High-speed Internet access or “broadband” allows users to access the Internet and Internet-related services at significantly higher speeds than those available through “dial-up” Internet access services. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) generally defines broadband service as data transmission speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, in at least one direction: downstream (from the Internet to your computer) or upstream (from your computer to the Internet).
How Does Broadband Work?
Broadband allows users to access information via the Internet using one of several high-speed transmission technologies. Transmission is digital, meaning that text, images, and sound are all transmitted as “bits” of data. The transmission technologies that make broadband access possible move these bits much more quickly than traditional telephone or wireless connections, including traditional dial-up Internet access.
Once you have a broadband connection to your home or business, devices such as computers can be attached to this broadband connection by existing electrical or telephone wiring, coaxial cable, or wirelessly.
What Are The Advantages of Broadband?
Broadband allows you to take advantage of new services not available with a dial-up Internet connection. One such service is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), an alternative to traditional voice telephone service that may be less costly for you depending on your calling patterns. Some VoIP services only allow you to call other people using the same service, but others allow you to call anyone who has a telephone number – including local, long distance, mobile, and international numbers.
Broadband permits new developments in telemedicine, where patients in rural areas can confer online with medical specialists in more urban areas.
Broadband helps you efficiently access and use many reference and cultural resources, such as library and museum data bases and collections. You also need broadband to best take advantage of many distance learning opportunities, like online college or university courses, and continuing or senior education programs. Broadband is an important tool for expanding educational and economic opportunities for consumers in remote locations.
In addition to these new services, broadband allows you to use existing services such as online shopping and web surfing more quickly and efficiently. Downloading and viewing videos and photos on your computer are much faster and easier. With broadband you can access the Internet by turning on your computer without needing to dial-up your Internet Service Provides (ISP) over a telephone line, which permits you to use the Internet without typing up your telephone line. As of the end of 2004, 35.3 million residential and small business subscribers had opted for broadband connections.
What Types of Broadband Are Available?
Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as:
The broadband technology you choose will depend on a number of factors. These include whether you are located in an urban or rural area, how broadband Internet access is packaged with other services (like voice telephone and home entertainment) and, of course, price and availability.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
DSL is a wireline transmission technology that transmits data faster over traditional copper telephone lines already installed to homes and businesses. DSL-based broadband provides transmission speeds ranging from several hundred Kbps to millions of bits per second (Mbps). The availability and speed of your DSL service may depend on the distance from your home or business to the closest telephone company facility.
The following are types of DSL transmission technologies:
Faster forms of DSL typically available to businesses include:
Cable modem service enables cable operators to provide broadband using the same coaxial cables that deliver pictures and sound to your TV set.
Most cable modems are external devices that have two connections, one to the cable wall outlet and the other to a computer. They provide transmission speeds of 1.5 Mbps or more.
Subscribers can access their cable modem service simply by turning on their computers without dialing-up an ISP. You can still watch cable TV while using it. Transmission speeds vary depending on the type of cable modem, cable network, and traffic load. Speeds are comparable to DSL.
Fiber, or fiber optics, is the newest technology available for providing broadband. Fiber optic technology converts electrical signals carrying data to light and sends the light through transparent glass fibers about the diameter of a human hair. Fiber transmits data at speeds far exceeding current DSL or cable modem speeds, typically by tens or even hundreds of Mbps. However, the actual speed you experience will vary depending upon a variety of factors, such as how close to your computer the service provider brings the fiber, and how the service provider configures the service, including the amount of bandwidth used. The same fiber providing your broadband can also simultaneously deliver voice (VoIP) and video services, including video-on-demand.
Telecommunications providers (mostly telephone companies) are offering fiber broadband in limited areas and have announced plans to expand their fiber networks and offer bundled voice, Internet access, and video services.
Variations of the technology run the fiber all the way to the customer’s home or business, to the curb outside, or to a location somewhere between the provider’s facilities and the customer.
Wireless broadband connects a home or business to the Internet using a radio link between the customer’s location and the service provider’s facility. Wireless broadband can be mobile or fixed.
Wireless technologies using longer range directional equipment provide broadband service in remote or sparsely populated areas where DSL or cable modem service would be costly to provide. Speeds are generally comparable to DSL and cable modem. An external antenna is usually required. With newer services now being deployed (WiMax), a small antenna located inside a home near a window is usually adequate and higher speeds are possible.
Fixed wireless broadband service is becoming more and more widely available at airports, city parks, bookstores, and other public locations called “hotspots.” Hotspots generally use a short-range technology that provides speeds up to 54 Mbps. Wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) technology is also often used in conjunction with DSL or cable modem service to connect devices within a home or business to the Internet via a broadband connection.
Mobile wireless broadband services (3G) are also becoming available from mobile telephone service providers and others. These services are generally appropriate for highly-mobile customers and require a special PC card with a built in antenna that plugs into a user’s laptop computer. Generally, they provide lower speeds, in the range of several hundred Kbps.
Just as satellites orbiting the earth provide necessary links for telephone and television service, they can also provide links for broadband. Satellite broadband is another form of wireless broadband, also useful for serving remote or sparsely populated areas.
Downstream and upstream speeds for satellite broadband depend on several factors, including the provider and service package purchased, the consumer’s line of sight to the orbiting satellite, and the weather. Typically a consumer can expect to receive (download) at a speed of about 500 Kbps and send (upload) at a speed of about 80 Kbps. These speeds may be slower than DSL and cable modem, but download speed is about 10 times faster than download speed with dial-up Internet access. Service can be disrupted in extreme weather conditions.
Obtaining satellite broadband can be more costly and involved than obtaining DSL or cable modem. A user must have:
Broadband over Powerline (BPL)
BPL is the delivery of broadband over the existing low and medium voltage electric power distribution network. BPL speeds are comparable to DSL and cable modem speeds. BPL can be provided to homes using existing electrical connections and outlets.
BPL is an emerging technology, currently available in very limited areas. It has significant potential because power lines are installed virtually everywhere, alleviating the need to build new broadband facilities to every customer.