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About Broadband Internet Connections

There is a lot of confusion regarding the term 'broadband' as it applies to the internet. We hope to clear a few points of confusion up and simplify the matter for the average internet user.

This is not meant to be an engineering or highly technical perspective or a complete expose on the subject - just something we hope that will help answer a few questions that a lot of folks have about this subject.

First, let us start with a basic principle that may or may not be of interest, but can be helpful in your understanding of the terms that get thrown around - sometimes too loosely.

The term 'broadband' is a shortened name for 'broad bandwidth'. Broadband, or broad bandwidth, is what is required for the 'high speed' transmission of data. In the realm of computers and the internet, this data is in the form of digital information that is transmitted back and forth between your computer and the internet.

So the terms 'broadband' and 'high speed' are actually equivalent terms as used in the context of internet connectivity, as they both mean the same thing.

Another way of looking at it is: To achieve higher speed data transmission, one must user a broader band circuit or system. Thus the two terms are generally used interchangeably when referring to the internet.

Another term that bears explanation is "modem". Modem is a compound contraction of the term "modulator-demodulator" and is a device that is used to connect digital (and other) signals to some sort of transmission line or device. Virtually all connections to the internet require some sort of modem - either a dial-up modem, DSL modem, wireless modem, cable modem and so on.

Dial Up Connection

The slowest common form of connecting to the Internet is 'dial up'. This is where a computer is connected to the internet via a modem that connects to an ordinary voice telephone line. Because such telephone service was originally designed for 'voice only' - which is very 'narrow band' - dial up is the slowest common form of internet connection. To be fair, the speeds that can be obtained using dial up modem technology are actually amazing considering the connection is to something that was designed originally only for limited voice transmission.


Broadband Internet Connection

The term 'broadband internet connection' refers to a number of different means or methods for obtaining higher data transmission speeds than is possible using dial-up connection.

Examples of ‘broadband’ (AKA ‘high speed’) internet connections are:

(In approximate order of their speed - keep in mind that speeds vary and some technologies can overlap others.)

  • ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network or Isolated Subscriber Digital Network) - a system that is similar to and generally slower than DSL (see below) in that it uses a special telephone connection. Not commonly used today - was more common at one time.

  • DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) – a special high speed telephone line internet service – you can only get DSL if you are within about 18000 feet of a ‘switch’  – which is about 3 miles.  In other words, folks out in the country cannot usually get DSL.  (A ‘switch’ is a telephone company terminal device that costs a lot of money and they are therefore generally only installed in high density population areas.)

  • Broadband Mobile – an internet connection that works through a cellular telephone provider, such as Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, etc. This is similar to but faster than a dial-up connection. It is essentially 'dial-up' on a cell phone network. Since the cell phone networks are newer than ordinary telephone lines and by their nature operate with broader bandwidth specification, broadband mobile is faster than dial up. The actual speed varies and is dependent upon the actual network and other factors.

  • Wireless Internet - this is a system whereby the user connects to the internet via a radio link - also known as 'wireless'. This is very similar to 'broadband mobile' but does not take place on a cellular telephone network. The radio frequency link is usually UHF (Ultra High Frequency) and is capable of higher bandwidth and therefore faster connection speeds than dial-up, ISDN and DSL. A typical wireless internet connection will require an antenna at the user's home or office that is aimed at the service provider's antenna, which is usually located on a water tower or other tower structure. Wireless internet generally requires a direct and unobstructed line-of-sight between the user and the provider.

  • About Wi-Fi

    NOTE: Wireless Internet should NOT be confused with 'wireless' or Wi-Fi Network. These two technologies are frequently confused since they are often both referred to as 'wireless'.

    Wi-Fi is a wireless Network connection method. It is IEEE specification 802.11a,b,g and n. The most common is 802.11g and 802.1n. The 802.11n technology is the fastest Wi-Fi available as of this writing.

    Wi-Fi is a SHORT RANGE wireless connection method, typically covering only several hundred feet or so. The exact distances will vary from under 100 to over 300 feet, depending up equipment and conditions.

    NOTE that because Wi-Fi is such a short range connection, it is NOT suitable for 'mobile' operations, such as in an automobile. It is best used as a FIXED solution, such as in a coffee shop or motel that provides Wi-Fi access.

