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Top tips for selecting a broadband solution

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While broadband is all the rage and everyone is moving or switching to it, it is still a new technology in general terms to a lot of users, writes Riaan Leuschner, MD at Nology. Some straightforward guidelines and tips go a long way to assisting users to select a technology and solution that will suit their needs.

Simply put, broadband technologies can be divided into fixed line (ADSL) and wireless (3G, iBurst, WiMax) technologies. Depending on what you want to use broadband for, one or the other of these solutions will serve. For instance, ADSL gives you connectivity from a fixed point, while wireless technologies will allow you to roam.
The advantage of ADSL is that there are very few variables that impact on this technology negatively, making it more trustworthy – i.e., ensuring better data integrity, data speed and reliability. In terms of hardware, a modem/router and an ADSL line from Telkom is required. For a Small Office Home Office (SoHo) or SME this will work well, especially if more than one user needs to be connected.
The wireless technologies have some subtle differences. 3G gives you an always-on connection, allowing you to browse the Internet even travelling in your car at 120km per hour, anytime and anywhere there is cell phone coverage. iBurst and WiMax, on the other hand, are nomadic, meaning you can connect from anywhere as long as you are within range of an iBurst or WiMax base station network.
Essentially, WiMax has a theoretical 48km range that fills the last mile gap between the user and the connectivity provider. Trials have delivered 15-25km ranges in rural line of sight areas and 3-7km ranges in cosmopolitan areas. Among others Telkom and MWeb are already offering this service in various areas. WiMax is being punted by Telkom as a replacement technology in areas where there is no ADSL coverage.
In terms of security and networking, ADSL is still the better bet. The hardware you purchase determines how safe you will be and how many people you can network on the same connection. An ADSL modem is the bare minimum needed to connect via ADSL. Modem/routers then go up in price based on the number of value-adds built into the device. A 4-port router, for example, will allow four computers to connect via the modem. Wireless Access Points (APs) can be used to extend connectivity to the modem inside the perimeter of a building. To meet different security needs modem/routers also come with different features such as firewalls.
A modem router with VoIP is also extremely useful, allowing you to plug a standard Telkom phone into the router and make cost effective calls over the Internet. Using VoIP in this manner differs from what the ever popular Skype service offers.
A proprietary technology, albeit free, Skype lets two people chat over their Internet connections as long as both have the Skype software and a headset or Skype handset. Skype is PC bound, however, requiring that your PC be on and the screen accessible.
The VoIP functionality offered in ADSL modems like Billion's 7401VGP or 7404VGO routers, however, makes use of the industrial standard SIP protocol that ensures interoperability with major VoIP gateways. Users can thus select from the best call costs worldwide, choosing among competing VoIP service providers.
VoIP is important because it will offer greater accessibility and a considerable price break over the landline service offered by fixed line telecoms providers such as Telkom. While many ordinary users still shy away from VoIP it is a simple technology to use and deploy. It works in two ways: IP to IP is a pure Internet call and requires both parties have an Internet connection. If, however, you want to connect to a traditional landline from the Web, you have to "break out" of the IP service into the fixed line telephone network or the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) such as the 'landline' service Telkom provides. For this you need to subscribe to a VoIP provider.
Last but not least, look out for new technologies and new combinations of technologies. For instance, Billion has just released a new router, the 7300GX, which offers both ADSL and 3G connectivity. Thus, if you operate in an environment where being online all the time is critical and you use ADSL, the router can switch to 3G in the case of the ADSL lines going down. Users can also choose to connect primarily through 3G. This gives users a wider choice and, to some degree, future proofs their investment in technology.