DSL vs. cable: Those misleading ads are the last straw
YOU'VE SEEN the commercial: cable broadband Internet subscribers sharing a fat straw with some guy who has a cold. It's making me sick.
Not because I'm catching the cold, mind you, but because the commercial implies sharing straws is something that happens only with cable Internet service. If you really want to gag a geek, just create misleading technology advertisements, like my DSL friends are doing over at Hawaiian Telcom.
The truth is, everyone "shares straws" on the Internet, no matter which technology they use. Any time you access a Web site, or any other public site on the Internet, you're sharing bandwidth. It doesn't matter if you're using DSL, cable, dialup, wireless, satellite or mental telepathy (well, maybe the last one is dedicated if you're at home by yourself).
In the interest of complete disclosure, you should know that the Roadrunner cable people sponsor "Your Computer Minute," my computer advice spots on the radio. That being said, I'm not here to sell you on cable modems. It's just high time a geek stepped up and put the facts forward on this whole "share the straw" outbreak.
What's my beef? Simply put, the Hawaiian Telcom folks are making it sound like their users don't share bandwidth. They use words like "your dedicated Internet access" and "stop sharing Internet" that I believe are misleading and confusing people. That ain't right.
It's time to set the record straight with some facts. Feel free to show them to your favorite geek for validation. See, what's cool about geeks is that we can't lie. In fact, our biggest problem is we keep yakking the truth when the marketing guys want us to shut up.
» What's fastest, cable or DSL?
That depends. Roadrunner's cable system is designed for significantly faster speeds than Hawaiian Telcom's DSL can offer. Roadrunner's maximum download speed is 5 million bits per second (referred to as "megabits per second," or "mbps"). In contrast, DSL's maximum download speed is 3 mbps, according to their own Web site.
One little detail our friends somehow forgot to mention is that with Hawaiian Telcom's DSL technology, the farther away you are from the telephone exchange, the slower your service will be. Funny how those little detrimental details get left out of the cute ads, huh?
The actual speed you experience online will depend on a number of factors, including where you live, the computer hardware you use and the amount of spyware, viruses and other useless software that's been installed behind your back.
» Does "sharing bandwidth" on a cable system raise special speed or security concerns?
No. All Internet users share bandwidth.
The Internet is a network of networks, shared by millions of users. DSL provides a dedicated line only to the nearest telephone exchange, after which DSL users share connections just like everyone else to enter and move around the Internet, which is where most slowdowns occur.
As for security, local cable traffic is encrypted and filtered to make it virtually impossible to eavesdrop on an individual data stream within the Roadrunner system.
» Which is a better value, DSL or cable?
It depends. DSL is generally a little cheaper, but the price of cable Internet service can be comparable when purchased in a package with TV and/or telephone service.
Contrary to what the DSL commercials say, Roadrunner subscribers can hook up multiple computers to a single cable connection at no extra charge by using an inexpensive wireless router, just as DSL users can.
» Which technology gets better ratings from consumers?
In PC World's most recent survey of its readers, published in June, Roadrunner had better satisfaction ratings than any DSL provider. Roadrunner got a score of 78. DSL providers received scores ranging from 56 to 72. (Hawaiian Telcom Online DSL service was not in the survey.)
Similarly, Roadrunner got the highest marks of any Internet service in J.D. Power's 2005 Major Provider Business Data Telecommunications Services Study. According to J.D. Power, "Roadrunner Business Class ... ranks highest in customer satisfaction among broadband data business customers, earning high marks in all six factor areas," which included performance and reliability, billing, cost of service and customer service.
» What's the bottom line?
Advertising is all about hype. Ask any geek what they think about advertising or salespeople and you'll instantly hear, "Liars!" Most of us understand and take the hype into account when we see commercials.
Personally, I don't mind a good mud-slinging against brand "X" every once in a while. But I'm going to draw the line in this case because Hawaiian Telcom is guilty of the exact same thing -- sharing an Internet connection -- it is dissing the cable guys on. I'm going to draw the line because I believe the advertising is misleading and appears to be designed to confuse.
I can't tell you whether DSL or cable is better for you. You will have to make that decision based on sound research and solid facts. I'm just here to point out the shibai, geek style.
Peter Kay has founded several technology companies and is known in Hawaii as the voice behind the "Your Computer Minute" radio spots.