Dial-Up Internet Service HistoryDial-Up Internet marked the beginning of the internet for millions of Americans.
Dial-Up Internet: The Sound of Early Web Connections
While we continue to get sucked into the world of smart phones, smart homes, the Internet of Things, and even virtual reality, some sounds can zip us back to another time. For those old enough to remember, the sound of dial-up will do just that. Just a few seconds of that iconic whirring and squeaking cacophony can transport baby boomers and older millennials back to the dark ages when the internet was in its infancy.
Back then, using the web was more pain than pleasure. The internet was primarily used to check business emails, conduct research, and complete other mundane tasks, but the noise and never-ending buffering made it a chore at times. Now, the internet is part of everyone’s daily life, and the world has adapted to 4G and round the clock access—but it wasn’t always like this.
What Is Dial-Up Internet?
Dial-up was invented in the 1980’s as a way to connect to the internet via a modem and a telephone line. The modem uses the phone line to dial the number of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) which then hooks up to an internet connection.
Compared to modern internet speeds, dial-up took ages to load. Given that the fastest dial-up speed was 56 Kbps modern gigbit connections are thousands of times faster than dial-up. We’ve come a long way as we’ve made the switch to wireless internet. However, this hasn’t yet marked the end for dial-up. It might surprise many to know that millions of people across the country still use it today.
The report on dial-up also stated that over 9.4 million people in the U.S. still connect to the internet via dial-up. Additionally, the report cites that 2.1 million Americans are still connected to AOL specifically.
While this means that there are millions of Americans currently using decades-old technology, it has improved considerably since its inception. Now, we have what is called high-speed dial-up. High speed dial-up is smarter rather than faster, as it compresses texts, graphics, and other files so they can be transmitted faster. It also stores the most-used files locally for easier and faster access.
The Dial-Up Internet Sound
For those who can remember it, the sound of dial-up takes them back to the 80’s and 90’s when it was cutting-edge technology. While the sound is famous amongst the dial-up generation, few people ever knew exactly what that sound was.
Quite simply, the dial-up sound was the modem dialing the phone number to the ISP and securing the connection to the internet. As described by the Atlantic, what you’re hearing is basically “20th century technology tunneled through a 19th century network.”
While many Americans feel a sharp pang of nostalgia at when they hear this sound, most would likely feel it unthinkable to ever actually use dial-up. However, for the millions of Americans still using dial-up, it is their best option.
Access is a large part of the equation, as many Americans who live in rural parts of the country don’t have another option for internet. Cost and ease of use is another part. Dial-up usually costs between $10 and $15 per month, and if you already have a landline, you’ll just need a modem to transfer the connection, and an ISP to provide that connection.
The Transition From Dial-Up to High Speed Internet
It has taken the world decades of technological innovation to make its shift from landline connections to wireless. In the process, different infrastructures and devices have been invented and are still in use to bring us instant access to the internet.
After dial-up, the next development in the history of the internet was digital subscriber lines (DSL). This type of internet service, called broadband, was the first type of faster internet service. It also used ISP’s and telephone lines, but the DSL carried the internet signal at a much faster rate.
Following this, cable internet service was established, using TV transmission infrastructure to send data more directly, resulting in a faster connection. The development of fiber optics quickly followed, which used lines made out of flexible strands of glass. This made it possible for data to travel at the speed of light, but was much more expensive.
These developments happened quickly, and the world went from dial-up to speed-of-light internet in a relatively short period of time. However, the high costs of this technology and infrastructure made it necessary to build something more practical, which resulted in satellite internet.
Satellite technology virtually made the internet universally accessible, as satellites could send signals directly to user’s homes, even if they lived out in the country.
How High Speed Internet Works
Now many internet users get their wireless access from mobile mobile towers that provide data through private frequencies. This is how major mobile phone companies supply their customers with data.
Wireless internet services now generally rely on third generation wireless services (3G), fourth generation wireless services (4G), WIMAX, and LTE for the fastest internet connections in history.
Most wireless provides use 4G, with which wireless performance can reach download speeds up to 10 Megabytes per second, compared to 600 Kilobits per second for 3G. Upload speeds are usually one-half or one-third of download speeds. WIMAX is a different type of connection, similar to long range WiFi. WIMAX can generally operate at speeds comparable to 4G, which can provide data hotspots for mobile phones.
The Future of High Speed Internet
High speed internet availability is now essentially universal in most parts of the country. Cable providers and telecom companies have expanded their copper-line networks throughout much of the U.S and are now in the process of upgrading those networks to fiber. Telecommunications giants like Verizon and AT&T have continuously improved their DSL and Fiber offerings while smaller dial-up providers like Earthlink have stayed relevant by offering value-added internet services on the modernized networks of some of their larger peers. Cable TV companies like Comcast and Suddenlink are also in the process of upgrading their technology to complete the demand for high-speed, responsive internet connections and most now offer gigabit speeds in at least part of their service area. Rural areas also have access to high speed internet through high speed satellite broadband connections like ViaSat and improved wireless services.
The future of high speed internet is pointing to even faster speeds and greater accessibility with the implementation of the new 5G standard and the launch of low orbit broadband satellite networks from both SpaceX and Amazon.
The world has come a long way since the days of dial-up. Soon, the technology available now will produce the same waves of nostalgia that dial-up generates now.