To connect online, your computer must be equipped with a modem, a device that translates the digital signals from your computer into analog signals that can travel over a standard phone line. Those are the scratchy sounds you hear from a modem's speaker. Believe it or not, there is actually meaning in all that noise. A modem on the other end of the line can understand it and converts the sounds back into digital information. By the way, the word modem stands for Modulator/Demodulator. Modems come in different speeds and are measured in bps or bits per second. A 28.8 Kbps modem sends data at 28,800 bits per second. A 56 Kbps modem is twice as fast, sending and receiving data at a rate of 56,000 bits per second. Most modems today are 56 Kbps.Why does speed matter?
On the Internet, you are constantly exchanging data with other computers. Some of these digital files can be quite large. As you will soon learn, you want this exchange to happen as quickly as possible. If you are purchasing a modem, get the fastest one available. If you have call waiting, you will want to disable it before connecting online. If you're online and a call comes in, it will disconnect you unless you disable call waiting. In most places you can enter *70 before the number you call for Internet service so that another call will not interrupt you while you're on line.Other Means of Connecting
There are faster ways to transmit data by using an ISDN or leased line. In many parts of the U.S., phone companies are offering home ISDN at less than $30 a month. ISDN requires a so-called ISDN adapter instead of a modem, and a phone line with a special connection that allows it to send and receive digital signals. You have to arrange with your phone company to have this equipment installed.
A relatively new development is a device that provides high-speed Internet access via a cable TV network. With speeds of up to 36 Mbps, cable modems can download data in seconds that might take much longer with a dial-up connection. Because it works with your TV cable, it doesn't tie up a telephone line. Best of all, it's always on, so there is no need to connect--no more busy signals! This service is now available in some cities in the United States and Europe.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is another high-speed technology that is becoming increasingly popular. DSL lines are always connected to the Internet, so you don't need to dial-up. Typically, data can be transferred at rates up to 1.544 Mbps downstream and about 128 Kbps upstream over ordinary telephone lines. Since a DSL line carries both voice and data, you don't have to install another phone line. You can use your existing line to establish DSL service, provided service is available in your area and you are within the specified distance from the telephone company's central switching office. DSL service requires a special modem. Prices for equipment, DSL installation and monthly service can vary considerably, so check with your local phone company and Internet service provider or Online Service.