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DSL vs. Cable-What to Choose? (Part 1)

By Shakil Ahmed

Unless you've been living in a cave on Rapa Nui you'll have heard that high-speed Internet access is very much available in the Aloha State. Cable modem technology, pioneered locally by Oceanic Cable's Roadrunner has become extremely popular, especially on Oahu. From what I was told by Kit Buret, Oceanic Cable's PR person, approximately 99% of Oahu residents have access to Oceanic Cable's Road Runner technology. However, this figure changes when you look at the availability of cable modem service on the neighbor islands. Only about 30% of neighbor island residents currently have access to cable modems but by the end of the year the figure will jump to about 70%. That will be wonderful development for small businesses and residential customers outside of Oahu.

According to Keith Kamisugi, the media relations manager for Verizon (formerly GTE Hawaiian Tel), 60-70% of existing telephone customers are reachable statewide by DSL the competing broadband service in Hawaii. This is extremely important because I believe DSL will increasingly become a key technology for business communications in our state.

Getting Your Daily Bandwidth Requirements

After spending the last few years surfing Net on a slow-as-molasses 56k modem, chances are you're ready to upgrade. And who can blame you? You may not understand the subtleties of broadband technologies but one thing is for sure: You most likely want and need bandwidth-that is the capacity and speed that fast Internet connections provide.

One of my friends said that bandwidth is a bit like potato chips and he's got a good point. Once you've tasted some, you'll want more. If you're in business, fast connections with capacity to download big files make all the difference in the world.

Depending upon where you live or where your office is located you probably already have access to either Roadrunner or DSL (or both). So which do you pick for your home business or office?

Verizon's DSL service or Oceanic Cable's Road Runner? It can be confusing so let's take a look at the facts. We'll begin by looking at the cable modem option.


Of all the broadband solutions, cable is the least expensive-at this point. For about $40 a month and a one-time installation fee of $100 cable users can download data at up to 2 megabits per second (Mbps)-about 35 times faster than a 56k modem. However, what the cable company doesn't tell you is that speeds can be significantly slower if a lot of people on your block happen to be online at the same time. At that point, access speeds slow down from 200kbps to 800kbps. Given the ubiquity of cable service across our state, Road Runner is still a pretty good deal-especially for residential users. With over 34,000 customers on Oahu it's a proven technology that is wildly popular for home users. However, for a business, cable will work but it's not necessarily the best solution.

Will America Online's recent acquisition of Time Warner be a factor in broadband access? I think it may make Internet access a better deal for customers. Here's why: One of the biggest complaints with cable access is that consumers had to dump their existing ISP or pay extra to keep it. AOL's merger will help ensure that customers will have more options.

As it stands right now DSL provides a lot more flexibility if you want to access the Internet. Keith Kamisugi, the PR guy at Verizon, correctly states that you can choose from one of 17 ISPs, including Verizon Online, for your service in Hawaii. On the other hand, with cable modem service, you are obligated to go with Roadrunner and if you want roaming service to access your mail on the Mainland you must pay for a more expensive "professional" package.
Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions or comments should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com

Published Sept 8, 2000

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