Jargon That Computes: Today's PC Terminology

By Crawford, Walt | Online, March-April 1997 | Go to article overview

Jargon That Computes: Today's PC Terminology


Crawford, Walt, Online


Talking the talk, knowing the lingo, slinging that jive. Call it what you will, special terminology permeates personal computing, as it does most other fields. Computing dictionaries, always a little behind the times, define the terms. But sometimes it's more important to put the terms into context. Let's look at a few areas where PC terminology may be important to you now and over the next few months.

FUTURE "MODEMS"

Most ONLINE readers probably depend on telecommunications more than I do. and most of your probably use V.34 (28.8 Kbps) or at least V.32bis (14.4Kbps) modems. You all know "modem" stands for modulator-demodulator, a device that modulates digital bistreams into an analog phone signal and vice versa.

If you use the World Wide Web, particularly its burgeoning multimedia and Java aspects, you may, feel that V.34 just isn't fast enough. While some new modems call go a bit beyond V.34 speeds, 35Kbps is the upper limit for even the best telephone lines. Here's a quick look at some of the "modem"-related names you'll see discussed over the next year or two.

ISDN: Beyond V.34

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) has been around for years, more in theory than in practice. ISDN uses conditioned telephone lines to carry digital communications. The most common ISDN service for your home or office will be a Basic Rate Interface (BRI), which provides two bearer (B) channels of 64Kbps each and one 9.6Kbps delta (D) channel. The two B channels can be combined into a single 128Kbps connection, roughly 4.4 times the speed of V.34. A much higher-end ISDN service, Primary Rate Interface (PRI), uses 23 or 30 64Kbps channels for total throughput of up to 2Mbps. There's a chance that your Internet service provides uses PRI, but your probably won't.

Until recently, most telephone companies have neither cared much about ISDN nor been willing to offer it to most customers. Pacific Bell and some other companies are now much more responsive. ISDN isn't dirt-cheap; figure $300 to $500 installation fees in some cases, $24 or more per month, and one or two cents a minute for local use. But it is now generally available, it works, and it can improve your communications -- if, of course, the party on the other end supports speeds that high.

You'll see devices such as the Motorola BitSurfr Pro and U.S. Robotics Sportster ISDN 128K (both Editors' Choice winners) called "ISDN modems." They're not: the term itself is an oxymoron. Instead, they are ISDN adapters, needed to connect your PC to the ISDN line itself. Unfortunately, they cost around $500. Note that, at least for PCs (as opposed to Macs), you won't get a full 128Kbps if you buy an external ISDN adapter. A PC's serial port can only pass 115.2Kbps (although that will change in a year or so) and the adapter can't handle more data than the port. Buy an internal adapter for full speed.

ADSL, If and When

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) will offer much higher download speeds than ISDN, anywhere from 1.6Mbps to 6Mbps, but you may not be able to get an ADSL installation. The name implies one, aspect of ADSL: it's asymmetric, with only 64Kbps upload speed. That's fine for searching but it won't offer two-way high-quality, video.

It's likely that ADSL will cost at least as much as ISDN and be priced similarly, with installation, monthly, and time charges. But ADSL will be slow in coming, probably not widely available for years. You must be within 2.3 miles of a central telephone office to use ADSL, and the Internet provider must use that office as a site.

ADSL uses copper wires, as does ISDN. A few pilot tests are going on, but companies now wonder whether ADSL can compete with cable modems. A bunch of other terms and equipment come with ADSL, but since the whole technology isn't widely available yet, you can ignore them for now.

Cable Modems

Over-eager futurists tell us that everything else is already obsolete, as cable modems will rule the world within a few months. …

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