Broadband is a relative term which refers to a 'faster', 'broader' or 'increased' Internet access. As a term, it's definition has changed, and at times has just been used by companies as a marketing term to sell high/fast data rate products. Broadband does not refer to a specific type of connection technology. Dialup was originally the dominant connection technology; it's connection speed was restricted to 56kbit/s. Broadband, as a minimum, should provide a download rate of 256 kbit/s.
Technically, a 'broad' band is a transmission medium (within telephony) which can support multiple signals and channels simultaneously (telephone and Internet); something dialup is incapable of. Broadband is capable of supporting multiple channels (on the same pair of wires) by using a higher frequency for each channel. Some of the primary characteristics of broadband are:
1. Always 'on' - no need to establish a connection.
2. Over five times faster than dial-up access.
3. Can transport multiple signals simultaneously.
4. Can transport multiple traffic types simultaneously.
Internet connection technologies have usually been compared in relation to dialup. Therefore, a connection which is in the region of 10-50 times faster than dialup, is generally referred to as broadband. In 2010, the majority of UK Internet users are on a 'version' of broadband. However, not all rural regions in the UK have access to landline broadband services.
As of 2010, most UK broadband connections fall into one of three groups:
1. Landline Broadband (the most common)
Configuration is similar to dialup. The connection is provided through a landline telephone line. A user will employ a cable modem, router, or network card to convert/transfer the signal from the telephone line to the personal computer. The technology that telephone companies use to increase the data transfer speed across their copper lines is the 'Digital Subscriber Line' (DSL) technology.
2. Fibre Optic Broadband
A recent development (as of 2010). The first ISP in the UK to offer this service was Virgin Media. A fibre optic connection can be up to five times faster than a copper line connection. The current problem with fibre optic networks is the cost of installation. Currently, only major urban areas in the UK are hooked up to it. Fibre optic networks do not require a telephone line. A fibre optic cable is superior to a copper telephone line, because the connection speed/signal does not degrade over distance.
2. Mobile Broadband
Provided across mobile telephone networks, such as 3G. The advantage to this connection technology is mobility and versatility. It requires less equipment, and can be accessed by a wider variety of devices, such as laptops, desktop PCs, mobile phones, smartphones, pda's etc. The only current disadvantages, a limit on downloads per month, and a lower connection speed, when compared to the above two alternatives.