    Wi-Fi access is usually free of charge for motel guests and patrons of certain businesses; we would recommend that you never pay for Wi-Fi service unless absolutely necessary.

    Wi-Fi is a network connection technology and is NOT a direct connection to the internet. Wi-Fi is usually employed to connect a computer to wireless (there is that term again) router or switch, which in turn connects to some sort of modem that connects to the internet. Wi-Fi is also often referred to as a "Hot-Spot", "Wireless", "Wireless G" and "Wireless N".

    We only mention it here because the term 'wireless' as applied to Wi-Fi often results in its being confused with other wireless internet connection methods.

    Many Cable and DSL Modems available today also include a router and Wi-Fi (wireless network) capability in the same unit.

  • Cable – hooked up to the cable company – such as Cable One. 

  • OTHER Wired Services – such as T1 connection – usually only available to corporations or other such large entities.

  • Optical - various - the fastest method - uses Fiber Optics


Continue reading if you want a more in depth explanation -
otherwise, that's it.


Internet Connection Speed Comparison Chart

Carrier Technology



Physical Medium


Dial-up Access

On demand access using a modem and regular telephone line (POT).

2400 bps to 56 Kbps

Twisted pair (regular phone lines)

  • Cheap but slow compared with other technologies.
  • Speed may degrade due to the amount of line noise and capacitance under varying humidity conditions.


Dedicated telephone line and router required.

64 Kbps to 128 Kbps

Twisted pair

  • Not available everywhere but becoming more widespread.
  • An ISDN line costs slightly more than a regular telephone line, but you get 2 phone lines from it.
  • 56K ISDN is much faster than a 56K dial up line


Special cable modem and cable line required.

512 Kbps to 20 Mbps

Coaxial cable; in some cases telephone lines used for upstream requests.

  • Must have existing cable access in area.
  • Cost of bring service into an area and trenching cable can be prohibitive.
  • Networkable
  • Frequently uses cable system for regular cable TV.

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line
(ADSL is the same as DSL)

This technology uses the unused digital portion of a regular copper telephone line to transmit and receive information. ADSL is asymmetric since it receives at 6 to 8 Mbps per second but can only send data at 64 Kbps.
A special modem and adapter card are required.

128 Kbps to 8 Mbps

Twisted pair (used as a digital, broadband medium)

  • Doesn’t interfere with normal telephone use.
  • Bandwidth is dedicated, not shared as with cable.
  • Bandwidth is affected by the distance from the network hubs. Must be within 5 km (3.1 miles) of telephone company switch.
  • Limited availability.
  • Not networkable

Wireless (LMCS)

Access is gained by connection to a high speed cellular like local multi-point communications system (LMCS) network via wireless transmitter/receiver.

30 Mbps or more

Requires outside antenna.

  • Can be used for high speed data, broadcast TV and wireless telephone service.

Broadband over Power

Uses existing electrical infrastructure to deliver broadband speeds using BPL "modems"

500Kbps to 3Mbps

Ordinary power lines

  • Still an emerging technology, not widely available
  • Significantly lower deployment costs than comparable technologies like DSL/Cable.


Older version used satellite download with telephone upload. Newer versions have two-way satellite access, removing phone line up link.
In older versions, the computer sends request for information to an ISP via normal phone dial-up communications and data is returned via high speed satellite dish similar to DISH TV.

6 Mbps or more

Requires outside antenna.

  • Bandwidth is not shared.
  • Satellite companies are set to join the fray soon which could lead to integrated TV and Internet service using the same equipment and WebTV like integrated services
  • Latency is typically high
  • Some connections require an existing Internet service account.
  • Setup fees can range from $500-$1000.

Frame Relay

Provides a type of "party line" connection to the Internet.
Requires a FRAD (Frame Relay Access Device) similar to a modem, or a DSU/CSU.

56 Kbps to 1.544 Mbps (or more, depending on connection type)


  • May cost less than ISDN in some locations.
  • Limited availability.
  • Uses one of the connection types below, fractional up to OC3

Fractional T1
(Flexible DS1)

Only a portion of the 23 channels available in a T1 line is actually used.

64 Kbps to 1.544 Mbps

Twisted-pair or coaxial cable

  • Cheaper than a full T1 line with growth options of 56 Kbps or 64 Kbps increments as required.


