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  2. Computing skills
  3. Computing online
  4. Broadband or dial-up?

Broadband or dial-up?

This page talks about the speed of your connection to the internet. Broadband is more common, and more popular because it results in a much faster connection than dial-up. Check that broadband is available in your area by using 'broadbandchecker'.

Benefits of broadband access

  • A broadband connection gives you an automatic high-speed connection to the internet whenever you need it.
  • Broadband lets you make telephone calls and stay connected to the internet at the same time.

Setup options:

  • You can obtain broadband at home either by fitting an extra box with a broadband modem to the telephone line in your house or by using your cable television connection.
  • Alternatively, you might choose to buy a mobile internet USB stick if you want to use your laptop online while you are away from home.

ISP contracts:

  • Broadband is nearly always paid via a monthly contract rather than on a pay-as-you-go basis. The adverts you see for 'free' or 'pay-as- you-go' broadband are usually tied in to other contracts, such as mobile phone or satellite TV.
  • If you choose to have your telephone line adapted, typically your ISP will expect you to sign a contract for a year in return for the modification and supplying a free router.


  • A router allows you to connect several computers to the internet at once, and makes a mini-network at home.


  • Increasingly, ISPs also provide a wireless link, so if your computer is wireless enabled (and most modern laptops are) you do not even need cables to connect to the internet.

Although many people now have broadband, it is not essential for OU study.

Dial-up access

Dial-up access uses your original telephone system without any adaptation and is cheaper than broadband but much slower.


  • On average a dial-up connection takes about four minutes per megabyte when downloading over a 56 kbps connection. A relatively slow broadband speed is around 2-3 megabytes per second
  • While you are online you will not be able to use your telephone for calls because the line is being used by the computer connection. Every time you want to go online you use your computer to contact your ISP, which is rather like the computer making a phone call.
  • Some module websites have animations or interactive elements that may be slow to launch.
  • Some module websites provide documents online, and if they are more than a few megabytes in size they may take half an hour or more to download.


  • You can pay by monthly contract, where you pay a monthly fee and the ISP gives you a 0800 (i.e. free call) number to use for connections, or
  • pay-as-you-go contract, where you only pay for the calls you use – this is suitable for infrequent access to the internet. You can change to a monthly contract later if necessary.


  1. You need a modem (which is usually built into computers, but check that any machine you buy has one)
  2. A cable to connect your computer to the telephone line in your house and an ISP.