What is Dial-Up Internet?

DecisionData Team
August 26, 2020

If you used the internet in the 1990s, you might remember the sound of your dial-up internet service connecting. At the time, the 56 Kbps speed was cutting-edge technology, even if it tied up the home phone line in the process. Nowadays, as we enjoy internet speeds topping 1,000 Mbps via a wireless connection, it’s hard to imagine ever going back to dial-up internet.

Believe it or not, 3% of Americans still used dial-up as recently as a few years ago. In fact, dial-up internet is still available from a handful of providers and might even be the ideal internet service for some users. If you’re considering a dial-up connection for your home internet, here are a few factors to consider.

What is Dial-Up Internet?

Today’s high-speed internet plans mostly use dedicated cable or fiber-optic lines to transmit data. But dial-up internet uses the existing phone line to connect you to the internet. Once your computer is hooked up to your home phone lines, it dials the internet service provider’s dial-up number.

This typically requires the installation of software specific to the internet service provider, traditionally acquired by CD, but these days often available via a web download.

When the computer is successfully connected, it keeps the connection open to allow you to send and receive data until you terminate the connection. For this reason, dial-up internet providers typically bill by time spent online. This is in contrast to measuring internet usage by volume of data, which is the standard among today’s high-speed internet service providers.

How Does Dial-Up Internet Work?

Since dial-up internet is accessed via phone lines, it’s limited to transmitting data that a phone can process: through sound. Dial-up internet uses frequencies between 300 and 3,000 hertz to translate the 0s and 1s that make up digital data. This is why internet dial-up speeds are limited to what we now consider an extremely low rate of just 56 Kbps.

Which Providers Offer Dial-Up Internet?

ProviderSpeedAvailabilityStarting price
AOL56 KbpsX$20/mo.
DSL Extreme56 Kbps21 states$9.95/mo.
Juno56 Kbps6,500 cities in U.S. & Canada$15.95/mo.

AOL

Yes, the original dial-up internet provider is still offering its classic services. These days, AOL dial-up internet service is available through AOL Plans, which also provides identity and data protection. To get AOL dial-up, you’ll have to call in and specifically request the service as the plan details aren’t advertised online.

DSL Extreme

With its X-Dial Accelerated Dial Up service, DSL Extreme offers dial-up internet up to five times faster than some competitors. The service includes unlimited data at 56 Kbps speeds. It includes a free 30-day trial and no setup or service fees. You’ll also get an email account with up to 70 GB of storage.

Juno

Juno has provided dial-up internet to customers since 1995. The standard plan comes with unlimited access and an email account with 2GB of storage. There’s also a free plan that allows you to browse the internet for up to ten hours per month with no charge. One drawback to the plans: after your first call to tech support during the initial 30-day trial period, any service calls made to Juno are billed to your account at a rate of $25 each.

Dial-up Internet Speed

Dial-up internet is limited to download speeds of 56 Kbps due to the technical limitations of phone lines. Unfortunately, this speed isn’t good for much outside of light internet browsing and checking emails. This is because today’s websites are built for much faster speeds and have mostly left dial-up users in the dust.

In fact, in 2015, a man used a 56 Kbps modem for one week and recorded his experience. He found that even accessing social media platforms like Facebook was impossible at this speed. 

After spending 20 minutes attempting to play a YouTube video, he reported that the webpage stopped trying to load entirely. Needless to say, dial-up internet speed can only handle the most bare-bones online activity in today’s digital age.

Dial-up Internet Price

One advantage of a dial-up internet plan is its incredibly low price. A comparison table from dial-up provider Juno lists prices up to $25.90/mo., and we’ve found providers willing to offer dial-up internet service for as little as $9.95/mo. Many providers are willing to give you your first month free of charge, and Juno will even let you browse for 10 hours each month without paying anything at all.

Who is Dial-Up Internet Good For?

Dial-up internet is for users who never stream video or play games online, and who do very little to no photo sharing via social media sites and email. However, some internet users find dial-up service comforting as they’re more familiar with the service and have had practice using it for decades. Dial-up internet is great for those who are overwhelmed by the complexity of modern high-speed internet plans and just want a simple way to check their emails once a day.

To Sum It Up

If you’re looking at dial-up internet as an option, know that this type of internet service will strictly limit your options online to simple websites and text-based emails. While dial-up internet is very cheap at around $10 to $20/mo., many high-speed internet providers offer basic plans starting at $30/mo. for 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps, many times the download speeds of dial-up internet service. Still, thousands of Americans are still clinging onto dial-up, even as the rest of the country begins to embrace the next wave in internet technology: fiber-optic service.

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