Special lines and equipment (DSU/CSU and router) required.

1.544 Mbps

Twisted-pair, coaxial cable, or optical fiber

  • Typically used for high bandwidth demands such as videoconferencing and heavy graphic file transfers.
  • Minimum for large businesses and ISPs.
  • Expensive


Typically used for ISP to Internet infrastructure.

44.736 Mbps

Optical fiber



Typically used for ISP to Internet infrastructure within Internet infrastructure.

51.84 Mbps

Optical fiber



Typically used for large company backbone or Internet backbone.

155.52 Mbps

Optical fiber




Network Connection Speed Comparison Chart

For those who just cannot get enough technical insight, we offer the following connections speed comparison chart:

Kb = kilobits, KB=kilobytes, Mb=megabits, MB=Megabytes, Gb=Gigabits
(A byte is 8 bits)

Type Kb KB Mb MB Gb
Dial up modem (telephone) 56 7 0.056 0.007  
ISDN 64 8 0.064 0.008  
serial 115 14.375 0.115 0.014
LocalTalk 230.4 28.8 0.2304 0.0288
satellite 400 50 0.4 0.05
Bluetooth wireless PAN (2.4 GHz band) 720 90 0.72 0.09
standard parallel port 920 115 0.92 0.115
USB (Low Speed) 1.5 0.1875
DS1/T1 & frame relay 1.544 0.193
Macintosh 8 Pin Mini DIN Serial 1.8 0.225
wireless LMCS 2 0.25
IEEE 802.11 wireless (2.4 GHz band) 2 0.25
PCS Wireless 2 0.25
E1 2.048 0.256
typical great cable modem 2.3 0.2875
DS-2/T2 6.312 0.789
E2 8.448 1.056
ADSL 9 1.125
ideal cable modem 10 1.25
10Base-T Ethernet 10 1.25 0.01
IEEE 802.11b wireless Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz band) 11 1.375
USB 1.1 (High Speed) 12 1.5 0.012
ECP/EPP parallel port 24 3
U-NII Wireless 24 3
E3 34.368 4.296
SCSI-1 40 5 0.04
DS3/T3 44.736 5.592
OC-1/STS-1 (SONET) 51.84 6.48
IEEE 802.11a wireless WLAN (5 GHz band) 54 6.75
IEEE 802.11g wireless WLAN (2.4 GHz band) (Wi-Fi ) 54 6.75 0.054
SCSI-2 (Fast SCSI, Fast Narrow SCSI):  80 10 0.08
100Base-T Ethernet (Fast Ethernet) 100 12.5 0.1
ATA/100 (parallel) 100 12.5 0.1
IDE 133.6 16.7 0.1336
ATM 155.52 19.44
OC-3/STM-1 155.52 19.44
Fast Wide SCSI (Wide SCSI) 160 20 0.16
Ultra SCSI (SCSI-3, Fast-20, Ultra Narrow) 160 20 0.16
UltraIDE 264 33 0.264
DS-4/T4 274.176 34.272
Wide Ultra SCSI (Fast Wide 20) 320 40
Ultra2 SCSI 320 40 0.32
FireWire (IEEE 1394A) 400 50 0.4
OC-9/STM-3 466.56 58.32
USB 2.0 480 60 0.48
OC-12/STM-4 622.08 77.76
Wide Ultra2 SCSI 640 80
Ultra3 SCSI 640 80 0.64
FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394B) 800 100 0.8
Gigabit Ethernet 1000 125 1
SATA (Serial ATA) 1200 150 1.2
OC-24/STM-8 1244 155.5 1.244
Wide Ultra3 SCSI 1280 160 1.28
Ultra160 SCSI 1280 160 1.28
Ultra Serial ATA 1500 1500 187.5 1.5
OC-36/STM-12 1866 233.25 1.866
OC-48/STM-16 2488 311 2.488
Ultra320 SCSI 2560 320 2.56
FC-AL Fiber Channel 3200 400 3.2
OC-96/STM-32 4976 622 4.976
OC-192/STM-64 9953 1244.125 9.953
10G Ethernet (IEEE 802.3ae) 10000 1250 10
OC-255 13271 1658.875 13.271
OC-768 40000 5000 40

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