The chances are you've had to wait around 20 seconds for this page to load up. Other pages on this web-site with lots of images will take even longer. You no doubt have the same problem on many other web-sites you visit, or your modem might disconnect without warning when someone attempts to use your phone.
All this and other annoyances plague traditional 56k modem users. There is hope for the future though thanks to a technology called ADSL, which although has been around for a long time is only now becoming affordable. So affordable in fact that it almost makes 56k connections seem overpriced. Prices have dropped from around 50 a month to as low as 20. People are becoming aware of the diminishing cost difference between 56k dial-up and ADSL and many have ditched the former for the latter.
To put this pricing difference into perspective an 'Anytime' 56k connection from Freeserve is 13.99 a month, for ADSL they charge 29.99. The 16 difference can be reduced if you look at other ISPs who charge even less for ADSL. Pipex for example currently charge 23.44 so the difference drops to less than 10.
Here are some of the benefits of ADSL.
- Very fast downloads and uploads. Over 10 times as fast as a 56k modem, but in reality it can seem even more than that.
- 24 hours, 7 days a week connection, you can leave the modem connected all the time and won't be charged extra or disconnected.
- You gain a virtual second line. Because of the way ADSL technology works you can still make and receive phone calls on your phone line whilst browsing the Internet.
The first of these points mentioned is probably the most important for us photographers using the Internet. Far too often we want to browse a gallery of images and they very slowly appear on the screen. The same is true if you want to upload some of your own photos to a web-site. Using ADSL you can upload some large files to a web-site and at the same time be downloading large images from another web-site and only have to wait a small amount of time compared to a traditional 56k connection.
There aren't really any drawbacks, but there are a few issues you should be aware of.
- You'll need to buy an ADSL modem to connect to your new ADSL line, we'll cover this in more detail later.
- Many ADSL providers tie you into a 12 month contract which isn't true of many 56k dial-up providers, so check this out if it concerns you.
- Not all telephone companies will allow you to use ADSL on your phone line.
How it works
As the technology behind ADSL is extremely complicated it is beyond the scope of this article to go into great depth. Suffice to say it hasn't been an easy ride, BT first conducted trials in a limited few areas of the country and it is only recently that ADSL connections have become quite widespread. Unfortunately in many rural areas it is not yet available. If you want to check if you can get ADSL use the BT availability checker here.
The high-speed data transfer of ADSL is made possible by the signals on your phone line being split into two channels. One of these is used for conventional voice purposes when you want to make a phone call, and the other is used for the data transfer. This is possible because the data transfer channel uses a frequency range that is not used by the voice channel.
Once you've had your phone line converted to ADSL you can't use a normal modem, you must buy special equipment which is outlined in our equipment section. When you've bought this equipment and installed it you connect to the high speed data part of the ADSL line and carry on using your phone line as you did before. Your telephone number doesn't change and neither does your phone bill.Equipment
As with most computer hardware there are several options available to you. These options fall into three main groups..
USB ADSL Modem
This is the most commonly used option, mainly because it is about the easiest to setup. They are often a little more expensive than the next option but if you are looking for an easy installation they are ideal.
So easy it is usually just a case of plugging it into the USB port at the back of your computer and then selecting the driver from the provided CD.
PCI ADSL Modem
A PCI modem is often the cheapest option and is also simple to install but requires opening your computer. Once slotted in the modem software is as simple as the USB equivalent.
These modems are no use for those people with laptops, who should instead look at the other two options.
Routers such as the excellent Asus AAM6000EV (shown left) allow you to share your high-speed connection between two or more computers. They can be a little more complicated to setup than the other two options but offer benefits such as firewalls which help keep your computers secure.
Because they are independent of the computer and rely on a network connection they also prevent any incompatibility occurring with your operating system. They are the hardest of all these devices to configure but retailers such as Solwise provide comprehensive installation material and technical support.
All the equipment listed above will provide you with a fast Internet connection and there is no noticeable difference in speed between any of them. The choice is dependent on your level of confidence with computers and of course your budget.
If your ADSL provider doesn't include installation as part of the service then you'll need to buy some micro-filters, these allow the ADSL line and voice phone line to operate together without conflicting. You'll need one for each phone point you want to connect an ADSL modem or telephone too.
Internet service providers
There are many to choose from and the ADSLguide.org.uk web-site have a good ranking system that shows the ratings users have given their ISPs.
The choice of ISP is not an easy one to make, prices range from around 20-50 a month for a basic home ADSL service. For business users ISPs usually charge more, as they also do for ADSL speeds greater than the standard 512k. We've listed some of the cheapest ISPs who provide home ADSL access below. Price cuts are currently quite common and the prices listed below are correct as of April 2002.
If you want further detailed information on ADSL, or to discuss anything ADSL related, there is a web-site dedicated to this at ADSLguide.org.uk.
Some very detailed technical information on ADSL.
Buy ADSL equipment: Solwise. There is also a buying advice forum at Solwise.