A Home Buyer's Guide to Internet Options

What you need to know before (or after) your home purchase

 Insert generic techy-looking picture here.

Insert generic techy-looking picture here.

The internet is awesome. Except when it's time to get a new internet connection (or your existing connection is down). Chances are, if you are moving or thinking about moving to a new place, it's been awhile since you've had to shop for a provider and a plan.

This blog will cover the main providers and options available to Portland area residents, maximum high speeds, pros and cons of each option, what to consider to best meet the needs of your family, and a quick glossary of terms.

My name is Brandi Whitaker and I'm a Realtor specializing in the purchase and sale of residential real estate in the Portland metro area. Learn more about me and contact me if you need a cool Realtor that understands the importance of technology.

Alright, let's drop some knowledge!

(Anything with an * will be included in the glossary of terms at the end of this blog. All of the following information will be for residential plans only. If you would like information about business plans available in your area, contact the ISP* directly. Specific information about carriers is for the Portland, Oregon metro area.)

Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

The two main carriers for internet are cable and telecomm. For the Portland metro area, the cable ISP* is always going to be Xfinity Comcast. Telecomm will either be through Century Link (Portland city limits and other areas) or Frontier (metro areas, mainly west of Portland). 

Cable

If you can get cable tv then you can get cable internet. Cable internet can have download speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 200 Mbps* depending on which plan you purchase. Pay attention to pricing on these plans. Often, it may be 2x the cost to get 20x the speed, which is worth it if you can afford it.

Pros of Cable
It's widely available at almost every household. It can usually be added to a bundle with tv to reduce the cost. It's fairly simple to setup and most houses are already wired for cable so you can hookup the internet modem* box to any cable outlet in the house. Since the cable modem is usually your source for wifi*, this can be important!

Cons of Cable
200 Mbps is the fastest download speed (compared to 1 Gbps*+ for fiber). If a lot of your neighbors are on cable then in certain locations it can slow down your speed. There's no definite way to determine if this will happen to you on a home you're considering purchasing (talking to the neighbors may or may not be helpful). 

Telecomm DSL

DSL* internet is an older technology that runs over traditional telephone lines. Max speeds usually top out around 40 Mbps. However, if the phone lines are older you may only get speeds of 20 or even 10 Mbps. Plans vary depending on the quality of the phone lines so 40 Mbps speeds may not be available for a particular home. 

Pros of DSL
It's cheap and it's ubiquitous. Pretty much everyone has a phone line to their house. Phone jacks are usually placed in multiple locations throughout a home and you can place a modem at any phone jack (you can run wifi from this modem, too). To reduce cost, DSL can usually be bundled with phone and sometimes tv.

 This is a visual representation of the antiquity of DSL

This is a visual representation of the antiquity of DSL

Cons of DSL
DSL is a legacy technology that will never get any faster. Speeds can be inconsistent due to line noise (electrical interference on the phone line that can be caused by anything from magnets to solar flares). Filters have to be put into place to improve service. Max speeds are very low.

Telecomm Fiber

Fiber is internet sent using light instead of electrical pulses. Light travels longer distances at faster speeds. This technology is evolving quickly. A 1 Gbps* connection may be 5 Gbps using the same line in the not-so-distant future.

Both Century Link and Frontier offer fiber options. Frontier speeds range from 50-300 Mbps depending on the package you purchase. Century Link goes up to 1 Gbps and sometimes faster. 

Pros of Fiber
It does not suffer from interference (because it's light instead of electric). Very high speeds are already available. The only thing limiting speeds from exceeding current ranges is the end point technology. The speed capability of the fiber line itself is near limitless. There are transceivers at the ends of the line that translate the light pulse into usable data for your computer, tv, or phone. These transceivers are becoming more sophisticated and faster. Look for speeds to continue rapidly increasing!

Cons of Fiber
It's more expensive than the other options, but it's quickly becoming more affordable. It's available in limited areas because the providers have to run the fiber over poles and to your house. It will most likely be overground (unlike DSL and cable which are often buried). It can take longer for the provider to fix problems, especially if it's an issue with the line.

