Connecting to the Internet
Japan is one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to getting an Internet connection at home. High-speed connections are easy to find, and costs are cheap.
Take my home town, for example: Menlo Park, California. Just a few miles from Silicon Valley, Menlo Park was one of the first locations where the Internet was born! Google was founded in that town. But today, if you want an Internet connection, it costs $20 a month for a 3 Mbps connection (slower than a 3G phone connection!), and up to $200 (¥16,000) a month for 105 Mbps service. That's about three times what people in Japan pay for a connection five times faster than that!
Japan is able to have such good service for two reasons: first, the Japanese government had a strong Internet development plan about ten years ago, and second, Japan is a smaller country, making it cheaper to lay wires and make connections.
Before you get an Internet connection, you should know a little about what all the words mean. First, some key terms:
- ISP: Internet Service Provider (also just called a "provider")
- Broadband: A high-speed Internet connection. What speed is considered "high" differs from area to area.
- Bits Per Second (bps): This is used to show the speed of the connection. Measured in Kilobits per second (Kbps), Megabits per second (Mbps), and Gigabits per second (Gbps). Remember, you usually use Bytes to measure capacity; 1 Byte = 8 bits, so 8 Mbps = 1 MB per second.
Now, for the connection types and speeds (residential, Japan):
|Dial-up||0.05 Mbps||Telephone||This is the slowest possible connection. It is used only in remote areas where no other connection is possible. "Dial-up" means that your computer actually uses a normal telephone line to dial a phone number with an Internet connection. If someone picks up the telephone or calls you on that line, your connection would be broken.|
|ISDN||0.13 Mbps||Telephone||This is better than dial-up, but only slightly. It is rarely used in most advanced countries today.|
|Cable TV||up to 100 Mbps+||Co-ax (TV) Cable||Uses open space on Cable TV connections. However, the speed is usually much slower than advertised during busy hours, as these networks share the connection between more users.|
|ADSL||up to 50 Mbps||Telephone||Also known as "DSL." This is popular because only normal telephone lines are required. The greatest disadvantage is range: the speed falls quickly over a few kilometers from the telephone office.|
|Fiber-Optic (FO)||up to 200 Mbps ~ 1 Gbps||Fiber/Optic||This is currently the fastest type. However, some homes are not able to receive it; your ISP will visit your home to let you know if you can get this service.|
|VDSL||up to 100 Mbps+||Fiber Optic / Telephone||ADSL can't work over long distances; fiber-optic cannot enter some people's homes. VDSL combines both to get around the problems. Fiber cable is laid to the neighborhood, then the connection changes to DSL on copper telephone wires, which can give high speeds over short distances.|
When the Internet became available using ISPs in the 1990's, people had modems that got only about 14.4 Kbps. At that speed, it would take almost 10 minutes to download a 1 MB file.
By the end of the 20th century, dial-up modem speed had hit a top limit of 56.6 Kbps, which would still take 2.5 minutes to download a single MB. For an extra price, you could get what was called an "ISDN" connection, which doubled that speed.
Around the year 2000, a new standard called DSL became available. DSL offered speeds over 1 megabit (1 Mbps), a speed which would allow you to download 1 MB in just 8 seconds, if you got top speed. In addition, because DSL used different frequencies of the telephone line, normal phone service could be enjoyed at the same time. You could use the Internet and make phone calls simultaneously. However, DSL was limited by distance: if your house is more than half a kilometer from the telephone company's switching station, your connection speed would fall quickly. If you lived more than 2km from the station, DSL would become so slow that it would be useless.
Later, fiber-optic (F/O) started to be offered in some places, usually in larger cities. Fiber allows for much faster speeds, with no limit to the distance. If fiber-optic cables could not work with a building's structure or wiring, a combination of aDSL and F/O was used, often referred to as vDSL. Fiber connections now offer speeds from 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps or higher.
In Japan, there are several companies that offer Internet services in most areas, so you have a wider choice. In some countries and some areas, there may be just one DSL provider and one Cable Internet provider, for example.
