Broadband Guides

Broadband explained

Everyone is familiar with Broadband, which replaced the dial-up connections that was used previously; however, you may not be up-to-date on what broadband entails, so here are a few facts.

Broadband is how you connect to the internet today. It is similar to a phone line connection that runs constantly, giving you access to the network at any time. There isn’t only one kind of broadband – mobile broadband for phones runs on the 4G network via the mobile phone signal. And for terrestrial broadband, both ADSL and cable broadband types exist.

Broadband is so-named for its functionality that allows a wider range of information to be transmitted, a very narrowband channel would only transmit Morse code, for comparison. Frequencies are in different channels on the line with Broadband, meaning that you don’t have to stop using the phone line to use the internet as you did with dial-up, the predecessor of broadband.

This is a way to tell if you already have broadband, if you can use the internet while using your phone you have it installed.

ADSL broadband is the standard kind, which is transmitted over BT phonelines. Through your broadband modem or router, you connect with the copperwire phone network and via this the telephone exchange. A microfilter partitions the signal between phone and internet for your usage. Your signal quality will depend on your distance from the exchange. It is available to nearly everyone in the country. This is all possible with the BT fixed line access network.

There are 5 main providers of broadband/ADSL: BT, EE, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Plusnet, and Sky Broadband.

The alternatives are mobile broadband (4G, and in some cases still 3G, with 4G LTE-A providing the fastest service). cable or fibre-optic broadband. Mobile broadband can provide a viable alternative to ADSL these days, particularly in areas with good signal strength. Fibre-optic broadband and cable could be considered steps beyond ADSL, with extremely fast download and upload speeds.

Many confuse cable and fibre, since they’re both next generation broadband options. They are similar, in that they offer faster speeds than ADSL and cost more, require separate installation and are independent of the phone line. Cable is more expensive but more available and easy to have installed. Fibre is faster but tricky to install, but also requires less maintenance.

BT and Virgin Media are the two main cable companies. Sky have also a large share of the cable market.

Fibre-optic or fibre broadband will be available to 95% of UK customers by the end of 2017. The main providers are the same as with ADSL, but with a few niche offerings such as those of Zen Internet.

Fibre-optic broadband is seen as the future, and there has been huge customer uptake for the technology in recent years. There are a range of smaller companies offering fibre, and availability is rising in all areas just as with cable.

Generally though, fibre-optic and cable are very similar and the terms are used interchangeably by many advertisers, so don’t be surprised if you see “fibre-optic cable” on offer. Just have a read of the details and it should be clear which is being offered.

So you can think of the main types of broadband by how they are delivered: ADSL is through the BT phoneline, cable and fibre are installed separately or sent through the cable TV connection, and mobile broadband is transmitted on the mobile phone network.