Other pages in this section discuss the learning aspect of online learning, but what about the online aspect: how do you get online? You might have been using college or training centre computers to access the Internet, but how do you that at home or elsewhere? There are basically three options:
Broadband is a word used to describe a high-speed connection to the Internet. There are several different ways of doing this:
- Telephone line - if you have a home phone, a landline, then chances are you will be able to connect to the Internet using technology called DSL. It's not that fast in comparison to some other connection types and the speed may be affected by how far you are from the nearest telephone exchange
- Fibre optic cable - These are made out from very thin glass or plastic and transmit data in the form pulses of light. Light travels very quickly, so fibre-optic broadband is very fast. There are two types:
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of fibre-optic broadband in Ireland yet, but it is being developed and rolled out
- Fibre to the home (FTTH) where the cable goes all the way to your home - you get higher speeds
- Fibre to the cabinet (FFTC) where the cable runs to the local telephone exchange and you use copper cable from the exchange to your home. It's not as fast as FTTH and like DSL, speed can depend upon your distance from the exchange
- Satellite - you use a satellite dish to receive Internet from communications satellites. It's faster than DSL2 but can be dependent upon the weather. Like DSl2 it can useful for Internet access in rural areas.
- Mobile - via your mobile phone
- Wireless - works a bit like your mobile phone; a transmitter tower sends wireless signals that are received in your house and sent to your device. Wireless is probably the slowest broadband and can be affected by very bad weather, but again it's useful in rural areas that can't be reached by cable.
WiFi is a way of connecting to a computer network using radio waves instead of wires (the "Wi" in "WiFi" is short for "wireless"). WiFi is widely available in shops, colleges, libraries and buildings. Free public WiFi that you can access in the street is available in a few town centres, with plans underway in a few more. If you don't have Internet at home, then using WiFi in for example a public library or college is perhaps an option. There are two types of public WiFi:
- Unsecured - where you simply connect to the network
- Secured - where you must register an account, or enter a password and accept the terms and conditions before you connect to the network
You should avoid unsecured public networks whenever you can and try to stick to secured networks. The big problem with unsecure networks is that you don't know who set it up and who else is connected to it. There are security flaws in WiFi that allow hackers to get between you and the network connection, so for example, if you use public WiFi to do some online banking (something you SHOULD NEVER DO), you could passing on your bank details to hackers. There are some do's and don'ts' of using public WiFi.
- Use a secured network whenever possible (one where you have to login)
- Think about using a VPN
- Always use HTTPS
- Stick to using as few public networks as possible
- Turn off the automatic network connection setting on your device
- Shop online using public WiFi
- Access personal data on unsecured public WiFi networks
You can use your mobile phone to access the Internet. You can use your phone to get online when you’re away from WiFi (and it's safer!). Mobile-enabled devices can send and receive information over a wireless connection. As long as your phone has a connection you can use the Internet. Bear in mind that whenever you use the Internet you're downloading data to your device - this happens even where you're streaming. and this incurs a cost.
Using a phone to access the Internet can be expensive, so if you're using your phone for Internet access on a regular basis, make sure you're on a data plan. A data plan is a contract that lets you download so much data in a specific time period for a fixed fee. However beware of the small print. With unlimited or "all you can eat" plans; you might find that you are charged extra, or your access gets restricted, after exceeding a certain limit. Always read the terms and conditions!
There are 6 large broadband providers in Ireland, Digiweb, eir, Pure Telecom, Sky Ireland, Virgin Media, and Vodafone. There are other providers, who mostly serve rural or regional areas. These include, but are not limited to Westnet Broadband, bigblu, Ivertec and Rural WiFi