ADSL or Cable? Which to get?
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Feature Article
ADSL or Cable? Which to get?

February 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

Here is San Antonio there is about to be a high-speed war for accessing the Internet. Southwestern Bell is planning on launching ADSL service, called FasTrak DSL Service, in 2Q1999. Paragon is planning on using Road Runner to provide Cable Modem service in May 1999.

Last minute addition
I just learned (Feb. 15th) that SBC will charge $129 a month for 6 Mbit ADSL service with a one year contract. Ouch! So much for cheap Internet access.,

Before I get into details… I am on the fence which way to go. Please, if any of you have an xDSL or Cable Modem, e-mail me and let me know how it’s working for you.

I have heard some tails about each technology, but I think it will boil down to service and features initially and progress to performance. Let’s start to compare.

Installation

Paragon is offering classes for the "do-it-yourselfer" to learn how to install the cable modem and Ethernet Network Interface Card (NIC). Also, Paragon claims (we will leave that alone for now) that you should be able to use your own Ethernet card with their cable modem. You save money on the installation if you have your own NIC, and you save even more if you install the hardware and software yourself. Price for installation is listed as $109.95 on their web site. (Of course, this may vary from installation to installation and is only a starting point.)

SW-Bell, on the other hand, gives you no options for the installation. They prefer you use their hardware. At the least, you would have to use a NIC and/or ADSL modem that works with their equipment. I have heard horror stories in this department that leave me to believe we would be better off buying SW-Bell’s stuff without question. And buy is the operative word. Paragon, in essence, rents you the Cable Modem as part of the price of their service. SW-Bell does not have installation prices on their web site, but I read on CNET that they would be charging around $200, but don’t know exactly how much of the hardware is included in that price.

Winner: Paragon

Features

Each provides the basic unlimited Internet access. Each technology has you connected all the time (as long as your computer is on). Paragon offers 5 e-mail addresses (or something, we won’t harp on little details). SW-Bell provides 3 e-mail boxes, and 2 e-mail aliases. Close enough. Paragon provides 5 MB for a personal home page. SW-Bell provides only 3 MB for a homepage. Since I am using approximately 2.9 MB for my site (not counting my download section) I would give Paragon the win. You may have different priorities.

Winner: Tie

Cost

Paragon is going to charge $39.95 a month for the cable modem and ISP service. This assumes you already have cable TV through Paragon. Since I do use Paragon for cable TV, we show cost as $39.95 a month. SW-Bell is planning on charging $39.95 a month. However, that is without the ISP service. Including the ISP service and the price is $49.95 a month.

Winner: Paragon

Performance

Paragon claims you get up to 10 Mbps/768 Kbps speed. SW-Bell offers 1.5 Mbps/128 Kbps and 6 Mbps/384 Kbps. However, nowhere on their web site does is say how much more they will charge for the faster of the two access speeds. I am sure it would impact the cost mentioned above.

What do the numbers mean? For starters, the two speeds are for downstream to your computer and upstream to the ISP, or Internet. Similar to 56K modems, you connect up to 56K download (yea, I know it is really FCC regulated to 53K) and 33.6K upload. When surfing the web you download a lot more than you upload. You download pages, graphics, sounds, movies, programs, plug-ins, etc., etc. For the most part, you normally are only uploading the address of the link you click on. So the speed difference is in-line with typical web usage.

It looks like Paragon blows away SW-Bell in the performance arena. Not necessarily. "Cable modems on the same node share bandwidth, which means that congestion is created when too many people are on simultaneously. One user downloading large graphic or video files can use a significant portion of shared bandwidth, slowing down access for other users in the same neighborhood." (Source: Cable Modem FAQ)

For example, if you start to download a 50MB game demo, and your neighbor does the same thing, you will each get 5 Mbps speed (ideally) instead of 10 Mbps. If a third guy starts downloading, you each get 3.3 Mbps. And so on, and so on, and so on. I just wonder how many cable modems will be on a node.

Keep in mind, these are theoretical limits. SW-Bell guarantees at least 384 Kbps with their 1.5 Mbps service. They guarantee 1.5 Mbps with their 6 Mbps service. ADSL does not suffer the share bandwidth that plagues cable modems. But ADSL is no picnic either. Your performance varies based on a number of factors. Particularly, the distance you are from the central telephone switching office, which cannot exceed 17,500 feet.

In the real world you can expect to get close to 1.5 Mbps with either connection. This is still much faster than any regular modem, or even ISDN. That is assuming the ISP is the limiting factor. You will still see slower speeds when the Internet itself is the bottleneck.

What about gaming? Typically, games don’t benefit much (if at all) from using 56K modems instead of 33.6K modems. The games are sending as much information as they are receiving. So you get 128 Kbps or 768 Kbps. Since most of your neighbors are probably not gaming, but surfing, you will probably be able to capitalize on the 768 Kbps upstream to the Internet. I would think gaming performance should be pretty good with cable modems. Paragon is offering an early-bird special to get connected before the May 1999 rollout. At least for a while bandwidth should be plentiful.

Initial Winner: Paragon
Eventual Winner: Tie

What do you think? Which one will work best for playing games over the Internet? Come on guys, you most likely accessed this page because of my gaming guides. Do you have xDSL or Cable modems? How are they for playing Starcraft or AoE on the Net? Drop me a line.

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