you can buy them for a few pounds.
As for the modem, there are three types – an ADSL USB modem, an ADSL router and an ADSL Wi-Fi router.
A Wi-Fi router allows you to connect several computers at once - as well as go online anywhere in your house or garden. I recommend this option because of the freedom and flexibility it offers. If your ISP (internet service provider) doesn’t supply a Wi-Fi router – and they may well provide it free - you can still buy one.
A Wi-Fi router plugs into your phone socket and creates a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). It is possible to use two separate pieces of equipment, but a combined model is far more convenient.
Your computer meanwhile needs a Wi-Fi adaptor to connect to the network. It might have a wireless card built in, especially if it is a laptop. If not, you can buy a Wi-Fi adaptor, a small device to plug into a USB port. You sometimes hear these devices referred to as ‘dongles’. It is possible to install a wireless card in your computer instead, but this involves opening it up.
- An ADSL router is like a Wi-Fi router, except that you will need to use cables to connect your computer(s).
- An ADSL USB modem is simply a fast modem. You can only connect one computer and it is not wireless. There are two types - a USB version and something called a PCI card. The first type, which is simpler to set up, plugs into a USB port, but the second slots into your computer and involves opening it up.
You might be able to get cable broadband from your cable TV provider. You can either use a cable modem or connect using the set-top box you use to get cable TV.
Satellite broadband can be the only method of going online in remote areas. A specialist satellite broadband company will supply and install the equipment. They will set up a satellite dish or modify your existing satellite TV dish. You also need to connect a DVB modem to your computer.
There are two types of satellite broadband – one-way and two-way. A one-way satellite system downloads quickly, but will upload slowly. Two-way allows you to both send and receive information via the satellite dish, but is much more expensive. It is also very easily slowed down by adverse weather conditions.
Once you have set up satellite broadband (for a start-up fee of around £650), monthly usage costs start at around £25, but increase steeply with higher usage. One-way broadband is far cheaper to set up.
Mobile or ‘3G’
Mobile – or 3G – provides broadband without a fixed telephone line. Prices have fallen to as little as £5 per month, with no set-up costs.
3G is provided by the mobile phone networks and uses the same signals as mobile phones. You need a small portable USB modem, sometimes called a ‘dongle’, or a data card (called a PCMCIA card in laptops). The network should supply a free dongle.
The quality and availability of a mobile broadband connection depends on a 3G mobile phone signal, but mobile broadband is a rapidly growing technology.
The newest thing in broadband connections, instead of sending signals through phone wires, fibre-optics are incredibly thin glass wires that have pulses of light sent down them. This means that you can get internet speeds that are dramatically faster than ADSL.
To get the full speed bost of fibre-optics, an engineer will have to install the new wires up to your house. You can, however, get a smaller speed boost still using your phone line (although an engineer will still need to come out).
Fibre-optics are still being rolled out across the country, so you will have to check with your ISP to see if they're available in your area.