Unlike DSL and cable, the modem is going to be in a fixed location based on where the fiber is terminated at your house and it can't be moved. Where the fiber is terminated at your house is critical if you plan to use the modem for wifi. You may need to have the ISP or a low voltage electrical contractor run wire (cat5e or cat6*) in your home in order to place the fiber modem in a more convenient location so that it can be used for wifi. Having someone rune this extra wire will incur an additional cost. Otherwise, you will need to use a separate system for wifi if the fiber is too far at the edge of your home.

FAQ

 A family of 4 that all wants to hop onboard at the same time requires bobsled-level internet speeds.

A family of 4 that all wants to hop onboard at the same time requires bobsled-level internet speeds.

What kind of speed does my family need?
Multiple devices streaming at the same time effects bandwidth* (much more than gaming, web surfing, texting, etc.). If you are using your internet connection for TV and you have a 4K* television, then you can easily suck down a 50 Mbps connection with 2 televisions. 

Consider your family size, how many devices will be used at once, and how often they use streaming services. A family of 4 with one HDTV (non-4K) would probably be fine with a 50 Mbps connection. 

As a general rule for families: 100 Mbps would be ample to provide a 4K TV experience and allow others in the family to stream whatever they want to other devices.

If you still have your local newspaper delivered to your door or mailbox, you might be okay with 10 Mbps.

Also consider price per Mbps when choosing a connection. For example, a 50 Mbps connection may only be $10/month cheaper than a 100 Mbps connection. 

Bonus info:
Netflix/YouTube/HBOGo 1080p* requires 5Mbps to stream. A 4K stream requires 25 Mbps.

Are cable, DSL, and fiber the only options available?
I'm so (not) glad you asked that! There are other ways... but they aren't awesome. You can go through your satellite provider for internet. Not only are satellite speeds slow (rarely over 20 Mbps) but delay* is HORRIBLE. Because of the long delay, streaming can be very choppy. If you're in a rural area and this is the only option, then that would be the only time I would recommend it.

One other option is wireless internet through a cellular service (like when you use your cell phone to watch a video when wifi isn't available). Verizon MiFi allows you to connect up to 5 devices through a cellular service. This requires STRONG cell service to get decent download speeds and would be too glitchy for serious streaming (this would never work at my house in SW Portland). However, it is portable, so you can take it with you wherever you go. There's a limit to the amount of data you can download in a month so if you start streaming movies you can easily exceed your download limit (just like your cell phone). Not recommended.

What about internet home security?
That's another blog! Stay tuned.

What should a Realtor be able to tell me about internet?
The listing agent should know the different utilities available for the home they are selling, such as telephone, water, gas, electric, and ISPs. If you have an idea of what ISPs service your area, you can always go online or call them to find out what speeds and service types are available (or your Buyer's Agent can help you research this!).

Glossary of Terms

bit
Is a 1 or a 0 (remember Tron?) expressed by a light pulse or change in voltage. A bit is written as a small b
Byte
8 bits. Written as a big B
Megabit
1 million bits. Written as Mb
Megabyte
1 million Bytes (8 million bits). Written as MB
Mbps
Megabit per second
Gbps
Gigabit per second - equivalent to 1000 Mbps
Bandwidth
The amount of data that can be passed in a specific period of time. Usually expressed in bits per second (bps). The higher the bandwidth, the more bits can be passed per second. 
Delay
How long it takes for data to get from one end point to another. While you may have a high bandwidth, if you have high delay, it will take a long time for a set of data to get to the end point.
Modem
A device that converts data from the ISP (internet service provider) to data for your home
ISP 
Any Internet Service Provider such as Comcast xfinity, CenturyLink, Frontier, etc.
DSL
Stands for Digital Subscriber Line. A range of high-speed communication services over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)
cat5e/cat6  
Short for category 5e and category 6 cable. This is standard cabling used for networking inside a home or business.
wifi  
Allows the sending of data wirelessly through a 2.4Ghz or 5 Ghz radio frequency. Higher speed wifi internet connections are going to require 5 Ghz. 2.4Ghz signals travel further distances but at lower speeds (like FM vs AM radio).
1080p vs 4K
Short answer - 1080p allows for 1920 x 1080 pixels in a frame. 4K allows for 3840 x 2160 pixels in a frame. More pixels creates more contrast and more detail.