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How do I Choose the Best Home Network Connection?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Setting up a home network to share a high-speed Internet connection is easier than ever. Whether wired or wireless, manufacturers have made setting up a home network as painless as possible. The home network is typically either a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable, or Fiber Optic Service (FiOS) connection, though mobile broadband is another possibility. To choose the best home network connection for your needs and budget, let's consider a brief overview of each.

DSL is the most affordable connection type for those on a budget, as plans are tiered with slower plans costing less than any other type of high-speed connection. DSL is piped in over traditional copper telephone lines, and is widely available. The telephone can be used simultaneously with online service, making it very convenient.

Cat5 cable for use with a network.
Cat5 cable for use with a network.

A drawback of DSL is that it may not be available in all areas. Newer housing developments are using fiber optic lines instead of copper telephone lines. Fiber optic lines can carry FiOS, a much faster home network connection type, but also more expensive.

Another drawback of DSL is that it requires landline service, which some people now skip in favor of using cellular service. Telephone service can still be purchased exclusively to run DSL, but this bumps the price up, making it less competitively priced.

A wired router can be used to set up a home network.
A wired router can be used to set up a home network.

Cable Internet is another popular home network connection type. Cable Internet uses the same cable that brings in your TV programming, and is typically billed along with cable TV. The Internet service itself is generally contracted through a third party such as RoadRunner®, and is many times faster than entry level DSL plans.

A potential disadvantage of cable is that speeds can slow when the network gets congested from high numbers of local users jumping online at the same time. Another disadvantage is that cable Internet Service is generally quite expensive compared to low or even mid-range DSL plans.

Mobile broadband utilizes cell phone towers to establish an internet connection.
Mobile broadband utilizes cell phone towers to establish an internet connection.

FiOS is the fastest of all home network connection options, with blazing speeds that can satisfy the most demanding user. The first FiOS packages were quite expensive, but now many fiber optic providers have introduced tiered plans with lesser speeds priced competitively, as compared to cable Internet.

FiOS is the home network connection of choice when money is no object and there is a need for speed. The drawback with FiOS is that availability is limited to new developments and to areas where copper lines have been replaced by fiber optic lines. While all copper lines will eventually be replaced with FiOS, this transition will be slow.

Mobile broadband provides Internet service over cellular towers, allowing the user to establish a connection anywhere there is cell service, even on the go. This is typically not a home network connection choice, as it is much more expensive and its main advantage is in providing service to mobile devices. Even so, cellular carriers are marketing mobile broadband as a home option, suggesting people save money by dropping DSL, cable or FiOS service, and use one unlimited mobile broadband account for all of their devices, including home computers.

Aside from the steep price of mobile broadband, another disadvantage is that there are bandwidth caps associated with these plans. While the limitations are generous enough for the average user, this will not be a good choice for heavy downloaders or torrent enthusiasts.

Regardless of the type of home network connection you choose, it will require a modem with a built in router. Some of these devices are designed to handle multiple types of connections, such as DSL or cable, but most are made exclusively for either DSL, cable, FiOS or mobile broadband. In the case of mobile broadband, modem/routers take the form of small USB dongles or ExpressCard® adapters.

When choosing a wireless modem/router for DSL, cable or FiOS service, note that every computer that will share the Internet connection must have a compatible wireless network card or adapter installed. Wireless networks can be protected by encryption and authentication protocols. Refer to the literature that comes with the product. In many cases, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) will provide the hardware required for a monthly lease fee, but you can also purchase your own equipment.

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    • Cat5 cable for use with a network.
      By: tr3gi
      Cat5 cable for use with a network.
    • A wired router can be used to set up a home network.
      By: Andrey Khritin
      A wired router can be used to set up a home network.
    • Mobile broadband utilizes cell phone towers to establish an internet connection.
      By: Christian Delbert
      Mobile broadband utilizes cell phone towers to establish an internet connection.