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 3 Mbps connection (slower than a 3G phone connection!), and up to $200 (¥16,000) a month for 105 Mbps service. That's about three times what people in Japan pay for a connection five times faster than that!

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. "Dial-up" means that your computer actually uses a normal telephone line to dial a phone number with an Internet connection. If someone picks up the telephone or calls you on that line, your connection would be broken.
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, some homes are not able to receive it; your ISP will visit your home to let you know if you can get this service.
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.

Getting Faster

When the Internet became available using ISPs in the 1990's, people had modems that got only about 14.4 Kbps. At that speed, it would take almost 10 minutes to download a 1 MB file.

By the end of the 20th century, dial-up modem speed had hit a top limit of 56.6 Kbps, which would still take 2.5 minutes to download a single MB. For an extra price, you could get what was called an "ISDN" connection, which doubled that speed.

Around the year 2000, a new standard called DSL became available. DSL offered speeds over 1 megabit (1 Mbps), a speed which would allow you to download 1 MB in just 8 seconds, if you got top speed. In addition, because DSL used different frequencies of the telephone line, normal phone service could be enjoyed at the same time. You could use the Internet and make phone calls simultaneously. However, DSL was limited by distance: if your house is more than half a kilometer from the telephone company's switching station, your connection speed would fall quickly. If you lived more than 2km from the station, DSL would become so slow that it would be useless.

Later, fiber-optic (F/O) started to be offered in some places, usually in larger cities. Fiber allows for much faster speeds, with no limit to the distance. If fiber-optic cables could not work with a building's structure or wiring, a combination of aDSL and F/O was used, often referred to as vDSL. Fiber connections now offer speeds from 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps or higher.

Getting Connected

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-router. 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

There are a large variety of wireless technologies that are in use, from short-range to long-range, utilized for many different purposes. Let's take a look at some of them which you are more likely to encounter.


NFC card; image by Karl Baron, https://flic.kr/p/5TDQwh

NFC, or Near-Field Communication, is a wireless tech which acts only over very short distances—specifically, no more than 4cm. It is

You are already familiar with this; if you have a train pass or a card you use to tap-and-pay at shops, that's NFC. Phones are equipped with this as well, allowing you to use that device for the same purpose sometimes.

You may have had the experience where you recharge the card, and you don't put it into a slot—instead, you simply place it in a small platform. That's close enough for the machine to read and write data.

NFC is also used to open doors, either in secure areas, or even just hotel rooms, which now commonly use NFC cards rather than keys. You will see NFC cards used for many purposes.

Speed: 424 Kbps

Range: 4 cm


a Bluetooth dongle; image by Micah Elizabeth Scott, https://flic.kr/p/7VyyMx

Bluetooth is a close-range communications technology intended to wirelessly connect devices in a personal or home area network. Common applications of Bluetooth include wireless mice, keyboards, and headphones / earphones / headsets.

The current version is 5.2; with each version, improvements are made in range, speed, and quality.

While Bluetooth can have a significant range, it is typically useful within about 10 meters, especially indoors. You might notice that if you are at home and you walk upstairs or downstairs between devices, the connection can sometimes be interrupted.

Bluetooth is typically not used to make a network connection.

Speed: 2 Mbps (v.5)

Range: 10 m (varies; up to 240 m)


a WiFi router

WiFi is used to make high-speed wireless network connections between devices that are usually (but not always) computing devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, but also other network devices such as printers or network storage devices (HDD or SSD).

WiFi is often referred to by its technical name, IEEE 802.11, and has several major versions:

WiFi 1 (802.11b, or "b") ~ 11 Mbps
WiFi 2 (802.11a, or "a") ~ 54 Mbps
WiFi 3 (802.11g, or "g") ~ 54 Mbps
WiFi 4 (802.11n, or "n") ~ 600 Mbps
WiFi 5 (802.11ac, or "ac") ~ 7 Gbps
WiFi 6 (802.11ax, or "ax") ~ 9.6 Gbps

The speeds given above are maximum, and you are not likely to get such a high data transfer rate, especially at longer distances. Often, the emphasis of a new WiFi technology is not so much speed, but rather the ability to connect to a large number of devices at the same time over one network.

The current top version of WiFi is WiFi 6, also known as ax or 802.11ax. That does not mean that you have ax right now; you might have "n" or "ac," or even an older version depending on the age of your device. WiFi networks are usually backwards-compatible, meaning that the newest version of a router may accept all of the above technologies, back to WiFi 1. The speed you get depends on the slowest device; if you have an "ax" router but an "ac" laptop, you will get "ac" speeds.

You may not need the fastest connection; WiFi 4, which most people have at least these days, is certainly fast enough for most uses.

The typical best range for WiFi is about 10 meters. Farther than that and you will start to experience a hung connection, as with your phone when you walk away from home or another network; it is sometimes necessary to switch off WiFi if you are at the extreme edge, because your phone may not switch from WiFi to cellular data until well after you lose any useful connection.


There have been a variety of confusing alphabet-soup names given to cellular data technologies; you may hear of GSM, GPRS, EDGE, CDMA, HSDPA, LTE, and others. The easier names to remember are the generational names, from 2G to 5G. ("1G" is simply the basic beginning cell phone transmission technology, which was not digital.)

2G ~ 2.5G (1991 ~) ~ 114 Kbps / 400 Kbps
3G ~ 3.5G (2001 ~) ~ 3.1 Mbps / 14 Mbps
4G (LTE; 2010 ~) ~ 100 Mbps (up to 300 Mbps)
5G (emerging) ~ 10 Gbps

The 5G technology has been widely criticized as being a health hazard, with many people convinced that it will cause brain cancer or any other range of illnesses. None of these concerns are based upon actual scientific studies, and the general scientific concensus is that 5G is safe to use.

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, 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax. The "n" type is fastest; "b" and "g" are related, but many computers can use any of the types, and are sometimes called "a/b/g/n/ac/ax."
  • 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.

Terms to Know

ISPInternet Service Provider, the company that sells you a connection to the Internet
Broadbanda general, unclear term describing a high-speed Internet connection
bandwidththe speed that data can be sent over a network transmission
bpsbits per second, describing transmission speeds
dial-upone of the original Internet connection methods, You would plug your computer into a modem and dial up a number that provided data access.
ISDNa form of dial-up which provided double the speed
Cable (co-axial)an Internet connection using co-axial cables used for cable (as opposed to broadcast) television
ADSLa technology which uses copper telephone lines for broadband Internet, limited to about 50 Mbps and about 2 km.
fiber opticglass cables which can deliver very fast transmission speeds in the Gbps range
VDSLa hybrid of fober optic and ADSL technology to overcome weaknesses in both (often called "B-Flets" in Japan)
modem/routergeneral name given to a small box with red, amber, and green lights which takes the signal from telephone lines, separates telephone and data signals, and provides network connections for devices in a household
WiFihigh-speed wireless internet connections, limited to about 30m range
base stationa device which takes a network signal from a cable and changes it to a WiFi signal
hotspota public WiFi Internet connection
wardrivingdriving in a car through neighborhoods and finding unprotected WiFi signals and using them to connect to the Internet

Previous Chapter Chapter Quiz Next Unit