For most consumers, a wired broadband connection (whether through cable, DSL or fiber optic, if you can find it) offers the fastest and most reliable internet service. However, these are not available for some households and may be too expensive for others. There are a few possible alternatives, but they often require impractical compromises.
We’ve put together four of these internet delivery alternatives below, along with some tips to help you determine if you can live with the arrangement.
1. Mobile broadband
With average US cellular LTE data download speeds reaching almost 14 megabits per second, a mobile Internet connection can replace traditional broadband. Just grab a Wi-Fi hotspot mobile device with a data plan only for a relatively inexpensive broadband internet connection. Plus, you probably already have a mobile broadband connection in your pocket: your cell phone. If you’re brave, just use it as a hot spot and ditch a dedicated home internet device entirely.
As with many of these alternatives, mobile broadband is best suited for light internet activities such as web browsing, email, and social media. Since you’ll likely be dealing with the usual data caps that come with a cellular plan, data-intensive activities like streaming video will quickly deplete your data allowance or increase your bill. You will also need to make sure you get good, reliable LTE service where you use the internet the most.
Satellite internet is widely available even in the most remote locations, but it’s pretty much the only pro for this delivery method. Otherwise, there are high start-up costs to rent or buy the necessary equipment, like your satellite dish on the roof, and then you usually get slower speeds for relatively higher monthly costs. In addition, you will have to deal with low monthly data download caps and high latency. Latency is the time it takes for your computer to talk to a server and receive a response. Since your signal has to travel 22,000 miles to a satellite and then back down, this takes a long time compared to other methods.
3. Fixed wireless
Fixed wireless provides the Internet to your home via radio waves. Unlike satellite internet, fixed wireless uses an antenna on your home to talk to a nearby tower, which then sends your data over a wired network. The costs are usually higher than a pure wired connection, and you might run into issues if you can’t get a line of sight to the tower near you. You might also have to pay for the equipment and installation.
However, fixed wireless usually doesn’t cap your data and doesn’t have a high latency issue as bad as satellite. The deployment of fixed wireless is limited, as it is generally only available in remote locations where building a wired network for single-family homes is not cost-effective.
4. Dial-up access
That’s right: dial-up access. Close your eyes and hear the cry. If you have a telephone line, you probably have dial-up Internet access. With a maximum bandwidth of 56 kilobits per second, dial-up access is much, much slower than any other common Internet delivery mechanism. It takes over 14 minutes to download a 6MB MP3 file over a dial-up connection, compared to a handful of seconds on most broadband connections.
Stephen Layton is a writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. E-mail: [email protected].