Choosing a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be a headache, but choosing the right one for you will save you an even bigger headache in the long run. That’s why it’s good to understand all your options before making a decision.
Whether you’re moving or simply want to switch your ISP, your location will determine your choices. People living in cities tend to have more options, while people in more rural areas find their options limited. The U.S. government website broadbandmap.gov is a good place to start looking for Internet providers, although it may not list all the providers in your location.
After you’ve narrowed down your choices based on your location, you can determine the connection type that is best suited to your usage needs. There are a number of different ways to connect, with benefits and drawbacks to each.
Dial-up: Typically the slowest of the bunch, dial-up Internet goes through your phone line. This means that if you have a home phone, you won’t be able to use it while you’re online, unless you have a second line. Dial-up internet can usually only reach a maximum speed of 0.05 Mbps, but it’s usually the cheapest option in any given area.
Wireless: Wireless receivers depend on a clear line of sight from the transmission tower to your house, so this type of Internet is not great if there are a lot of trees or bad weather conditions in your area. The radio signal can be blocked by anything from a buildup of ice or snow to a tree branch. Speeds from some providers can reach up to 50 Mbps, but most top speeds settle around 15 Mbps.
Satellite: This is one of the slowest options. As with wireless Internet, service can be affected by weather, trees, or mountains interfering with the line of sight. In remote areas, however, it’s often the only service available–and it has the edge over wireless in that it’s easier to position to receive a signal.
Cellular: This is the same type of Internet you can get on a smartphone, only it’s transmitted to a small USB device called a fob that you plug into your computer. It receives its signal from cell phone towers, so it’s a good option if you travel a lot or don’t have access to faster land-based options.
DSL: Like dial-up, this connection type transmits over phone lines. However, you can actually use the same phone line to make phone calls while connected. In some areas, speeds can reach up to 15 Mbps–but the farther you live from the access point, the slower your connection will be.
Cable: Cable Internet transmits through coaxial cables, just like cable TV. Some providers can offer more than 50 Mbps (up to 100 Mbps!) though more often you’ll see speeds around 25 Mbps.
Fiber Optic: FiOS (Fiber Optic Service) can deliver speeds up to 1 Gbps, although most providers offer it at a cap of 500 Mbps. It’s still one of the more expensive Internet options in most places, but also the best in terms of reliability and function.
No matter which ISP you end up choosing, remember that most speeds advertised are a maximum; the actual speed you’ll get may differ. This is particularly true with cable internet, as the connection is shared–so the more people using it, the slower it will be. If you want fast and reliable, go with fiber internet if you can. But if you just want a lower monthly bill, cable or DSL will probably be your best choice.