COMMUNICATION: DSL:The high-speed race is on

DSL has entered the high-speed Internet chase in Traverse City.

Big Net North, Cherryland Online Services and Peninsula Telephone recently joined the race with Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service. It’s the latest competition among the cable modems and wireless hook-ups sprawling across the region.

Nationwide, 2.8 million people use DSL, according to Suzan Moody, general manager at Big Net North. And now those within Traverse City will be able to tap in.

DSL offers broadband “24/7” Internet connection. It’s always on–no dial-up, no disconnects, no busy signals. It uses a traditional copper phone line to deliver access ranging from 144 K (faster than an ISDN line) to 1.5 M (roughly the speed of a T-1 line).

“DSL can be a range of speeds. Just like modems can be 14.4K, 28.8K, 33.6K or 56K,” Moody said. “Beginning at 144K (10 times faster than a 14.4 modem) you can go all the way up to T1s with DSL.”

For example, a 5 MB file would take 23 minutes on a 28.8 modem. It would take five minutes on an ISDN line. It would take 27 seconds on a 1.5M DSL line, according to Moody.

Right now, Big Net North services 400,000 customers in Michigan, 8,500 of which subscribe to DSL.

The Cherryland Online Services Web site at www.coslink.net notes that the problems affecting standard modems, such as disconnection or slowdown due to line noise, will not affect a DSL connection because it’s digital. Another perk: DSL uses standard phone lines already in place.

“It uses the existing telephone network–ordinary two-wire phone lines–in a very efficient manner to send more data down the phone line,” Moody explained.

DSL users only need one phone line for their connection. Both DSL and standard phone service are on one line. According to Cherryland Online, your voice and fax will run at 4Hz and below and your DSL will share the line and use the higher frequency. This means small or residential users may save money by being able to drop the second phone line they have installed for using the Internet and phone at the same time.

Despite using already-placed phone lines, DSL’s biggest disadvantage is its limited coverage at this point.

“DSL is line/distance sensitive,” Moody said. “This is a high-frequency signal. The further a signal travels down the line, the more interference it will pick up. But most people who are in Traverse City proper will be able to get DSL.”

According to Cherryland Online, DSL performs better 10,500 feet (two miles) or closer to the telephone company’s central office.

How much is it?

The cost of DSL varies by company. Big Net North offers residential service for $49.95 per month and commercial customers a T1 speed at about $300 a month. Setup includes hardware and runs about $150.

For Cherryland Online, the cost for homeowners is $39.95 a month for 384K to 768K service with a $199 fee for equipment. For businesses with network computers, they offer 768K to 1.5M service for $69.95 a month with $450 for equipment and installation, according to Renee Arteaga, customer service at Cherryland Online.

“We’ve been offering DSL for about five months now and the response has been fairly favorable,” Arteaga said. “The technology is around 18 months old. In this industry, technological advances happen very quickly. We expect broadband high-speed Internet access to be much more readily available and affordable. DSL will play a role in accomplishing that.”

And then there’s cable and wireless…

In competition with DSL are cable modem and wireless service providers. In comparison, Arteaga said, “each of these technologies fits a specific need.”

For example, Charter Pipeline of Traverse City offers cable modem access to users in Traverse City proper, Charlevoix, Harbor Springs and Boyne City.

They just launched in Petoskey and, soon, they will reach Alpena, Suttons Bay, Kalkaska and Mancelona, according to Kathie Hudson with commercial sales at Charter Pipeline.

Charter Pipeline offers a program for businesses with networks with unlimited users. Speeds vary from a minimum 512K download and 128K upload to a maximum 2MB download and 256K upload.In comparison to the standard modem, cable modems are 10 times faster on paper–50 times faster in use.

“A modem might be 56K rated and at 512K, cable modems are about 10 times faster,” Hudson said. “But in a real sense, most phone lines only support 14.4K access and that makes 512K 50 times faster.”

Cable modems do not affect phone lines and therefore, like DSL, users can access phone lines and Internet service simultaneously without the added cost of a second line. Cable modem users share a single network connection to the Internet, so speeds will fluctuate depending on the number of customers online at the same time.

In regard to installation procedures, studies by Harris Interactive (November 2000) and Consumer Reports Online (September 2000), cited by Charter Pipeline at www.chartercom.com, show that cable modem customers are happier with the installation process of their cable service than that offered by DSL providers.

Gary Sides at Qwest Communications in Traverse City concurs. He noted that he has often had trouble with local phone companies setting up DSL. Qwest is a nationwide T1 provider and provides the “backbone” of many of the Internet service providers in the area. “DSL is not the answer to all applications,” Sides said. “There are many avenues for high-speed access. DSL is a different product that needs kid-glove handling by the phone companies, and that’s just not happening. We need to work out the provisioning problems first.”

Another competitor of DSL is wireless Internet access, like that offered by Wireless First Inc. in Traverse City and Spectrum Global Communications in Gaylord.

Wireless data systems use microwave radio frequencies licensed by the FCC to transmit signals over the air from a transmission tower to a microwave receiver installed at the customer’s home or business. According to Wireless First’s website (www.speedconnect.com), because microwave signals are transmitted over the air, wireless data technology does not require the large networks of cable and amplifiers used by franchise cable operators to deliver services.

In general, coverage areas are approximately 40 to 50 miles, assuming line of sight, to the transmitters. Emerging technology points to wireless coverage without line of sight in the near future.

As DSL enters the high-speed scene, it’s obvious that users are weighing the pros and cons of each technology at their disposal. BN

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