How Do I Choose the Right Internet Plan For My Home?

Choosing the right internet place - featured image

Is the internet service in your home slow, spotty and just plain unreliable? Maybe it’s time to choose something new. There are quite a few different ways to get internet at home – more than many people realize. What’s the right broadband plan for your needs? Let’s take a closer look:

The Four Types of Broadband for the Home

When the internet first began, everyone had to use painfully slow dial-up modems which tied up your home telephone line. While dial-up hasn’t truly gone away – over 21 million people currently use it – most at-home internet is through a broadband connection.

The phrase broadband internet is used a lot but it’s not really a technical term. Instead, broadband is just any type of always-on internet connection. It’s also called high-speed internet. There are four different types:

1. Cable Internet: A Solid, Widely-Available Option

Many people simply get their internet from their cable provider. The broadband connection is through the same coaxial cables which deliver cable TV and possibly a home phone line. Speeds vary dramatically based on location and other factors, but you can typically see speeds from 3 Mbps to 100+.

On the plus side, cable internet is usually pretty easy to install. If you’re an existing cable TV customer, you can add internet with just a phone call or website visit. Plus, you’ll likely save some money – at least for the first few months – by bundling services.

There are some downsides to cable internet. While we’re just guessing here, your cable company probably has pretty terrible customer support. Installing, and then dealing with any potential problems, can require a long time on the phone.

2. Direct Subscriber Line: Reliable and Affordable

Usually referred to as DSL, this is internet delivered through your phone line. But this isn’t dial-up internet. DSL is just slightly slower than most cable internet, but still fast enough to stream Netflix, play games online and other typical web activities.

DSL is divided into two types: Asymmetrical (ADSL) and Symmetric (SDSL). ADSL has fast download speed but slower uploads. SDSL has equal upload and download speeds.

All DSL speed is (often rather significantly) affected by your distance from the service provider. The closer you are, the faster your speeds. This means DSL quality usually degrades the further away you get from larger cities and towns.

On the plus side, DSL is usually the most affordable option. Plus, it’s widely available. Overall, DSL provides reliable, affordable internet for typical at-home uses like streaming movies and surfing the web.

3. Satellite: Wide Availability but Costly

Satellite internet services require no cables, phone lines or other wires running to your house. Instead, internet is beamed directly to a small satellite attached to your house. Speeds range around 15 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Satellite internet reaches many areas which other providers don’t cover. However, you’ll still need to find a provider near you. Plus, satellite services can often be more expensive than cable and DSL.

4. Fios

Fiber Optic Service uses light-speed technology to deliver faster internet than any other option. A fiber optic network sends pulses of lights down thin strands of glass. These pulses move at 186,000 miles per second to your home, where they’re converted into electrical impulses readable by your home computer.

FiOS is fast – very fast. Fiber optic internet is capable of 300 Mbps downloads and 65 Mbps uploads. If you’re looking for the absolute best internet experience, you’ll want fiber optic cables.

Unfortunately, to get FiOS, you might have to move. Currently, fiber optic services are only available in 16 states including California, Texas and Massachusetts. Also, FiOS providers are limited to Verizon, AT&T, EarthLink HyperLink, Qwest and Google Fiber. If FiOS isn’t available where you live, you might be waiting for a while until it’s available.

How to Choose the Best Home Internet?

If you want the absolute fastest, most reliable internet, you’ll want fiber optic service. But that’s not possible for most people in the country. Which reflects an unfortunate reality when it comes to choosing an Internet Service Provider: You can only choose from options which are available in your area.

If you live in an area with FiOS, that’s absolutely an option you should consider. The only reason you might not want fiber optic service is if you primarily use the internet for email and other activities which don’t consume a lot of data. The speeds of FiOS might not be necessary, so you can find cheaper alternatives. Otherwise, FiOS is usually the best choice.

However, if FiOS isn’t available in your area, you can still have fast, quality internet. Most mid-sized cities and towns will have at least one provider of DSL or cable internet. Larger cities should have a few more options to choose from.

Unfortunately, roughly 39% of rural areas have no access to cable or DSL internet. Satellite is the only option for high-speed internet in these areas, and there’s no guarantee even that’s available. Plus, the costs of satellite internet can be prohibitively expensive.

