Untangling the web of Net access options

With more and more classes utilizing WebCT, Pipeline and other online utilities, internet access is an ever-increasing necessity at UTD these days.

However, many incoming students moving in to Waterview Park often ask the question: Which service would be best – cable, DSL or wireless?

In an attempt to address some of the most concerns related to choosing an internet service, The UTD Mercury took a look at some of the current options.

Wireless provides the cheapest service, but also the most unpredictable.

DSL is a good midpoint, both in terms of cost and performance.

Cable proved to be the fastest and most stable, but also costs the most.

Setting up a wireless account with the university isn’t too complicated. First, a wireless card must be purchased, which can range in cost from $40-$150. Aside from this, the service is free to UTD students.

After purchasing a card, the MAC address of the computer must be registered with the school. A MAC address is basically like a fingerprint for your computer on the internet. After a day, the network is ready for your computer.

Getting a signal in the first place can be complicated. There are several dead zones in the Waterview Park apartments. Some students have had better luck being near windows, but be prepared for some complications in getting connected.

“It’ll be great for a month or so,” said electrical engineering major Caleb Nelson. “Then, for a week or so it gets pretty sporadic.”

Wireless performance varies greatly. At times of low traffic, transfer rates are high. During the evening, with more students on the network, performance takes a huge nosedive. Because performance varies so greatly, it’s hard to pinpoint an average transfer rate.

“It’s fast enough when everything’s working right,” Nelson said.

The greatest advantage wireless is the cost. After the initial cost of the card, the service is free. It just won’t be reliably available at any point.

Another advantage is portability. Students can use the wireless network in classrooms for homework (or games, depending on how boring the class is).

SBC offers DSL to Waterview Park residents. The service costs $40 a month and uses the basic land phone line. The DSL modem is included with service. However, there are other costs that aren’t accounted for in the price of service.

“The problem with DSL is you have to have a local phone line – which is kind of messed up,” said economics major Chang Lee.

Phone service can be purchased with DSL service, bringing the total to about $50 a month, depending on what optional services are ordered.

Setup is simple. After ordering the service, the modem and software arrives in the mail within a week. This time can vary, however.

“I think it was a few weeks,” Lee said. “That’s the only problem I had.”

The modem must be plugged in to the phone jack and the computer, and then a program on the computer will set up the connection automatically, though it can hiccup from time to time.

“Sometimes that program will report I don’t have a connection, but I still do,” sophomore David Drennan said.

Performance is certainly adequate for any school-related tasks. DSL service offers an average 150 kb/sec download, with about 16 kb/sec upload.

However, service is throttled severely while uploading. This means that if the line is sending data to anyone, downloads will be slowed to about 20 kb/sec. This can be problematic with filesharing utilities like Kazaa. Even so, it’s not a huge hindrance.

“You can do everything you need to do,” Lee said.

The line is extremely stable, with few outages in the year.

“It’s not as bad as when I was with Comcast cable,” Drennan said.

Comcast Cable offers the fastest speeds, but also the highest price. The base cost is $60 per month. Comcast offers packages with cable television, however. Basic cable and cable internet runs about $100 per month.

“If it was just me paying for it, I’d probably use the on-campus wireless,” said Stephanie Taylor, a freshman molecular biology major.

The cable modem is included with the service, and connects through the cable television jack. After connecting the modem to the computer, Windows detects the connection and sets things up after that. Installers can offer extra instruction.

“The whole process took probably 20 minutes for installation and they showed me the right buttons to push and icons to click on,” Taylor said.

Cable internet runs at 250 kb/sec download speed and about 20 kb/sec upload, with the same throttling that occurs with DSL service.

“It’s significantly better than, say, Waterview wireless,” said William Boehm, a sophomore computer science major.

Cable service is stable most of the time. There are, however, a few bumps every now and then.

“It’s only kind of gone out twice all year and it was an easy turn-it-all-off, turn-it-all-on fix,” Taylor said.

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