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By Jim Gerland and Mark Winer

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Internet Slowness
January 15, 1997

turtleOne of the major drawbacks to the Internet as we know it today is its slowness. Traditional modems and phone lines, even those at 28.8 KBPS, can result in frustratingly long download times. Who has not been frustrated at the amount of time it can take to view the latest picture from your favorite site? Or what about trying to download the latest and greatest piece of software?

It's obvious that we need technology to improve the speed of accessing the Internet. With the advent of affordable, reliable cable modems, upgraded cable systems are now capable of providing an effective means for transmitting data at high speeds. Cable systems are making the necessary technical upgrades to make this a reality in the near future.

Before delving into what cable modems are we should define what a modem is. It is a piece of equipment that Modulates and DEModulates signals through a data transmission line, typically a telephone line, to connect two computers. Most people use modems that transfer data at speeds ranging from 9600 bits per second to 28.8 kilobits per second; this is also referred to as the baud rate. The speed is consistent bi-directionally, for downloading (from a network computer to your personal computer) and uploading (the reverse).

A potential solution to the slowness problem is the use of cable modems. A cable modem is a piece of equipment that enables high speed data access to the Internet and other networks via a cable television network. It works like a telephone with a few differences. First, the data transmission cable is not a phone line, but the coaxial cable that your cable television provides.

Another difference is that the transmission of data through a cable modem is much more complex than a regular telephone modem. In the downstream direction, the digital data is modulated and then placed on a typical 6 MHz television carrier, somewhere between 42 MHz and 750 MHz. This provides a large bandwidth -- that means lots of digital information can be sent down the line. This signal can be placed in a 6 MHz channel adjacent to television signals on either side without disturbing the cable television video signals. Going upstream, the data is transmitted between 5 and 40 MHz. Though less data can be sent upstream, it is still greater than traditional modems.

What does all this mean? The advantage of using a cable modem is downloading speed: 1 million characters per second (10 MBPS). This is equivalent to about 35 times the speed of a 28.8 modem. On the negative side, uploading times are far less, ranging from the speed of a standard 28.8 modem to 768 KBPS.

The cable modem is a piece of equipment external to your computer that will connect to your computer through a cable and a network interface card inside your computer. It looks like a traditional external modem. The network interface card is a Ethernet 10Base-T card, the same as those used in many corporate environments for Local Area Networks (LANs).

It is important to note that cable modems will work with today's existing cable TV wiring. There is no need to change wiring or other cable TV equipment in your home. The cable connection is simply split to allow one line to go to the TV and one line to go to the PC. Typically, your cable provider will take care of the installation of the modem at subscribers' homes. Installation includes splitting the cable at the cable outlet, and connecting the cable modem to the cable and to the Ethernet card on the user's PC. All the necessary hardware configuration is done automatically. After hardware installation, the software required by the content provider must be loaded. Once the cable modem and the content providers' software are installed the cable modem can be managed remotely without any additional visits.

You may be wondering if you can watch television while using your cable modem? Yes. Both your cable television service and your Internet access will operate normally when both are in use. Although cable video service (to your TV) and your Internet service (to your computer) enter and leave your home over a shared wire, the two services are completely independent of each other and use of one has no effect on the other.

Once setup, your cable modem should work the same as your telephone modem - except faster! Internet servers for email, newsgroups and web sites will be accessible but with reduced downloading speeds.

Locally, Adelphia cable is currently testing in Amherst and the response has been very promising. General Manager Tom Haywood , who lives in Amherst, gave us a first hand review noting that "the speed is unbelievable. It's remarkably fast." He also enjoyed the fact that there is no dial-up delay and connection time is instantaneous -- well, as fast as it takes your machine to boot up!

Adelphia has plans to begin advertising sometime in the last quarter of 1997. Hopes are that service will be available throughout Adelphia's coverage area beginning in the first quarter of 1998. The primary concerns right now are plant reliability and modem reliability.

The cable modems will be available by leasing them from Adelphia. The pricing is projected to be somewhere around the $50 for do-it-yourself installation and up to around $75 for technician installation (including Ethernet card and connection with your PC). Service is expected to cost $39.95 a month.

The National Manager for TCI, Inc. in Denver gave us basically the same information. He told us that testing is now being done in Fremont, Ca, and Hartford Conn. Their testing so far has received positive responses. TCI hopes that cable modem service will be available in the beginning of 1998. Pricing will be competitive, with a monthly cost around $40.

Finally, we want to continue to help you utilize the Internet in your life. Let us know what you're interested in and we'll check it out. You can email us, , or fax us, (716) 853-1350 and let us know what's happening on the Internet in WNY or any computing related activities you're involved with.