Want more bandwidth for less bucks? Check out all of your options

It’s time for the state-of-the-bandwidth report.


Summer is when government buyers and specifiers spend funds they’ve been carefully
rationing all year.


For many, it’s a chance to introduce high-speed technologies to their Internet
connections.  


I recently wrote about how a new generation of asynchronous transfer mode technologies
is poised for heavy integration into government networks.


But ATM is expensive and installation is complex. For a quick bandwidth boost, there
are other solutions.


None of these alternative technologies is new, but one might be right for your specific
needs:


ADSL is a combination of technologies that effectively split standard copper phone
lines into a series of frequency bands. The bands let lines carry more data traffic.


Speeds range from 128 Kbps to 7 Mbps. This is an option for users that download lots of
materials.


If you teleconference or upload a lot of files, stick to a traditional T1 line.


ADSL standards are still being ironed out, but Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp. and Compaq
Computer Corp. have formed an alliance to force a standard by early next year.


Downside: ADSL is not available in all areas, and it remains expensive. Expect to spend
$1,500 for installation and $300 to $600 per month for service.


Prediction: Installation prices will drop to less than $300. Subscription prices will
drop to less than $100 per month. ADSL may be available to 75 percent of the nation within
two years.


Phone companies are betting on ADSL because it requires fewer equipment upgrades than
Integrated Services Digital Network.


Track breaking ADSL news on Web at http://www.adsl.com/. Track the expansion of local
loop services at http://www.telechoice.com/xdslnewz/.


The top speed in many areas is 128 Kbps, and some phone companies still charge
per-minute rates. But ISDN isn’t dead.


In some ways, ATM offers extreme high-end ISDN services. ISDN through local phone lines
has a dim future. Government users should demand and wait for ADSL because it’s more
flexible and more than likely cheaper.


Downside: ISDN fees don’t include Internet access. You still need to pay for an
account with a service provider who supports your ISDN hookup.


Prediction: Service providers are heavily marketing the service, but they seem destined
to become a niche technology for specialized applications.


Modem prices will hold steady, and installation prices will remain constant at about
$300. Per-minute rates will give way to monthly fees of about $100.


To get details on Bell Atlantic Corp.’s ISDN services for the federal government,
go to http://www.bell-atl.com/federal/.


But cable companies are moving into the business of creating virtual private networks
for distributed offices, so LAN connections are in the works.


In a small office, installation runs about $150. Subscriptions are about $40 per month.
Service is spotty and tough to find outside of major cities.


Downside: The generous 5-Mbps bandwidth on a node is, unfortunately, shared with up to
2,000 other users. Technical support by cable companies has a bad reputation.


Prediction: Cable access won’t take off in the business office until it becomes
easier to integrate into a LAN and until service providers conform to the Data Over Cable
Service Interface Specifications to assure equipment compatibility.


Prediction: Expect to see WebTV over cable applications for non-PC browsing. Most WebTV
users today view the Internet on their TVs, but they use a dial-up line for access.


MIT researcher David Gingold maintains a page of pointers to cable modem resources on
the Web at http://rpcp.mit.edu/~gingold/cable/.


Some systems promise a whopping 52 Mbps anywhere, anytime. For now, however, expect to
receive data at about 800 Kbps.


Downside: This new technology has several competing draft standards. Uploads are still
done via dial-up line, so it’s not the choice for videoconferencing.


Prediction: Although wireless is the shape of things to come for distributed offices,
it’s not a realistic approach today or even next year.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
Cahners Business Information Inc. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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