How Much Bandwidth Do I Need

photo of John Michael Pierobon By: John Michael Pierobon

Most Americans have a modem running between 14.4 Kbps and 56 Kbps. Some are quite content with their modem, but many want more bandwidth.

In my last column I gave a definition of bandwidth as being a measurement of throughput; how many bits can be sent or received in a second. Now that we know what bandwidth is, the question is how much does one need.

New broadband technologies are becoming available in our area. They include ISDN, ADSL, frame relay, cable modems and satellite transmission.

ISDN stands for Integrated Services Digital Network. It has been around for about a decade. It is mostly used by businesses, but is now being offered to consumers for home use. Most ISDN comes in two sizes, 64 Kbps and 128 Kbps. ISDN providers charge per hours of usage, and it can become quite expensive.

ADSL stands for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line. ADSL can transmit up to 1.5 Mbps. However, ADSL requires a special card to be put into your computer by the telephone company. ADSL is only available in certain areas because you have to live within four miles of a properly equipped central office of the telephone company. The installation will cost around US$300 and the monthly subscriber fee will be between US$50 and US$60.

Realistic bandwidth for cable modems ranges from 500 Kbps up to 1.5 Mbps for about US$40 per month. However, uploading is as slow as a conventional modem. This is not a problem if you are just surfing the Web, but it is a problem when you are sending pictures or audio over the Internet.

Another problem with cable modems is that bandwidth is shared with other users on the same line. As more of your neighbors sign up for cable modem service, the slower it will become.

Frame relay is a dedicated leased line. You pay a flat rate for the service. Bandwidth can range from 64 Kbps up to a full T1, which is 1.5 Mbps. Frame relay is mostly for business. It is fast, highly reliable, and very cost effective for large transfers of data.

Satellite will allow a download speed of about 400 Kbps. It is widely available, but it is slower and more expensive than a cable modem or ADSL.

All of these technologies are making the Internet more accessible to people today. However, price might not make it seem that way. The price of bandwidth will continue to drop, just as the price of disks, memory, and other computer technology has. Soon bandwidth will become a commodity everyone will be able to afford.

John Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
John Michael may be reached by sending electronic mail to

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