Selecting the Best Service Plan

Once you’ve determined what options are available in your area, it’s time to select a specific plan. What you want to focus on here are download speeds, upload speeds and data limits.

Download Speeds

These are the speeds which you’re able to download data to your computer. Streaming, downloading a movie or playing a video game are all activities where data is downloaded to you. Faster download speeds result in a smoother experience. Slow download speeds result in video freezes, dropped connections and other hassles.

Upload Speeds

This is the speed you’re able to send data from your computer to somewhere else on the internet. You’ll want fast upload speeds if your run a file server or regularly use a cloud-based storage or backup system.

However, you probably don’t need particularly fast speeds here if you don’t upload a lot of data. This is why DSL offers both symmetrical and asymmetrical services, so customers don’t have to pay for upload speeds they don’t need.

Data Limits

In the early days of broadband, limits on data were rate. You could download as much as you wanted – and people did. ISP’s attempted to throttle these users, but eventually decided to institute data caps for all customers.

Generally, 1000 GB a month is pretty standard. That should allow you to watch Netflix for a few hours a day, surf the internet and download a few movies. As long as you’re not typically downloading a lot of data, you probably don’t need to pay for a larger data limit.

However, there are two situations which can secretly – but dramatically — impact your data use:

  • Zombie Devices
  • 4K Video

Zombie Devices

Don’t worry, these devices aren’t going to bite you! But they will shuffle along in the background, silently but steadily consuming data all day and night. You might not even know these devices are connected to the internet, but they’re slowing eating into your data cap 24/7.

Common “zombie devices” include smartwatches, security cameras, smart appliances and more. Anything connected to the internet can potentially be using data. As more and more of these devices find their way into our homes, the impact they have on data caps can be significant.

Ultra High Definition

4K video is the picture quality of the future. With resolution up to four times the quality of standard 1080p, 4K video is already revolutionizing video quality. But that increased resolution is accompanied by an increase in data.

Watching a video in 1080p consumes about 4.5 GB of data each hour. Currently, 4K video uses about four times the amount of data. By the time the technology is more mainstream, that data usage will likely be cut in half, but Ultra High Definition video will still use more data than current video.

An Internet Plan for the Future?

Both zombie devices and 4K video point to a clear trend: Data consumption will generally increase over time as technology improves. Even if you don’t change what you use the internet for, you’ll likely see a “data inflation.” If you typically bump up against your current data cap, expect to need an upgrade in as little as a year.

This can be a factor if you’re locked into a long-term contract with your provider. Cable companies especially like to offer bundled packages which are cheaper when you commit to several years of service. While companies are always willing to sell you a larger data cap, often the best deals are found when you’re re-negotiating a long-term contract. You might want a data cap which is just a bit larger than your needs now, with the idea you’ll need that extra data in a year or so.

The Importance of the Service Level Agreement

While having your data use restricted isn’t great, there are some rights you have as a customer. Before you sign up for any type of internet plan, read through a copy of the Service Level Agreement. This is a contract which details the minimum speed and service availability provided by the ISP.

If you fail to get the promised speed and up-times, you should be able to get your bill lowered accordingly. Many people don’t bother to check if their internet speeds match the minimum speeds in the Service Level Agreement. But diligence can actually save you money. Plus, if your speeds are consistently below the SLA minimum, that’s a great sign it’s time to change providers.

Along these same lines, make sure the customer support provided by your ISP is friendly and easy to reach. Sometimes a smaller ISP is able to provide quicker, more personalized service. But larger providers like cable companies are typically available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Final Thoughts

The internet plan you have currently might not be the best one for your needs. Check out what options are available for your area. A different, new internet plan might provide better speeds, larger data caps and more helpful customer service.

Before selecting a new plan, determine what your internet needs are today while also anticipating your needs for more data in the future. The internet increasingly impacts more and more of our daily life around the house, so choosing the right plan for your home in 2018 is more important today than ever before.

Blair Campbell

Founder of GetInternet. Blair studied computer science at the California Institute of Technology Computing and Mathematical Sciences program, but he enjoys writing on the side. He grew up in southern California and now lives in Denver, Colorado.