Sure, we all know that you need some sort of device to access the internet, and most home devices these days operate on your home’s Wi-Fi network.
But how does the internet actually get to your home?
Here’s a quick explanation of the most common ways internet is accessed and how to choose the best option for you.
Dial-up is not commonly used or offered these days, but is important in the introduction of how internet connections work.
If you are old enough to remember getting your home’s first computer, chances are you recall the classic static and beeps while dialing in.
Dial-up worked by taking digital signals from your computer and turning them into audible sounds that would be carried over home telephone wires then translated back into digital signals usable by computers.
Most internet generally still works in this way, but the signals and materials it travels through have been upgraded substantially, increasing the speed of information.
Instead of just sending voice data through the phone line, now data could be sent simultaneously at a higher frequency so both could work at the same time.
A signal filter sorts out both and allows data and voice to be delivered appropriately to either the phone or computer.
It was relatively easy to upgrade to DSL since it used the existing phone lines to deliver information.
Most of us are familiar with and have access to cable TV. Cable television uses different frequencies through a coaxial wire to access each channel your specific plan provides.
Internet was easy to jump to cable as well, because simply stated, the cable companies just added another “channel” or frequency to access data for the internet.
A modem sorts out the frequencies and delivers them in appropriate formats to your TV and computer, allowing both TV and internet to work simultaneously.
Like a knight in shining armor, fiber optic lines race at the speed of light to rescue you from slow internet speeds … literally.
Where the previous types of internet connections we have discussed use electricity traveling down metal wires, fiber optic lines use pulses of light down flexible glass or plastic tubes to transmit data.
This happens rather quickly, since light can travel so much faster this way then electricity can through a wire.
Fiber is fast, but because there is no existing infrastructure like internet had with phone and cable methods of connection, fiber lines must be laid, initially raising the cost of accessing it.
Although fiber is still not available in many places, especially rural areas, it now connects the internet across most major cities and oceans.
A wireless internet connection uses radio frequencies to send an internet signal to your home.
The wireless ISP sends signals to a tower, which receives and sends the signal to your home.
A receiver, often roof mounted so it can point directly toward the tower, picks up the signals and sends them to your home modem to provide a connection.
Because the internet is delivered through different frequencies, it is wise to consider what frequency receiver you need based on your proximity to a tower and how clear you want your signal to be.
Communication happens between a satellite ISP transmitter, a satellite high in the sky, and a dish receiver, usually on your roof.
Using high frequency radio waves these three items communicate while a modem translates the signal from your dish to your computer.
Satellite has many hindrances due to the vast amount of travel the signal has to travel, making dish a slower option then others on the market.
With the prevalence of cellphones, many people use mobile internet every day.
Using radio waves, voice and data is transmitted at the same time. How the data is relayed through the cell signal varies, but 3G, 4G, and LTE are all just ways to describe how the data is sent and received.
So the real burning question, why does the cost vary so much for different types of service?
Nathan Rasmussen, director of sales marketing at Safelink internet compares it to a dairy farm.
If you live at the dairy, the cost of milk isn’t much, but it’s the delivery that costs consumers. The closer you live to the main source, the cheaper it is to get, but if you live far away or your location is difficult to deliver to, costs rise.
That is why major metropolitan areas generally have cheaper internet, while rural areas are pricier; the cost of delivery is more.
While all these methods differ in speed, cost, and effectiveness, thinking about where you live and what you use the internet for can help you chose the best option.
Knowing your options can go a long way when shopping for what type of internet connection is right for you.