When Speed Is of the Essence

Broadband can give your operation a significant competitive advantage.

By: Joe Dysart

For all but the smallest of home-based travel agencies, broadband Internet service offers a significant competitive advantage over conventional dial-up connections.

Even if you only have basic service, you’ll be able to cruise the Web at high speeds (generally 10 to 30 times faster than dial-up 56K service). And in regions where it’s still a novelty, first-time users will notice that browsing through Web sites feels like turning the pages of a book it’s that fast.

Moreover, many broadband providers are charging a single rate for broadband connection, regardless of how many PCs or Macs (within reason) are hooked in. So, with rates as low as $40 a month, some agencies may find that broadband actually reduces their monthly Internet bill.

Broadband may also provide:

Phone Bill Savings

A number of Internet-based telephone companies, including Packet8 and Vonage, are slashing costs by routing local and long-distance calls over the Internet rather than over conventional phone lines.

Packet8, one of the least expensive, offers unlimited calling throughout the United States and Canada for $19.95 a month.

Its international calling rates are also extremely competitive and the sound quality is equivalent to that of a cell phone.

To get started, you’ll need a router to share your broadband connection between your phone and your computer. They cost $50 to $100 and can be obtained from Netgear, Linksys or D-Link.

You’ll also need a terminal adapter, a small device that Packet8 provides free, to plug into your phone.

The downside is that the service works only with one phone. But if you make all or most of your long-distance calls from your desk, signing up for this kind of service may be a no-brainer.

Conferencing for Free

Web conferencing centers such as Paltalk and Genesys invite consumers and businesses to try their services for free, hoping that satisfied customers eventually will use their premium services.

In the meantime, however, you’ll be able to hold perfectly acceptable audio/video conferences, at no charge, with clients or associates around the world.

Paltalk is one of the easiest to use. Getting hooked up involves little more than downloading the free Paltalk software and responding to a few prompts from its installation wizard.

Once the software configures your computer speakers and microphones (mikes start at about $10 at Wal-Mart), you’re good to go.

At first, you’ll probably want to click into existing chatrooms to get a feel for things. But once you’re comfortable with the operation, you’ll want to create your own room, which is as easy as clicking “Groups,” “Admin” and “Setup/Maintain Your Own Permanent Group.”

After responding to a few more prompts, you’ll have your own free conference room on the Web and can even set up password-only access.

360-Degree Contact

Broadband can allow you to update everyone involved in a project without a lot of extra effort.

For example, if an agency is using an e-mail program like Eudora, computers hooked into the broadband connection can receive simultaneous, continuous updates.

Plus, broadband makes it easy to have Wi-Fi, or wireless, connections to laptops, PDAs and other computerized devices.

The router that you bought for Internet phone service can also be used for wireless Internet access. All you’ll need is a wireless adapter, which costs about $50, for each device linked to the system.

Greater Productivity

A 2002 study for the International Telework Associa-tion & Council, conducted by Joan H. Pratt Associates, found that employees using a broadband service increased their productivity by 33 percent in comparison to those using a dial-up service.

“Teleworking employees work more business hours and after-hours time at home without increasing their total work hours,” Pratt said. "


Packet8: www.packet8.com

Vonage: www.vonage.com

Netgear: www.netgear.com

Linksys: www.linksys.com

D-Link: www.d-link.com

Paltalk: www.paltalk.com

Genesys: www.genesys.com

Eudora: www.eudora.com

International Telework Association & Council: www.workfromanywhere.org

Joan H. Pratt Associates: www.joanpratt.com

If you’re interested in broadband, the clear choice is cable or DSL.

If neither service is available or if you’d like high-speed access in an RV or other mobile vehicle you may want to consider satellite, but startup costs are a little pricey.

Starband (www.starband.com) charges $699 for the satellite hardware and a $50 monthly subscription fee.

Competitor DirecPC (www.direcpc.com) charges $479 for the hardware and $59 a month.

Of the two major contenders, cable is often easiest to activate. At speeds as much as 50 times faster than a 56K modem, high-speed cable is available in select markets, generally through local cable TV companies.

Linking up involves little more than hooking a cable modem to your PC.

Unfortunately, the downside is that speeds can vary during high-usage periods. The more people using the system, the slower your access will be.

Consistent speed is the primary advantage of DSL (digital subscriber line), the service offered by local and long-distance telephone companies. DSL speed depends on your proximity to the “central office.”

For example, DSL Forum says you should get downloads of as much as 8,000K if you’re less than 12,000 feet away; while 256K is the best you can expect at more than 20,000 feet. (Your phone company should be able to give you this information.)

Also, be forewarned: DSL installations can be tricky.

If you’re interested, begin by sizing up the competition. Get a list of your community’s DSL providers at www.dslreports.com. And be sure to seek out DSL service that is live 24/7. If you’re paying for DSL, you shouldn’t settle for a limited connection.

Also, you’ll want to “keep a clean machine.” Translation: The fewer additional appliances plugged into the same surge protector as your DSL modem, the better. Sometimes an appliance sharing a surge protector with a poorly shielded DSL cable modem can degrade the connection.

Whether you choose cable or DSL, put the tech support department through its paces before you sign. Smaller, eager-to-please cable or DSL providers sometimes will run customer service circles around their monolithic counterparts.

And how would you know? Ask around. Most people will quickly warn you off a company that they wish they had avoided too.

A final note: Be aware that broadband service keeps your computer continuously linked to your provider’s system, giving Internet hackers all the time in the world to crack into your PC.

You can frustrate all but the most hyper-diligent by adding security protection like Zone Alarm (www.zonelabs.com), Norton Personal Firewall (www.symantec.com/ product) or Black Ice Defender (http://blac kice.iss.net). "