by Joyce Kohl

Cable modems have speeds of 100 to 1,000 times faster than telephone modems! My cable modem uses a 3Com 10Mbps PCI Ethernet XL network interface card which allows for much faster data transmission than standard COM ports. Cable modem speeds can vary in their transfer capabilities. My LANcity cable modem can transmit data at speeds up to 10 Mbps. Put another way, I can transfer a 10-Megabyte file in 8 seconds. A 56-Kbps telephone modem would require 24 minutes; 128=Kbps ISDN requires 10 minutes; a 1.54-Mbps T-1 would take 52 seconds. Websites download in a matter of seconds; full screen images download as fast as any background; inline graphics “zoom load.”

That’s right! Cable modem users get smoking speeds which are so fast that many times I’ve checked my download directory to make sure the file was really there. I no longer dread graphic intensive websites. Audio streams, animations are downloaded quickly, there’s full-motion video streaming, and the list goes on. And when I click on my browser’s icon, I’m instantly on the Internet. No busy signals. No waiting for the dial tone. But then of course since I’m no longer on a telephone line, I no longer have to use a dial-up connection.

What IS a Cable Modem?
The word “modem” is an abbreviation or acronym for modulator and demodulator and that’s the only similarity between a cable modem and an ordinary telephone modem. Like telephone modems, cable modems also modulate and demodulate data, converting it back and forth from analog and digital and translate my computer’s digital data into analog RF signals so it can be sent over a cable network.

My cable modem does not use a telephone line, so of course it is not a dial-up access. I’m connected directly to the Internet 24 hours a day – even when my computer is shut down.

I can choose to keep my browser active at all times; have my email client check my mailboxes on a regular basis; and at the same time do whatever computer work or playing I wish to do.

LANcity
My cable modem brand is LANcity. I keep it positioned vertically on my desk between my tower and monitor; it could lay horizontal. Measurements this way are 6 3/4″ high and 10 1/4″ long and it’s 2 1/2″ wide. It weighs is six pounds and is dark gray.

The end facing me has two green lights at the top which are always on even when the computer is shut down. The two lights below it flash constantly, but the only ones I really see are the top two. The other day, one started blinking and that meant trouble. A quick call to Cox Communications and three hours later, they had it fixed – all done outside at their main cable box on the corner of our street. Note the two constant green lights in this picture of my LANcity modem in the vertical position:

This is the ONLY way to fly . . . er-r-r . . . surf the internet or download. But don’t get the wrong idea that you’ll get top speeds all the time. You can download only as fast as the server’s speed. Considering the fact that most servers on the Internet are also fast, my average downloads are super fast.

First, I’m not “into” hardware of any type. An electric can opener is the height of my “hardware” expertise. When I first heard the words “cable modems” they didn’t stick between my ears. When my husband read in the paper that they were available in our area and asked me if I wanted one, I said to him: “Why would I want a modem on the TV?”

FAQ
I’m not going to be giving you many hardware specifics. I’d rather talk about my amazement when I realized that Cox network can transmit data at speeds up to hundreds of times faster than my old analog telephone modem. No telephone line has to be tied up while someone is online nor do we have to have a separate data line.

The @Home Network or Cox Communications is a cable-specific Internet service provider. Use any TCP/IP client application you want to use. Use any browser, email program, newsgroup reader, or anything you used before. You don’t need any special applications. The Cox technician who installs your software will install their enhanced version of Netscape, but you can install the browser of your choice later.

Cost
My service is $44.95 per month because we have Cox Cable TV. This is their standard home service. Without the TV service, it would be $54.95 per month. Our cost includes rental for the cable modem which will be applied to the full purchase price if/when it’s available for sale. They are not being massed produced yet, or if they are, Cox has not informed us of it and we’re on their list for purchasing one. Commerical users pay around $70 a month.

If $44.95 sounds high to you, put it into the proper perspective. If you’re reading this review, you have some type of ISP (Internet Service Provider) which is costing you at least $19.95 per month for “unlimited” service. America Online is what now? $23.95 a month for “unlimited” service? Just try staying connected for any length of time and see how quickly they break the connection. I have never experienced having Cox Communications break my connection to the Internet.

My previous ISP cost me $25 a month. I needed to – well, I wanted to – download a lot of shareware and freeware files for my bulletin board service (a.k.a. “BBS”) and beta builds for the software I was testing. My telephone modem was a 56-Kbps, and a new beta build could take hours to download and required watching because I knew the connection would be cut at some point and I’d have to restart the download. My cable modem downloaded 150-Megabytes in 15-18 minutes.

The added $$$ for reliable, super-fast connections (and STAYING connected) is worth every cent. And it’s a cheap price to pay for a hobby. My cable modem has also enhanced my enjoyment of the Internet. And, it doesn’t limit me to proprietary applications or utilities. There’s simply nothing like instant access to the Internet. When I launch America Online, I’m instantly online. And considering the size of upgrades and programs these days with sizes of over ten megabytes, cable modems are becoming a necessity.

Other Advantages
When there’s new art or whatever being download from AOL, it’s done in the blink of an eye. And you should see the live TV on your PC! It’s not the highest quality yet. It’s still in the infant stage. The point is that the fast throughput allows you to see the movement and hear the voices, music, and other sounds.

Though downloading is so fast you swear there’s going to be smoke curling up from your computer case or the cable modem (or both) is not the only advantage of having cable modem. Cox@Home also makes it easy for beginners to get on the Internet with the least amount of intimidation. The browser they install, a specially coded Netscape, includes everything a new user needs.

I still use two other regular browsers, Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. When I want to access Cox@Home’s intuitive screen I simply use http://www/ – with the final forward slash.

One of the major advantages for me is researching a topic either with a popular search engine or a software. Both are lightning fast. Students could do their research in the comfort of their home.

Finding the latest drivers for hardware or finding the schematics for installing many pieces of computer equipment is a big plus for my husband. Finding the latest software patches and updates is the big plus for me.

You’ll have a Web space of 5-Megabytes with Cox@Home service per account and three email addresses per household.

Setup
Getting started was easy. My Windows 95 operating system was compatible (I’m now using Windows 98) and I was told to run a virus checker on it prior to the arrival of the installation crews. One crew installed the cable television service and another the cable into my computer room while a technician installed Ethernet network interface card and then installed the software, configured it, gave me a quick tour, and then left. About two hours in all, and we had cable TV and wonder of wonders, cable modem service.

Cox supports Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and Mac OS. They may say Windows 98 isn’t supported or the technician may think there’s a problem. There isn’t. I upgraded to Windows 98 without needing to change a single setting.

I already had a Pentium 200 computer and 64MB RAM. The Website of Cox Communications lists the hardware requirements of 16 MB RAM, 50-100 MB free disk space, and a 486/66 Intel system. The service is not yet available in all areas, but Cox will let you know immediately if you’re in an area to receive their services. Cox does does not support networked computers or servers in a household.

Conclusion
As the Internet evolves, so do the connections to its massive networks change and streaking through the Internet like a comet in space, cable modems do much more than modulate and demodulate signals. This year the most attractive service for cable modems is high speed Internet access. Who knows what the future will bring?

One wave of popularity is the high speed delivery of Websites which in turn allows Webmasters to create more visually attractive pages. Other services are, or will one day, be available. There are several companies making cable modems. The one by LANcity is what I have, and the one reviewed here.

I don’t understand fiber optics, copper wiring, coaxial cables and the like. I do understand and appreciate the convenience of my cable modem Internet access.