A guide to internet technology
Understanding what is involved with setting up an internet account can be confusing. Dial-up, broadband, megabytes, modems and ISP, what do they all mean? This fact sheet will help you understand some of the terms and acronyms.
What is an Internet service provider?An internet service provider (ISP) supplies, or arranges to supply, a service that enables users to access the internet. An ISP may own the facilities (e.g. central computer, modems) it uses to deliver the service or it may use the facilities of another provider, in the case of a 'virtual ISP'.
What is a dial-up connection?Most residential users use a dial-up connection, also known as narrowband access. This involves using a dial-up modem to dial an ISP via a phone line. The dial-up modem can either be a separate (external modem) device or built into the computer (internal modem). If you only have one telephone number at home, you will not be able to make or receive telephone calls from your phone while using the internet unless you make special arrangements with your telephone company. These arrangements would involve your computer and other additional equipment.
What is a broadband connection?
Broadband is a general term used for any type of technology that provides high rate data connection. Broadband can be defined as a service with a data rate capability of more than 200 kilobits per second (kbit/s).
Broadband service is 'always on' so you do not have to dial-up for a connection. Broadband is capable of supporting a variety of voice and data applications like voice telephony, internet access, pay TV and multimedia services.
What do I need for a broadband connection to the Internet?
The devices you need for a broadband connection to the Internet will depend on the type of broadband connection you would like. Broadband is currently available in three different technologies, depending on where you live: cable, ADSL or satellite.
You may require a special type of modem, special hardware that is inserted into your computer, and/or a satellite dish. The required hardware may need to be installed by a trained professional and involve an installation fee. Be sure to ask your ISP about the costs of the additional hardware and the installation options.
What is download?
Download (or data downloaded) is any data retrieved from another computer on a network, for example, text, pictures or sound. Viewing a page on the internet is downloading data from another computer and contributes to any download limits placed on your account by your ISP.
What is a megabyte?
Megabyte (MB) is the term used to describe a unit of data. A MB is measured as 1,048,576 bytes, or one million bytes. At present, there is no accepted single industry standard for the calculation of MB, or gigabytes. Industry currently uses two methods of calculation, either binary and decimal.
As a guide:
- you can view approximately 20 pages on the internet for each MB of download;
- an average four minute MP3 (music file) is approximately four MB; and
- a five minute movie trailer can be as much as 30 MB.
Ask your ISP if they have facilities to monitor your download amounts to avoid any unnecessary excess download charges. It may also be an idea to check that your ISP account type suits your current download amounts.
What is a modem?
A modem is the device used to connect your computer to the internet. Different types of modems are available. Some are used for dial-up access purposes and others are used for broadband access.
A dial-up modem converts (modulates) digital signals sent by the computer to analog signals for transmission through the standard telephone lines. A dial-up modem also converts (demodulates) incoming analog signals from a telephone line and converts it to a digital signal for the computer.
What about modem speeds?
The speed or rate of a modem is measured by the number of kilobits of data it can transmit per second (expressed as kbit/s). The more kbit/s transferred the faster pages or other material such as music and email can be downloaded from the internet.
The most commonly used dial-up modems have a maximum data rate of 56 kbit/s. Be aware that the maximum rate you can connect to the internet is not a guaranteed rate. Due to a number of reasons, most of which are outside the control of your ISP, your connection will not generally run at this speed.
Internet assistance program
The internet assistance program (IAP) offers a free testing and advice service to help you optimise your Internet connection.
To test your internet connection, go to the IAP website. The website provides a data transfer rate test and a self-help kit with advice and step-by-step instructions on how you can optimise the performance of your dial-up internet connection. The IAP also offers a support service on 1800 427 457 (free call).
Click here for a fact sheet on the internet assistance program.
The ACMA has fact sheets on a range of topics.
Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.