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Getting online and searching the web

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This article gives a basic introduction to accessing the internet and searching it safely and effectively.

There are two popular methods of getting on line: broadband (delivered either by the phone system or over cable TV connections) and mobile (over the 3G or 4G mobile phone network).

Broadband is delivered by an internet service provider (ISP), while a mobile phone company supplies the online data network alongside the facility for voice calls. Broadband is delivered through a box known as a modem. The mobile network is reached either through a phone or by one of several types of dedicated device. Your computer is connected to the modem either with a cable or wirelessly, using wifi.

Connection speed

Some people get very good broadband speeds (sometimes called bandwidth) while others have to make do with much slower connections. You can check the speed you’re getting by searching online for Internet speed test and visiting one of the sites to perform a test on your connection.

  • If you’re getting more than 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed you shouldn’t have many problems using current OU systems, providing you don’t have to share that bandwidth with too many other users at home.
  • If you’re getting less than 2 Mbps it’s worth talking to neighbours to check whether your experience is typical. If it isn’t it might indicate a fault in the telephone wiring in your house.

A slow connection means you have to wait longer for photos and videos to download, and you may have problems with online rooms. But email, forums and simple web browsing, that together make up the majority of online tasks carried out by students, continue to work even with a very slow connection

Microfilters and connection speed

A microfilter is a small white plastic box that’s inserted inline between a phone socket and a phone, supplied with your modem or by your ISP.

You should check whether you need microfilters in your telephone sockets, as explained in this BT help article. If you do need them, all telephone sockets should have one fitted, not just the one you plug your broadband in to. If all the microfilters are present and you're still getting slow speeds, contact your ISP's helpdesk. If you're just in a slow area there's little you can do about it short of moving house.

Mobile connections

For a few people, a mobile connection might outperform a poor broadband connection, but usually locations that get poor broadband also get poor mobile connections. In areas of good 4G mobile phone reception download speeds can reach 20Mbps, but the average is a lot less. Setting up a computer to use a mobile phone’s connection (known as tethering) may be more difficult and less reliable than plugging it into a broadband modem.

Less fiddly are dongles, small devices that plug in to your computer and act as modems on the mobile phone networks. Whichever method you use to connect to the mobile network there are serious cost considerations: if you exceed the data download allowance in your monthly plan you can be liable for steep excess charges.

Dial-up connections

If you're unlucky and can't get connected either by broadband or mobile there are still a few companies offering the old dial-up technology. ISPreview lists them. You'll need to research the pricing structure and your likely usage as some of them use premium rate phone lines to offer their 'free' services and could work out to be very expensive.

For information on how to keep your computer secure, visit our Safe and secure computing article.

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