How does dial-up internet work?
Dial-up internet recruits your existing copper telephone line and makes it communicate data rather than just voice. That’s why your phone line is busy when you’re online and why picking up the phone can knock out your connection. DSL also uses phone lines but employs a technology that lets both voice and data through simultaneously—and more quickly.
To get dial-up, you need a landline and a dial-up modem to send and receive data through it. When you launch the service, that modem initiates a handshake protocol, phoning another modem at your ISP to establish the connection. Hence the dialing sound and the characteristic high-pitched, scratchy noise as you log on.
Advantages of dial-up internet
- Wide availability: Dial-up internet is available to every location with a phone line. You simply have to ensure your chosen dial-up provider has at least one local access number in your area code so you don’t incur long-distance charges. The omnipresence means it’s a good option for the 6% of Americans, and 25% of rural residents, who don’t have access to broadband technologies (DSL, cable, or fiber) and who can’t afford expensive satellite connections.
- Low prices: Compared to other technologies, dial-up provides very cheap internet. In some cases, it’s even free for the first few hours every month. It’s a way for those on the tightest budgets to get online and stay connected via email and social media.
Strong security: Dial-up connections use a different IP address each time you log on so hackers won’t be able to spoof your connection for their misdeeds. Additionally, because dial-up connections aren’t always on, unlike broadband internet, no one will be able to hack your connection when you’re not logged in.
Disadvantages of dial-up internet
- Slow speeds: We can’t emphasize this enough: dial-up internet is very slow. Speeds top out at around 56Kbps. In contrast, the slowest DSL connections on the market offer speeds of around 10Mbps download—or 10,000Kbps. When dial-up was prevalent, the internet was much different. It was mostly simple webpages enlivened with low-resolution clipart. Dial-up simply can’t cope with today’s internet, with its high-resolution photos, HD video streaming, and immersive games. So forget about streaming Netflix or even YouTube on your dial-up connection. You’ll be lucky to load Facebook. To put it in a different context: that 4GB HD film file you downloaded in under six minutes on your 100Mbps connection? It would take a 56kbps dial-up connection more than seven days to download it. Some providers, such as NetZero, offer accelerated dial-up connections, with speeds five times faster than basic dial-up. But slow times five is still slow.
- Page timeouts: Most webpages today are designed to be downloaded over a broadband connection. If your dial-up connection can’t load it fast enough, the page will simply time-out and you won’t see it all. Think blanks where images should be.
- Difficult setup: A dial-up connection requires a dial-up internet modem and other specialized equipment, which might be hard to track down these days.
Ties up your phone line: Dial-up monopolizes your phone line so you won’t be able to make or receive phone calls when you’re online.
Can you still get dial-up internet?
If you’re sold on dial-up, you can still purchase it from a few providers. Let’s take a look at a few dial-up internet deals. For many of us, this will be a walk down memory lane…
- AOL: plans starting at $20/month (Be aware that you can get much faster DSL for about this price.)
- Earthlink: plans starting at $9.95/month
- Juno: free for up to 10 hours/month
- NetZero: free for up to 10 hours/month
- People PC: plans starting at $10.95/month
- Turbo USA: plans starting at £8.95/month.