Types of Internet connection

This is not intended to be a full description, for which an Internet search is suggested.

The term broadband is commonly used to mean an Internet connection faster than the original "dial-up" service. Though this terminology is not technically correct for some fast Internet services, we will stick with it here.

There are at a number of ways in which the Internet can be accessed, including:

  • Dial-up. This uses a device called a modem (often built in to a computer) to connect to the Internet over a telephone wire. This is very slow by current standards. The telephone cannot be used at the same time.
  • ADSL broadband also uses a telephone wire but with an "ADSL modem" or, more commonly (and permitting multiple computers to connect), an "ADSL modem/router" - which BT call a "Home Hub". ADSL does not interfere with normal telephone use. It comes in various generations with the speed achieved being limited mainly by the equipment in the local exchange and the length of cable from it. The 0150989xxxx area (Woodhouse Eaves exchange) is limited absolutely to 8mbps, with actual tests showing figures typically in the range 3-7. Most urban areas have faster technology with uprated exchange equipment and/or optical fibre rather than copper cable used to feed the more remote customers (at least part of the way - so called "fibre to the cabinet" or FTTC).
  • Cable supplier Virgin Media offers fast Internet speeds, but only in areas where it has cables - typically urban areas again.
  • Mobile broadband is an Internet connection over a mobile phone network. Comparatively expensive. Can be reasonable but often very slow, though the latest mobile technology - "4G" - can deliver quite impressive speeds..
  • Wi-fi connections (typically to laptop computers) need backhaul (a "feed") from one of the other systems. The term "hot spot" is used to describe such facilities in public places.
  • Wireless broadband includes wi-fi but can cover an area and, with suitable backhaul and equipment, can provide speeds competitive with other offerings.
  • Satellite broadband has similarities to satellite TV (it uses a geo-stationary satellite and you need a dish aerial), but data is sent both up and down. Downloads can be quite fast (for a price) but satellite broadband has a "latency" problem caused by the time taken for the radio signals to travel. This can spoil interactive games and can be unpleasant for VOIP use, but is not a problem for most uses.

One factor not mentioned above is that most systems provide a much lower "up load" capacity then their "down load". This "asymmetric" system is fine for many purposes, where typically short commands are sent "up" to trigger a lot of traffic "down", but are a problem for businesses or others who want to send a lot of pictures or information "up". Some wireless and satellite systems offer high upload speeds and FTTC, though still asymmetric, is likely to deliver upload speeds to satisfy most users for the foreseeable future.

We should mention that speed is not the only criterion for a satisfactory Internet connection. Breaks in the service are the main problem for things like on-line TV. These are often caused by restrictions on the capacity of the backhaul and a fast local link (the last bit of a long communications chain) may not help.

Please note that though ADSL broadband can be purchased from multiple "ISPs" (Internet Service Providers) they all pay BT for use of BT installed cables. Some can reduce costs by having some of their own equipment in BT exchange buildings, but that option is not available in the Woodhouse Eaves (0150989xxxx) exchange. So the "headline" prices in ISP advertising often don't apply.

Some information on broadband speed descriptions and reality can be found here (external link - opens in a separate tab or page).