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Broadband internet. High-speed internet. These are the most common search terms used to find internet providers, but what do they mean? Are they the same thing? If not, what is broadband internet? Follow along to see the differences and similarities of the two and what to look for in your internet service.
Broadband Internet Defined
The term “broadband” started circulating in the late 1990’s as new technologies were introduced to replace dial-up internet access. DSL internet and cable internet services were becoming more widely available and popular, as each was capable of speeds far beyond the max 56 Kbps of dial-up internet.
In general terms, broadband internet refers to internet connection types that are capable of transmitting data at speeds significantly faster than dial-up internet access.
However, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has issued speed minimums that defines what is considered “broadband” internet service. The FCC’s current broadband internet requirements are a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and 3 Mbps upload speed.
Download speed is the rate data is transferred from the internet to your device, and, conversely, upload speed is the rate data is transferred from your device to the internet.
Broadband’s Evolution and Impact
Originally, broadband technology marked a significant advancement over dial-up by offering “always-on” connectivity and removing the need for manual connection setups. Broadband’s evolution has been instrumental in sectors like healthcare, education, and technological development, enabling high-quality and rapid access to information and telecommunication services.
Global Usage and Future Expectations
As broadband has become the preferred method of internet access worldwide, its usage has seen a steady increase. The future of broadband looks promising with predictions of further increase in average global broadband speeds, opening up even more possibilities for internet-based services and applications.
Emerging Technologies in Broadband
Innovations like SpaceX’s Starlink project are set to revolutionize broadband by providing global access through advanced satellite networks. This development is particularly significant for remote areas where traditional broadband infrastructure is challenging to implement.
Governmental Investment in Broadband
Recognizing the importance of broadband in economic development, governments, especially in the U.S., have invested heavily in expanding broadband access. This includes initiatives to improve internet capabilities in rural and low-income areas, ensuring more equitable access to high-speed internet.
FCC minimum download speeds needed for:
- General web browsing and email: 1 Mbps
- Checking social media: 1 Mbps
- Console gaming connected to the internet: 3 Mbps
- Streaming standard definition video: 3 – 4 Mbps
- Online multiplayer gaming: 4 Mbps
- Streaming high definition video: 5 – 8 Mbps
- Streaming Ultra HD 4K video: 25 Mbps
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Broadband Internet vs. High-speed Internet
Broadband internet is high-speed internet, especially when compared to the speeds of dial-up. While you can learn more about internet speed, what is important to note is that different activities require different speeds. And, households with multiple users and devices will benefit from faster speeds.
The FCC guidelines are based on minimum speeds. 25 Mbps may be enough to stream video, but you may experience delays and buffering. 100 Mbps might be plenty of speed for one user, but it is not enough for a family of four. Your situation and needs will dictate how much internet speed you need.
Types of Broadband Connections
There are several types of broadband internet services. Each connection type is capable of different speeds (some faster than others) and each internet provider usually offers various speed plans. And, each has its advantages, disadvantages, and accessibility. Here’s an overview of broadband internet types:
DSL internet, short for Digital Subscriber Line, uses the copper phone lines that are already available in most homes to transmit digital data.
Doesn’t require new wiring, uses existing phone lines
Widely available, even in some rural areas
One of the slower broadband connections
Speed depends heavily on proximity to provider’s network hub
DSL Internet Providers
Cable internet uses copper coaxial cables, the same way you get cable TV, to transmit data to a modem in your home.
Widely available in urban and suburban areas
Faster speeds than other broadband connections
Uses a shared connection that can be affected by other users in your neighborhood
It’s not as fast as fiber, but it can reach multi-gig speeds
Cable Internet Providers
Fiber internet transfers data as light pulses through fiber-optic cables comprised of thin glass filaments.
Tends to be the most expensive broadband internet option
Not as widely available, but providers are investing in fiber infrastructure
Fiber Internet Providers
Satellite internet is a wireless technology that transmits internet signals between the provider’s network hub, a satellite orbiting the earth, and your home.
99% availability nationwide–excellent internet solution for those in country areas
Good for basic browsing and emails
Slower speeds than other broadband connections
More expensive per Mbps than other broadband types
Satellite Internet Providers
How Has the Broadband Definition Changed?
The definition of broadband has changed over time. It needs to change to keep up with technology and consumer demand. The last time it changed was in 2015 when the FCC upped its broadband benchmark speeds from 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.
The FCC indicated in July of 2022 that the commission will begin the process of updating the broadband minimum requirements again. Not only do the connection types continue to improve and consumer demand increases, but activities like HD video streaming, and online multiplayer gaming demand more from internet connections.
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