Use and Misuse of the Word 'Broadband' in Networking

Broadband-qualifying speeds differ by countries

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The term "broadband" technically refers to any type of signal transmission technique—either wired or wireless—that carries two or more different types of data in separate channels. In popular usage, it refers to any high-speed internet connection.

Definitions of Broadband

As old dial-up network connections to the internet began to be replaced with newer, higher-speed alternatives, all the newer technologies were typically marketed as "broadband internet." Government and industry groups have attempted to set official definitions for what distinguishes broadband services from non-broadband, primarily based on the maximum data rates they support. These definitions have varied over time and also by country. For example:

  • In the Philippines, download data rates of 256 Kbps qualify as broadband (as of 2016)
  • In India, the official broadband speed threshold was raised from 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps downloads in 2014.
  • In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission raised its broadband rate limit in 2015 from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps for downloads and from 1 Mbps to 3 Mbps for uploads. Originally, back in 1999, the FCC set its broadband threshold at 200 Kbps for downloads.

Types of Broadband Network Technologies

Among the internet access technologies routinely classified as broadband are:

  • Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) - Internet service that combines separate voice and data channels over a single telephone line. In DSL, voice traffic fills the low end of the frequency spectrum and data fills the high end.
  • Cable modem - Internet service combining high-speed data with video signals supplied over cable TV lines
  • Mobile broadband - Internet data connections made through smartphones and other mobile devices to cellular networks
  • Fiber Internet (FTTH) and fixed wireless broadband - types of internet service that qualify as broadband internet under popular definition even though these technologies carry only a single type of data traffic dedicated to internet connectivity

Broadband home networks share access to a broadband internet connection through local network technologies like Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Although both operate at high speeds, neither of these is considered broadband.

Issues With Broadband

People living in less populated or underdeveloped areas tend to suffer from lack of access to broadband internet services as providers have less financial motivation to service areas with relatively fewer potential customers. So-called municipal broadband networks that offer government-supported internet service to residents have been built in some areas, but these have limited reach and have reportedly caused tensions with privately-owned service provider businesses.

Building large-scale broadband internet access networks can be expensive due to the extensive infrastructure and industry regulation involved. High infrastructure costs make it difficult for service providers to lower the prices of their subscriptions and reliably offer customers the connection speeds they want. In the worst case, users can be charged high additional fees for exceeding their monthly data plan allowance or have their service temporarily restricted.