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Issue #233: January 8, 2012

Q: I’m told you are the guy with all the computer answers, I hope so. When it comes to computers I know enough to get myself in trouble. But there has been one particular facet that has captured my attention. Currently I’m paying $29.99 for internet and $20.00 a year for my phone. I’m a senior trying to get by on my SS and always looking for ways to beat the advertised system, which brings us to my question.

I currently watch my TV via my computer for a Cox internet introductory price of $29.99 which will expire in a couple of months and the price will go up. My phone is Majic Jack and after using it a year via my computer I really like it and all the add-ons they give you. My question is: Can I go wireless for $30.00 a month and still be able to get a fast enough speed for “HULU & “CRACKLE” (my free movies) on the computer and still be able to keep my Magic Jack unaffected?

Bill I.
Navarre, Florida

A: There are an increasing number of sites on the Internet that provide the equivalent of traditional services – voice communication and video entertainment, so more and more people are beginning to think like you, Bill, and are doing away with their home telephone and cable TV service in favor of an Internet-only solution. Going this route requires a good quality, and high-speed connection to the Internet, because these type of service are very bandwidth-hungry – particularly if you have more than one person in the house using it simultaneously.

You didn’t say what your data rate is from Cox, but I’m guessing you’re probably in the tier between 3 and 15 megabits per second (Mbps). You probably receive these data on a combination of fiber optic and shielded copper cables that are largely immune to outside interference. If you ask anyone with an iPad or smartphone what kind of data throughput they get on their 3G or 4G plan, you’ll probably find the answer varies between a few hundred kilobits per second (Kbps) and 1 or 2 Mbps. Not only that, but due to signal dropout, reflection, and limited bandwidth on these types of networks, the data rates often are not consistent, and are usually far below the advertised maximum speed.

So, the short and simple answer to your question is “no,” Bill. I’m not aware of any company currently offering residential wireless Internet service that provides a level of service that even approaches what would be needed for streaming TV and movies and doing VOIP (voice over IP – the fancy word for Internet telephone). But, perhaps a better, more realistic answer would be “not yet.” There are new technologies on the horizon that will be bringing wireless service to new levels of speed. For example, some of the frequencies that were freed-up when we all converted from standard analog TV to digital TV a couple years ago are likely to be re-designated for use as wireless high-speed Internet. Who knows what the future might bring? When I was in Korea 12 years ago, my wife was back here in the States, and we were early adopters of video teleconferencing, to stay in touch while I was away. The video was jerky, you could hardly hear because of all the audio drop-outs, and we were limited to a tiny little video frame on a clunky CRT monitor. Fast-forward to last week. I used my iPhone 4S to have a very stable, easy to hear, full screen video chat with our son, who is now stationed in Korea, while I was standing in my front yard watching my light show. Who would have imagined that would be possible? So my advice is to stick with your wired Internet for now, but watch for technology to catch up with your desire sooner or later.

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