There are several different types of broadband connection:
ADSL Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line
An ADSL connection uses your phone line but can manage much higher speeds than a normal dial-up connection. It’s 'always on', which means the modem remains connected even when your computer is turned off.
You can still make telephone calls while the modem is connected because the frequency the modem uses to transmit data is well above anything you can hear. However, you’ll need filters on each phone to make sure there’s no interruption to the data flow and you don’t get audible interference. The modem and filters are usually supplied by the internet service provider (ISP) when you sign up.
Connection speeds vary depending on your plan and also the vagaries of the internet, but sending data is always much slower than receiving it, which is why it’s called asymmetric.
You have to be within a certain distance of your telephone exchange for ADSL to work. It’s best to check with an ADSL provider to see if it’s available in your street.
ADSL2 and 2+
These are faster versions of ADSL that may work at greater distances from the telephone exchange. At the moment 2+ is the fastest of this form of broadband connection, but as the speed increases the price often follows.
This gives you ADSL without having to pay the line rental for your fixed phone line. It might save you money, but you won’t have a fixed line for making phone calls. You have to rely on your mobile phone or use a VOIP service (see Glossary for an explanation of VOIP).
Optus or Telstra are the main suppliers of cable, which requires the same connection as that used for pay TV, consequently it’s only available in specific areas. It’s as fast or faster than ADSL 2+ and, like ADSL, is usually much faster to download than upload. Speeds vary depending on how many people are using the system in your area.
The cable connection is via a modem but is separate from your telephone, so there’s no interference and it’s always on.
As the name suggests, there’s no connection to a cable or phone line. The modem connects to a wireless network in the area via an in-built antenna. This means you can place your computer and modem anywhere within the network coverage, which dramatically increases your mobility if you have a laptop computer.
Claimed maximum speeds vary from roughly comparable with ADSL to well below, but wireless is susceptible to interference from all sorts of devices, from power lines and sub-stations to microwaves and some cordless phones. Any of these may reduce the speed of your connection, or cause it to drop out altogether depending on prevailing conditions.
Claims of mobility may be overstated. Taking the laptop out into the garden may be OK, but it’s a lot less likely that you’ll maintain a connection to the net while travelling from home to work. Most wireless networks have blind spots and, as mentioned above interference is a problem.
This option is expensive and relatively slow, but has the advantage of reaching remote areas where there is no other option. It requires a satellite dish, which needs to be installed professionally on the roof.
There are currently more than 800 ISPs in Australia and most offer some form of broadband plan. This makes choosing one a daunting exercise. Many serve a limited area, which helps in the process of elimination, but sorting through those that service your area can still be time consuming.
Websites such as broadband choice or Phonechoice (no relation but they obviously liked our name) can help by providing a means of sorting plans based on your preferences. Talking with friends and neighbours can also be helpful, particularly if you’re in an area with limited options.
Many ISPs advertise in local papers, on radio and TV. A full list can be downloaded from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's website.