Warp speed ahead!

Until recently, computer users had only one way to get online - sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and dial in via a standard analog modem using Internet software. You would tie up your phone line, but you would be having lots of fun surfing the Web, reading and writing e-mail, and downloading files.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD

Until recently, computer users had only one way to get online - sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and dial in via a standard analog modem using Internet software. You would tie up your phone line, but you would be having lots of fun surfing the Web, reading and writing e-mail, and downloading files.

Then you heard about direct Internet connections. These connections were really fast! Downloads came across in seconds. You would no longer need to have a second telephone line. Finally, you get to try out this high-speed stuff. All of a sudden, your home and office connections seemed torturously slow.

What is broadband Internet access? This refers to the blazing speed when connected to your ISP via a DSL connection, cable access, ISDN line, T1 line, or T3 line. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the number of high-speed lines that connect homes and businesses to the Internet reached 4.3 million in the first half of 200. This number ac counts for only 3 percent of the nation's total homes and businesses. It is estimated to increase to 6 million by 2001 and to 28 million by 2004!

The two most popular forms of high-speed Internet access are DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable modem. DSL is a service that transmits Internet data at high speeds over standard, copper telephone lines that are found in almost every home and business in the United States. Many types of DSL connections are available, depending on the connection speed and the price you are willing to pay to get access. Because the wire used is often old and small, this data will not travel further than 15,000 to 18,000 feet from the central office or switching station of your phone provider.

While DSL uses your phone lines, cable modems connect you to the Internet via the same coaxial cable that brings you all of those fun cable stations and movies. All you need to add to your computer is a 10/100 base-t Ethernet card and a cable modem. The speed ranges from 512 Kbps to over 4 Mbps.

To illustrate the speed of these broadband Internet connections, imagine that you want to download a 10-megabyte file. On your old 14.4 Kbps analog modem, this would take one- and-a-half hours. The newer 56 Kbps modems would do even better by taking 24 minutes. A 1.5 Mbps DSL line would take about 50 seconds to download this same file, while a 4 Mbps cable modem would take only 20 seconds! The difference in speed is incredible.

Broadband access is fast becoming a necessity as dentists find more ways to use the Internet. Practice-management systems are looking at ASP models, where you send and store your practice information via the Internet to a central location. Companies are sending out program updates via the Internet. These updates can be large files and would take too much time to download over an old analog modem.

Digital radiography and digital photography are becoming commonplace in the dental office. You need fast access to send and receive these larger files. Dental e-commerce would be much easier and quicker if done over a fast connection. Downloading and searching through large catalogs can be a tedious challenge, unless your connection speed is up to the task. Sending out batched statements and electronic insurance claims would work quicker and smoother if you were connected via one of these faster systems. Finally, watching lecturers provide continuing education through streaming video on your computer screen would be a much easier and more pleasant task if it were coming across your computer at these faster speeds.

Cable and DSL access may fall by the wayside in the future as fiber-optic networks proliferate. None theless, high-speed connections are here to stay. Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride!

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He also is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry Magazine and spokesperson and critical-issue-response-team chairperson for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. His address on the Internet is www.dfdasmiles.com. Contact him by e-mail at jeff@dfdasmiles.com, by phone at (314) 567-5612, or by fax at (314) 567-9047.

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