Miscellaneous

Connecting to the Internet

Japan is one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to getting an Internet connection at home. High-speed connections are easy to find, and costs are cheap.

Take my home town, for example: Menlo Park, California. Just a few miles from Silicon Valley, Menlo Park was one of the first locations where the Internet was born! Google was founded in that town. But today, if you want an Internet connection, it costs $20 a month for a 6 Mbps ADSL connection, and up to $65 a month for 26 Mbps Fiber-Optic. These prices are almost double what people in Japan pay, with less than a quarter of the speed.

Japan is able to have such good service for two reasons: first, the Japanese government had a strong Internet development plan about ten years ago, and second, Japan is a smaller country, making it cheaper to lay wires and make connections.

Before you get an Internet connection, you should know a little about what all the words mean. First, some key terms:

  • ISP: Internet Service Provider (also just called a "provider")
  • Broadband: A high-speed Internet connection. What speed is considered "high" differs from area to area.
  • Bits Per Second (bps): This is used to show the speed of the connection. Measured in Kilobits per second (Kbps), Megabits per second (Mbps), and Gigabits per second (Gbps). Remember, you usually use Bytes to measure capacity; 1 Byte = 8 bits, so 8 Mbps = 1 MB per second.

Now, for the connection types and speeds (residential, Japan):

Name Speeds Cables Notes
Dial-up 0.05 Mbps Telephone This is the slowest possible connection. It is used only in remote areas where no other connection is possible.
ISDN 0.13 Mbps Telephone This is better than dial-up, but only slightly. It is rarely used in most advanced countries today.
Cable TV up to 100 Mbps+ Co-ax (TV) Cable Uses open space on Cable TV connections. However, the speed is usually much slower than advertised during busy hours, as these networks share the connection between more users.
ADSL up to 50 Mbps Telephone Also known as "DSL." This is popular because only normal telephone lines are required. The greatest disadvantage is range: the speed falls quickly over a few kilometers from the telephone office.
Fiber-Optic (FO) up to 200 Mbps ~ 1 Gbps Fiber/Optic This is currently the fastest type. However, cables are very thick, and some homes are not able to receive them.
VDSL up to 100 Mbps+ Fiber Optic / Telephone ADSL can't work over long distances; fiber-optic cannot enter some people's homes. VDSL combines both to get around the problems. Fiber cable is laid to the neighborhood, then the connection changes to DSL on copper telephone wires, which can give high speeds over short distances.

In Japan, there are several companies that offer Internet services in most areas, so you have a wider choice. In some countries and some areas, there may be just one DSL provider and one Cable Internet provider, for example.

When you get a connection from the ISP, they will give you a modem-routerdifferent providers sometimes call this machine by different names. You connect the telephone or fiber cable from your wall socket to the modem-router. Then you use a LAN cable from the modem-router to your computer. If your computer is too far from the cable, you can plug the LAN cable into a WiFi station, and use that to reach your computer.

Wireless Internet

Another way to connect to the Internet is through wireless technologues. The two we will look at here are Wi-Fi and WiMAX.

WI-FI

Wi-Fi is a short-range wireless technology. It usually only works up to 30m, and has difficulty working through walls and floors. It is mostly used in home or office networks, where distances are short. For a larger building (like Lakeland College Japan, for example), several Wi-Fi transmitters would be required, perhaps one for each floor.

Most computers today have Wi-Fi built-in, especially portable computers. If you do not have Wi-Fi built in to your computer, you can buy a small USB "dongle" (similar to a USB flash drive in shape and size) to get Wi-Fi.

Many other devices also use Wi-Fi, including cell phones, tablets, printers, and even digital cameras.

Some terms:

  • Base station / access point: The device which sends and receives the connection. This device is connected to the LAN via an Ethernet cable.
  • Hotspot: A public WiFi connection.
  • IEEE 802.11: The official name for Wi-Fi from IEEE. There are 3 varieties: 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. The "n" type is fastest; "b" and "g" are related, but many computers can use any of the four types, and are sometimes called "a/b/g/n."
  • WEP, WPA, WPA2: These are security methods used to "lock" a WiFi network. If you do not use them, other people may "piggyback" or "leech" (steal) your signal and use your Internet connection for free. If they do something illegal, you might be held responsible! [Note: WEP is considered weak and should not be used.]
  • Wardriving: People who drive cars while using a computer, searching for unlocked WiFi signals from people's homes. They then piggyback on the network. These people often do it to save money, or to commit cyber crimes.

Wi-Fi is used to avoid the use of cables. Sometimes it is just to keep things clean; more often it is to allow users to move anywhere without being "tetheredtied" to a limited space by a cable. Other times, Wi-Fi is used if the distance is too far for a cable, or if there is no place to put a cable.

Wi-Fi is often available at coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants. Some cities create Wi-Fi zones on city streets and in parks. These Wi-Fi areas are known as "hotspots." A few cities have made Wi-Fi available everywhere in the town, but this has fallen from popularity. Since Wi-Fi signals are so limited in range, it is difficult to maintain a strong network.

WiMAX

WiMAX is also known in some areas a "4G," as it is used by some companies as the next step up from 3G. Its IEEE code is IEEE 802.16.

Wi-Fi is usually used as a home or local network, connected to your home Internet connection. When you sign up for service with an ISP, your connection is usually only good at home, and nowhere else.

WiMAX changes this: like 3G, it is available almost everywhere; but unlike 3G, the connection speed is similar to ADSL--very fast. If you have WiMAX, you can connect to the Internet anywhere you go. Connection speeds up to 40 Mbps are available.

Right now, most computers don't have WiMAX built-in, mostly because it is not available in most places yet. However, WiMAX is fully available in the Kanto region, and many other places in Japan, via the company UQ. However, since your computer probably does not have WiMax, you would have to use dongles in every computer that needs one, and the dongles can be a little expensive, as well as inconvenient to use.