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What is Broadband?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Broadband can refer to many technologies, depending on context. In general, it points to a communications technology that can pass several streams of data or multi-channeling along a single medium such as a cable or radio frequency (RF) wave. It can refer to high-speed Internet services, fiber optic services, cellular services or broadcasting services, to name a few.

Internet technologies using broadband have all but replaced dial-up service for delivering high-speed Internet connectivity to desktops and to portable devices, to individuals and to private and public networks. Among Internet providers you’ll find Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services, cable services, fiber optic services, and cellular services. Of these, cellular broadband is the only wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) Internet service, though a wireless modem can be used with any of the other services to create a wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), or hotspot.

Broadband Internet services can deliver online multimedia content and provide faster download and upload speeds to meet today’s demanding networking needs. Performance varies between plans within each technology, and also between the technologies themselves. Fiber optic connections provide the most bang for the buck, but isn’t available in all areas and will be more expensive that DSL, which has slower plans to create more affordable tiers for those just stepping up from dial-up. Cable provides nice speeds and can also be bundled with TV and digital phone services, making it highly convenient.

For those who need high-speed Internet on the go, cellular Internet services utilize cell phone towers to broadcast Internet service making connectivity available anywhere there is cell phone service. This highly convenient form of Internet service is more expensive, but can be purchased in 24-hour blocks for emergencies, or longer blocks for business trips or vacations. Since cellular tower traffic must share available bandwidth with cell phone calls, cellular services generally impose a download cap on their Internet services to prevent individuals from hogging resources.

Broadband can also refer to network broadcasting where multiple signals are relayed on dedicated frequency bands. For example, digital broadcasting technology can allow for an extremely high-resolution picture of 1920 x 1080 pixels, known as 1080i (interlaced scan lines) to be broadcast within a particular frequency band. Optionally, a network can lower the resolution to 1280 x 720, or 720p (progressive scan lines), or to an even lower resolution known as standard definition TV, leaving room for additional content to share the same allotted frequency band.

The ability for digital broadcasting to have multiple channels within one frequency band is one more thing that differentiates it from analog TV. The extra space can be used to create new program content providing more choice to viewers, or for more exotic purposes, like interactive TV (iTV). Imagine participating in a game show from your couch, ordering pizza without getting the phone, or seeing a commercial that interests you and clicking on it with your remote to find out more about the product.

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Discussion Comments
By Melonlity — On Dec 22, 2014

@Logicfest -- I am not sure if that argument holds up like it once did. If you want to get rid of your home phone entirely and use a cell phone or smartphone instead, you could save money by dumping your land line and dial-up access and going for broadband instead.

And a lot of those services that were OK with dial-up once upon a time stink over that old phone line connection now. Scripting languages and all sorts of things need speed to render quickly. You will not get that speed with dial-up.

By Logicfest — On Dec 21, 2014

Hey, not so fast -- there are still plenty of people out there using dial-up Internet services. Their numbers are dwindling daily, but they are still out there.

In some cases, it might actually make more sense to use dial-up Internet. If all you do is check email, poke around on a message board or two and maybe play some fantasy sports, you won't need a broadband connection for that stuff.

You could save money and get buy just fine with a dial-up connection, so why spend more?

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