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What Is Broadband?

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If you’ve ever wondered what is broadband, you’re not alone. Many people use the word broadband without really understanding what it means. In its simplest terms, broadband is a way of connecting to the Internet at much higher speeds than its dial-up predecessor. 

Part of what makes broadband Internet confusing is that there are currently five types to choose from. Naturally, this begs the question, which type of broadband high speed Internet connection is best?

While all broadband Internet providers must deliver minimum download and upload speeds determined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), some types of broadband are faster than others, with Fiber Optic currently leading the pack. That said, broadband technologies are continuing to advance, so the race is far from over. 

In this article, we’ll explain the different broadband options, the pros and cons of each type, and what to consider when picking broadband Internet for your home. 

5 Types of Broadband Internet

Here are the 5 main types of broadband connections:

1.    DSL

2.    Cable

3.    Fiber Optic

4.    Fixed Wireless (AKA 5G Home Internet)

5.    Satellite

Each broadband technology has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Which is right for you depends on a number of factors, including availability, speed, performance, and of course, price. 

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where all five types of broadband Internet are readily available, you may be interested to know that as of the writing of this article, cable and fiber Internet are among today’s most desirable options. Wireless and satellite Internet are on the rise, whereas DSL Internet is waning in popularity.

DSL - What It Is and How it Works

DSL (short for Digital Subscriber Line) utilizes existing telephone lines to deliver high speed Internet. While DSL relies on the same phone line infrastructure that was originally used to provide dial-up Internet service, it’s a far cry from the slow days of dial-up. That said, DSL is not the fastest broadband technology among today’s options. Perhaps DSL's biggest advantage is that it is more widely available in rural areas than some newer types of broadband.

Pros and Cons of DSL

  • Availability: Widely available as it uses the existing telephone network
  • Speed: Fast, but speed varies and is slower than other forms of broadband Internet, especially over longer distances from the provider’s facility
  • Performance: Can be affected by the quality of the phone lines and wiring in your home
  • Price: Cost-effective compared to other broadband types and can be bundled with phone services

DSL Internet Providers

If you're considering DSL, here’s a list of the reputable DSL Internet providers as of the writing of this article:

  • AT&T
  • Century Link
  • Frontier
  • EarthLink
  • Verizon

Cable Internet 

With cable Internet, the same coaxial cable lines that deliver cable TV to your home are used to provide you with high speed Internet service, simultaneously. This means that when it comes to availability, where there’s cable TV, there’s cable Internet. 

Pros and Cons of Cable Internet

  • Availability: Slightly less available in rural areas compared to DSL
  • Speed: Almost always faster than DSL 
  • Performance: Speed can be impacted by the number of users sharing the bandwidth in your area, as well as your distance from the cable provider
  • Price: Bundling with cable TV and phone services can yield savings and convenience

Cable Internet Providers

Interested in cable Internet? Here’s a list of some of the most well-known cable Internet providers in the U.S. today.

  • Altice
  • Cox
  • Mediacom
  • Spectrum
  • Wow!
  • Xfinity

Fiber Optic Internet

Online gamers and heavy data users, a fiber optic Internet connection may be best suited to you. Fiber Internet transmits data as light signals through tiny strands of glass, offering the fastest Internet speeds available.

Pros and Cons of Fiber Optic Internet

  • Availability: Limited but growing availability as it requires new infrastructure
  • Speed: Fastest speeds, capable of handling high-demand tasks like streaming 4K video and online gaming
  • Performance: Improved reliability and consistency compared to DSL and Cable Internet as it’s less susceptible to congestion and not reliant on the quality of phone lines or home wiring 
  • Price: More expensive to install than other types of broadband Internet connections

Fiber Optic Internet Providers

For those considering fiber, here’s a list of Fiber optic Internet providers in this growing broadband market:

  • AT&T Fiber
  • CenturyLink Fiber Internet
  • Cox
  • Frontier FiberOptic
  • Google Fiber
  • Verizon Fios
  • Xfinity

Fixed Wireless Broadband - 5G Home Internet

When you hear Internet service providers talking about 5G Home Internet, that’s everyday speak for fixed wireless broadband. 

