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Broadband Internet: What It Is and Different Types

written by: fritzbueno•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 1/28/2012

Confused about the terminology of broadband and the different types of Internet connections? Here we break it down to the basics, defining broadband, looking at the common types of connections, and then find that that the most popular provider may not be the best provider.

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    Most likely, unless you're very young, you were introduced to the World Wide Web and the Internet through the use of a dial up connection. Here, the phone line is hooked up to the computer and you dial out using access numbers provided by the Internet Service Provider (ISP). This type of connection to the Internet is only capable of having a maximum of 56 kbps (kilobits per second) for its download speed, which is now considered very, very slow.

    As technology has improved, people can now enjoy Internet connection at lightning-fast speeds. The old dial up connection method is becoming obsolete as people realize other different ways to have a faster Internet connection. This faster connection to the World Wide Web is known as broadband internet.

    Some people would think of broadband specifically as the DSL connection or, maybe, cable Internet. Broadband is not limited to these two connections, but they are the most common ones. There are other types of Internet connections considered to be broadband.

    Federal Communications Commission has the following definition for Broadband Internet:

    “…broadband service [is the] data transmission speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, in at least one direction: downstream (from the Internet to the user’s computer) or upstream (from the user’s computer to the Internet)”

    Therefore, any type of Internet connection that has a speed of at least about four times faster than dial up is considered broadband.

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    Types of Broadband Internet

    As mentioned, there are different types of broadband Internet connections depending on the medium being used. All of which are capable of providing high-speed internet access.


    DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is the most popular Internet connection type right now. Many people are aware of this type of broadband Internet since local phone companies offer this service to their customers. DSL is similar to dial up Internet in that they both use the telephone lines to transmit Internet data. However, DSL service is definitely much faster than dial up. DSL speeds range from 384kbps to 5Mbps or more.

    Other than the fast Internet speed, DSL also does not interrupt the voice call functionality of the telephone lines, unlike with dial up where the line will be busy once connected to the Internet.

    Before subscribing to DSL Internet connection, it would be best to ask if your location is near one of the facilities of the Internet service provider (ISP). The distance affects the speeds that you can possibly get from the servers of the ISP. The farther your place is from their facility, the less likely that you will enjoy their advertised speeds.

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    Cable Modem

    Cable internet is the next popular type of connection to DSL. This one makes use of coaxial cables instead of telephone lines. Most of the cable TV providers now also offer cable internet since the lines being used are the same anyway.

    The Internet speeds for a cable modem can range from 1.5Mbps to 20Mbps. Similar to DSL, these are their advertised speeds. The actual speed that customers will get will usually be less than what is indicated in their subscription because of several factors. One of which is the distance of the customer’s location from the nearest cable facility. Also, the number of people connecting to the internet at the same time affects the speed.


    This medium for sending and receiving Internet data is relatively new compared to DSL and Cable. Fiber optic cables use light to transmit data through very thin glass fibers. This Internet connection type is promising as it is capable of providing speeds about 10 times faster than DSL or Cable internet. However, fiber optic installations can be very expensive.


    Earth orbiting satellites are also now used to provide internet links. This, though, is not as popular as DSL and Cable since the downstream and upstream speeds can only be at 500kbps and 80kbps, respectively, on the average. This is mostly used in rural areas where DSL and Cable lines are not normally installed.

    Broadband over Powerline (BPL)

    Among all of the types mentioned here, BPL is a technology yet to be known by many. With BPL, Internet connection is distributed by power corporations. Customers can connect to the Internet using their existing electrical outlet. BPL is promising as it would eliminate the need to install new facilities that would provide the internet connection.


    You might find it difficult at first to decide what type of Internet connection to subscribe to as they all seem to be offering the same thing. Make sure to do your homework first before signing any contract. You can get suggestions from your friends or neighbors who already have broadband internet connection at home. Don’t just go with the most popular provider. Reliability is one of the most important factors that you have to consider.