When you get a connection from the ISP, they will give you a modem-router. You connect the telephone or fiber cable from your wall socket to the modem-router. Then you use a LAN cable from the modem-router to your computer. If your computer is too far from the cable, you can plug the LAN cable into a WiFi station, and use that to reach your computer.
Another way to connect to the Internet is through wireless technologues. A few which we will look at here are Wi-Fi, WiMax, and LTE.
Wi-Fi is a short-range wireless technology. It usually only works up to 30m, and has difficulty working through walls and floors. It is mostly used in home or office networks, where distances are short. For a larger building (like Lakeland College Japan, for example), several Wi-Fi transmitters would be required, perhaps one for each floor.
Most computers today have Wi-Fi built-in, especially portable computers. If you do not have Wi-Fi built in to your computer, you can buy a small USB "dongle" (similar to a USB flash drive in shape and size) to get Wi-Fi.
Many other devices also use Wi-Fi, including cell phones, tablets, printers, and even digital cameras.
- Base station / access point: The device which sends and receives the connection. This device is connected to the LAN via an Ethernet cable.
- Hotspot: A public WiFi connection.
- IEEE 802.11: The official name for Wi-Fi from IEEE. There are 3 varieties: 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. The "n" type is fastest; "b" and "g" are related, but many computers can use any of the four types, and are sometimes called "a/b/g/n."
- WEP, WPA, WPA2: These are security methods used to "lock" a WiFi network. If you do not use them, other people may "piggyback" or "leech" (steal) your signal and use your Internet connection for free. If they do something illegal, you might be held responsible! [Note: WEP is considered weak and should not be used.]
- Wardriving: People who drive cars while using a computer, searching for unlocked WiFi signals from people's homes. They then piggyback on the network. These people often do it to save money, or to commit cyber crimes.
Wi-Fi is used to avoid the use of cables. Sometimes it is just to keep things clean; more often it is to allow users to move anywhere without being "tethered" to a limited space by a cable. Other times, Wi-Fi is used if the distance is too far for a cable, or if there is no place to put a cable.
Wi-Fi is often available at coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants. Some cities create Wi-Fi zones on city streets and in parks. These Wi-Fi areas are known as "hotspots." A few cities have made Wi-Fi available everywhere in the town, but this has fallen from popularity. Since Wi-Fi signals are so limited in range, it is difficult to maintain a strong network.
WiMAX is a relatively new wireless high-speed Internet connection technology.
Wi-Fi is an extension of an existing wired network. When you get WiFi at home, it is based on the Internet connection you pay for from your ISP. However, when you get WiFi at school, it is based on the school's connection; at a coffee shop, it is based on the shop's connection, and so on. WiFi is short-range, local, and always based upon a land-line connection.
WiMAX is more like a cellular network; it is available almost everywhere. The advertised connection speed is similar to ADSL—about 40 Mbps. Soon, a new version called "Wimax 2" may offer speeds up to 165 Mbps.
If you have WiMAX, you can connect to the Internet from most places across the country. However, in actual usage, you might find blank areas which are not covered; in addition, many people report very slow speeds, much slower than would be expected.
Additionally, WiMAX uses a technology which is not built-in to most computers. Therefore, you would have to use dongles in every computer that needs one, and the dongles can be a little expensive, as well as inconvenient to use. WiMAX is available via the company UQ in Japan.
One more new wireless Internet option is called "LTE," also referred to as "4G" (Wimax is also called "4G" sometimes, so check carefully when you see a "4G" service). LTE is the next-generation wireless service used by cell phone carriers. With minimum speeds of 75 Mbps to 100 Mbps, it is similar to a home F/O connection. In Japan, LTE is (or soon will be) offered with tethering, allowing you to use LTE with tablets, laptops, or even desktops. However, tethering plans have a "cap," a limit to the amount of data you can use per month (usually around 7 GB, which will go quickly if you watch video).
Also available are "Pocket WiFi" or "Personal Hotspot" plans. These offer the same 3G or 4G data plans, but not connected to a cell phone account. These may also come without a data limit (but check the details of any plan you sign up for!).