As the name suggests, wireless broadband is a way of providing high speed internet wirelessly via radio waves as opposed to through wired connections such as telephone lines, traditional cable, and fiber optic cable. 

Like other wireless technologies, wireless broadband can be fixed or mobile. Fixed wireless broadband provides a high speed Internet connection to a fixed location like your home or office. 

Mobile broadband, on the other hand, enables you to make a high speed Internet connection on the go. An example of mobile broadband is when you use your mobile device as a hotspot to access the Internet. 

Both mobile broadband and fixed wireless broadband rely on cellular networks to create a high speed Internet connection. However, mobile broadband uses cellular data from your phone plan, whereas 5G Home Internet requires a subscription to a fixed wireless broadband Internet plan.  

Pros and Cons of Fixed Wireless Broadband 5G Home Internet

  • Availability: Provides service to locations underserved by wired technologies such as rural areas where the infrastructure for other broadband Internet isn’t as readily available
  • Speed: Speeds can be slower and less reliable than wired connections, varying depending on the type of network (4G, LTE, 5G) and by provider
  • Performance: Susceptible to interference from weather and physical obstacles like tall buildings as well as distance from the provider base station tower 
  • Price: Can be a cost-effective option and depending on your location may be one of your only options

Fixed Wireless Broadband 5G Home Internet Internet Providers

Fixed wireless Internet providers include the big three wireless companies, plus a few others.

Navi tip: with AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, you can bundle your home Internet and your wireless phone plan to save on your monthly bills.

  • AT&T Fixed Wireless (also called AT&T Internet Air)
  • Rise Broadband
  • Starry Internet
  • T-Mobile 5G Home Internet
  • Verizon 5G Home Internet

Satellite Internet

Instead of using underground telephone wires, cables, or fiber, satellite Internet looks to the sky for Internet access. Satellite Internet works a lot like satellite TV, transmitting data between communication satellites orbiting the earth and your Internet service provider (ISP) and a receiver dish placed on your home with a clear line of sight to the sky above. 

Traditional satellite Internet companies such as Hughesnet and Viasat rely on satellites in high orbit, whereas newcomers like Elon Musk’s Starlink use satellites in low orbit. Notably, low orbit satellite Internet is typically faster than high orbit satellite Internet because the satellites are closer to Earth which reduces signal loss and latency (the time it takes for data to travel from one point to another). 

Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet

  • Availability: Available in remote and rural areas where other forms of broadband can’t reach
  • Speed: Higher latency can make real-time online gaming or video conferencing difficult
  • Performance: Can be affected by weather conditions or receiver obstructions
  • Price: Has been more expensive than other broadband technologies, however, Starlink promises to change that

Satellite Internet Providers

Here's the list of well-known satellite Internet providers operating in the U.S. right now.

  • Hughesnet
  • Viasat
  • Starlink

Broadband Speed

According to the standards set by the FCC in 2015, broadband Internet connections must provide a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 3Mbps, though recent updates suggest the FCC is looking to increase those minimum speeds.

How fast your Internet speed is will depend on which type of broadband technology you choose. Broadband Internet speeds can also vary from one ISP to the next and from one service plan to another. In order to meet the varying speed and price needs of different types of users, broadband Internet providers offer different high speed Internet plans with the highest speeds being the most expensive. 

The Bottom Line

No matter which kind of broadband Internet you choose, you can count on it delivering high speed internet that meets the minimum standards set by the FCC. Whether it's DSL, cable, fiber, fixed wireless, or satellite, each type of broadband has something to offer. Picking the right broadband provider for your needs comes down to what’s available in your area, what you can afford, and how much speed you really need. 

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