Broadband is the general term for a high-speed internet connection that is used in our homes, offices and shops.
In plain English, it’s a connection that allows you to use multiple devices to surf the web simultaneously. The average home now has around 10 devices that require an internet connection, a study from Aviva, and broadband allows them all to connect to the internet at the same time.
There are different types of broadband available in different parts of the world, and you might even have various options open to you. They include ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), cable or fibre broadband, but there are others, including satellite. You can even get home broadband over 4G and 5G these days.
Within the UK, popular broadband providers include BT, EE, TalkTalk and Plusnet. In the US, Xfinity, Verizon and AT&T are three of the biggest internet service providers (ISPs).
How is broadband different to mobile broadband?
Home broadband, or at least the 'broadband' most people talk about is a wired internet connection to your home that is turned into Wi-Fi by a wireless router that is set up in your home.
Cable, DSL and fibre broadband are the common wired connections. But you can also have 'mobile broadband' that uses 4G or 5G. This is basically home broadband that isn’t delivered by copper or fibre optic cables but by the mobile data networks. This type of broadband is becoming more popular because it can offer a faster connection than, say, ADSL in rural areas, and in some urban areas which have 5G coverage, mobile broadband can be faster than even fibre broadband.
However, there's another type of mobile broadband which is for use while you're travelling. This isn't simply the 3G, 4G or 5G built into your phone, which is called mobile data (in the UK at least). It's still delivered by the mobile network, but from a portable, battery-powered wireless router. They're often called 'Mi-Fi' devices or mobile hotspots and, as with home broadband, allow multiple devices to connect to the internet at the same time.
You can find out more about the best mobile Wi-Fi routers here.
In most cases, it’s possible to turn your phone (or tablet or laptop) into a mobile hotspot so it acts like a mobile Wi-Fi router and allows other devices to share its internet connection.
Is broadband different to Wi-Fi?
A lot of people often think that broadband and Wi-Fi are the same thing, which is understandable as they both give you access to the internet. However, they aren’t the same at all.
Wi-Fi is a wireless connection to a router or hotspot using radio waves. So unlike broadband, it’s not actually the internet itself but a method of connecting devices to a hotspot or access point without the need for a cable.
For more information, see our separate guide to Wi-Fi vs broadband.
What’s the distinction between broadband and the internet?
Broadband and internet are terms many people use interchangeably, but there is a distinction. Broadband is the connection between your home and the internet. The internet itself, of course, is the worldwide network that allows computers, servers and other devices to communicate with each other, regardless of where they are in the world.
Around the world, people can use a specific type of broadband depending on what is available. That could be ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), Cable or Fibre broadband.
What is ADSL?
ADSL, or asymmetric digital subscriber line, is one of the most common types of home broadband worldwide.
It is used through the same copper wires as existing phone lines. ADSL is the most popular type of broadband available in the UK, as it’s the easiest to connect to. This is because it uses your existing phone line, also making it easy to install.
It’s pretty much the same thing in the US, although it’s just known as DSL. It’s also available in almost all areas across the country, even rural areas, because most homes are traditionally wired for a phone line even if they don’t have a landline installed.
What is fibre broadband?
Fibre is a more recent type of broadband. Data is transmitted using light over very thin plastic or glass cables. This allows for much faster speeds than copper wires: Virgin and BT now offer so-called 'full fibre' with speeds of up to 1Gbps (1000Mbps).
There are two main types of fibre broadband: FTTC and FTTP. FTTC, which stands for Fibre To The Cabinet means those fibre optic cables end at a cabinet somewhere near your home (up to 1500m away) and copper cables are used for the remainder of the connection. FTTP, which stands for Fibre To The Property and is the same as 'full fibre', brings that fast fibre optic connection right to your home, allowing for much faster speeds than copper cables.
Fibre broadband is only available in a few states in the US because of the high costs of installing the service direct to homes. That’s why many are still connected to cable broadband.
What is cable broadband?
Cable broadband is a bit like FTTC. It connects your home to a fibre cabinet in your area, but uses coaxial cables (which are used for cable TV) rather than copper cables which are used for landlines.
There isn't usually a choice of cable providers in a given area and, in the UK, Virgin Media is the only cable provider. In the US, Xfinity, Cox Communications and Spectrum are the popular cable broadband providers.
The coax cables allow for faster speeds than copper wires, so cable broadband speeds can run to as much as 500Mbps in some countries.
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