DSL ISPs Cable Companies Dialup Internet Service Providers
The high-speed competition
Cost Most users rent the modems from the cable company for a few dollars, just as they rent their cable boxes. An Ethernet card is required for a cost of $50 or so, and most companies have an installation charge of fifty to one hundred dollars.
~Service~ Most cable proviers charge $20-50 per month for service, in addition to cable TV fees.
Speed Claimed speeds are up from 5 to 30 Mbps (5,000K to 30,000K) for downloading, and from 64K to 768K for uploading. See "A realistic look at cable modem speeds" below for a more down-to-earth perspective.
As was once the case with 56K modems, there are no ITU standards for cable modems, so the equipment is not interoperable. This most likely will not be a problem, because the business model for cable companies is to rent compatible equipment to subscribers.
Most cable TV systems are one way. Only about 25% of the homes in America that have cable are ready for two-way communications. That's just one reason interactive TV never got off the ground. The cost of upgrading homes to two-way communications has been estimated at between $10 and $100 per home.
To access the Internet through a one-way cable system, you have to dial in with a regular modem and phone line. That means buying and installing two modems, and you still have to have a second analog phone line if you want to receive phone calls while you're online. It also limits upload speeds to a maximum of 33.6.
One-way cable systems are even worse for the cable companies. They have to pay all the expenses of analog dial-in ports, plus the cable modem ports.
A realistic look at cable modem speeds
Your cable modem will connect to your computer through a 10BaseT Ethernet card. The maximum bandwidth for that card is 10 Mbps, and few people get more than 4 Mbps.
Most Internet Service Providers are connected to the Internet with a T1 or T3. They offer speeds of about 1.5 Mbps and 45 Mbps, respectively. Even if you were the only subscriber, you would quickly use up all of the bandwidth if cable modems really delivered 10 Mbps.
Being on a cable modem will be like being on an office LAN. Early in the morning before everyone else gets to work, the network at the office is nice and speedy. When other people show up and start printing and accessing the file server, the network slows down. Exactly the same thing will happen with cable modems if the networks aren't upgraded to keep up with the subscriber base.
All in all, most cable subscribers are happy with their service, and amazed by the speed. If cable Internet is available in your area, it's worth experimenting.
Cable Modem Resources on the Web by David Gingold
Computer Paper - Riding the Rogers Wave: High-speed
Internet connection service wins over test household
Economist - Cable television's long march
High Bandwidth Web Page - Cable Modems
MIT Laboratory for Computer Science Technical Report 654,
June 1995 - Connecting Homes to the Internet: An Engineering
Cost Model of Cable vs. ISDN
New York Times - Internet Offers Business Frontier for
Cable TV Companies
New York Times - Small Pennsylvania Town Discovers That
Cable Modems Alter On-Line Life
News.com - Canadian cable catches Wave
PC Magazine - John Dvorak's Inside Track - The Looming
Cable Modem Fiasco
PC Magazine - reader responses to Dvorak's article
PCWEEK - Cable scam endangers vendors, users
PCWEEK - Cable guys
PCWEEK - Cable services stall on modem access
Wired - As Cable Modems Get Faster, Sales Stay Slow
Wired - ADSL and Cable Modem Makers Call Truce