So how fast is your internet connection anyway? Yeah, I know that many companies now (especially DSL - for more information see http://www.internet-tips.net/System/DSL.htm, and cable) are advertising speeds of upwards of a megabit or more. Well, what does that really mean? And how fast is 56K or 28.8 anyway?
I know this is hard to believe if you're relatively new to world of computers or internet, but back in 1978 modems were running at 110 or 300 bits per second (the technical term is baud). The table below is not precisely accurate but gives a rough idea of how speeds have been working their way upwards for past few years.
1978 100 to 300 baud 1988 1200 to 2400 baud 1993 14,400 baud 1995 28,800 baud 1997 33,000 baud 1998 56,000 baud 1999 1,500,000 baud DSL and cable mode connections
In comparison, local network connections run at 10,000,000 bits per second at least and it is becoming more common for these to be running at 100 million bits per second.
But what does all this mean? Well, a character is eight bits (a bit is a zero or a one, and it takes 8 of them to make a single character). The letter K means 1,024, so a 28K modem is 1,024 times 28 or 28,672 bits per second (also called bps).
Now divide 28,672 by 8 and you have maximum number of characters per second that your modem can run at. This works out to 3,584 characters per second, which in today's world is considered pretty slow (you will understand why shortly).
Interesting fact: Modem speeds are all standardized by International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ITU defines 28.8K bps modems as v.32 and 33.6K bps modems as v.34.
All right, now you are getting 3.5 thousand characters per second, if you have a 28K modem, right? Well, not exactly. First off, quality of your phone line may drop that down significantly. What happens is your computer sends some data to "internet"; it is received but there was an error, so internet computer requests that data be resent. The worse quality (you can hear how bad it is by amount of static you can hear when you listen on line) more times data has to be resent, slower line.