Posted by: gregboyko | April 16, 2006

DSL vs. Cable Modem

A week ago, I got an email from Qwest saying that they were now offering DSL in our area. For over five years our only option has been cable modem, through CableOne.net. I previously had DSL through USWest (before they merged with Qwest) when I lived in West Fargo, but DSL had been unavailable in our other homes until now.
 
I’ve been pretty happy with our cable modem service. The only complaint was the high price. Cable modem cost us $42-$43 a month (including tax) for a 3Mbps down, 300Kbps up connection. Therefore, I was intrigued when Qwest said they were offering a "3-5Mbps down, 800kbps up" connection for $27 a month (or a 1.5Mbps connection for $22 a month). Qwest was also offering a $50 Visa gift card (good anywhere that accepts Visa) when you signed up.
 
I did a little research and found that the prices quoted included a $5 discount if you had your local phone service with Qwest (we do), and your phone bill was $35 a month or more (ours is not). We don’t qualify for the $5 discount, so the price per month is actually $32/month plus tax. Still that’s $8/month cheaper than cable modem and the connection is supposedly faster.
 
The other wrinkle, tho, is that we’d need a DSL modem. I still have my old DSL modem from back in 1999. I little bit of poking around Qwest’s site led me to believe that the modem would still work, although I would later find out that the old modem was incompatible with Qwest’s service. New DSL modems run about $50-90. The $50 gift card would pretty much pay for the modem.
 
I really didn’t have to think about it too hard. On paper, DSL was definitly the better deal. We’d save about $100 a year by switching and we’d have a faster connection. I ordered the DSL service (at this point still thinking my old modem would work). The "startup kit" arrived last Thursday, and I spent much of the evening trying to get it hooked up, but I just couldn’t get it to work. I turned back to the web and did some more research. Even though Qwest supports my old modem for existing customers on older, slower lines, it turns out my old modem didn’t support the new signalling that Qwest was using for the newer, faster lines. So I needed a modem after all.
 
I ended up going to Best Buy and picking up a DSL modem there. It was $60+tax, which is the same price Qwest would have charged, and I had it on Friday (which beat having to wait until Tuesday to have Qwest deliver one). With the new modem, I was able to get things working pretty quickly. I did have a few problems getting everything working with my existing wireless router (which I’ll explain later), but getting the DSL line working was easy.
 
The first thing I did once I had the line working was to test the speed of the line. I tend to prefer the speed test at http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest. The line speed tested consistently between 4.1 and 5 Mbps down, and 600-800kbps up. Not bad at all.
 
Now, I mentioned that I had some trouble with my existing wireless router. By default, everything is set up so that the DSL modem doles out IP addresses to the internal network through DHCP. The wireless router is also set up to do the same. While this works fine, it’s really not necessary, and additionally can cause some problems if you want to open up an internal port to the outside world (for example if you want to run peer-to-peer software such as the excellent Azureus BitTorrent client). I spent a few hours dinking around with the DSL modem setup and the router setup until I had the configuration I really wanted. Ultimately, I ended up with a static route between the DSL modem and the wireless router (with a static IP assigned to the wireless router). The wireless router still doles out IPs through DHCP to the internal network (so, for example, when people come over to my house they can rather easily connect to my wireless network if I provide them with the key). The wireless router is also set up to allow UPnP configuration. This lets devices and software that need to open ports in the firewall do so. I think I may still need to manually forward the port in the DSL modem, tho, even though I have the wireless router in the DMZ. I’m not sure why this is necessary yet, but it’s very minor and I’m not worried about it.
 
After roughly two full days of using DSL instead of cable modem, I’m quite happy with the switch. In general, web browsing is a bit snappier. Downloads are quite a bit faster, and my upstream capacity has more than doubled.
 
The only problem remaining is to switch Gretchen’s email address. She’s been using a cableone.net address as her primary email address for quite some time, and is not looking forward to the switch. This time, I’ll make sure she gets set up with a permanent email address that will never change. Either hotmail, gmail, or perhaps the best option is an address on our own domain (boykofamily.net).
 
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