- Broadband internet is another name for high-speed internet service, usually defined as 25Mbps or faster.
- There are four major types of broadband internet: cable, DSL, fiber, and satellite.
- The average broadband speed in the US is 124Mbps, but DSL is much slower at about 35Mbps, and fiber is the fastest at 1,000Mbps.
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Simply put, broadband is any high-speed internet service. Broadband is the most common kind of internet service available, and that’s been true in most populated regions of the US for a couple of decades.
If you’re reading this, there’s an extremely good chance that you’re using broadband internet.
Broadband internet, explained
Prior to the widespread availability of broadband, most internet was delivered to residential homes via dial-up service — the same technology used for telephone calls. This meant that picking up the phone would turn off your internet access, and internet speeds were pathetically slow — about 0.056 megabits per second (Mbps).
These days, nearly every home in the US uses broadband. And in contrast to dial-up, the average broadband speed in the US is about 124Mbps, according to DecisionData.org — that’s about 2,200 times faster.
While the average broadband speed is 124Mbps, actual broadband speeds vary dramatically depending upon where you live, your service provider, and your actual broadband service plan. Since 2015, the Federal Communications Commission has defined broadband as any service that delivers at least 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps upload speed, though broadband can also reach “gigabit” speeds — 1,000Mbps.
Broadband isn’t the same thing as Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is the wireless network that broadcasts internet signals around your home or office. “Broadband” describes the type and speed of those signals, which are delivered to your home and then passed through a router. The router can then send the internet to your computer and other devices via Ethernet cable or wirelessly via Wi-Fi.
The four major types of broadband internet
There are four major kinds of broadband service. Not only do they use fundamentally different technologies to get the data to your door, but they vary by speed and price. Here is a brief overview of each:
Broadband cable internet uses the same coaxial cable that brings cable TV into your home; it’s become a popular form of broadband because it lets consumers use the same company for their television and internet access.
Cable is fairly fast, usually able to reach speeds as high as 500Mbps (depending upon the service plan you choose). Cable’s bandwidth is shared among everyone in a service area, though, so you might find it slows down in the evening when everyone is at home and streaming video.
Digital subscriber line (DSL) uses phone lines to send and receive data and is championed by traditional phone service providers to leverage their infrastructure.
It’s relatively slow, especially compared to cable, generally limited to about 5Mbps to 35Mbps. But in rural areas, it’s often the most available option.
As the name suggests, fiber uses fiber optic cables to transmit data using light rather than electricity.
It’s generally the fastest residential internet you can buy, topping out at 1,000 Mbps (which is referred to as a “gigabit” service). Like cable, fiber shares bandwidth across groups of customers but carries so much data that customers should never notice a slowdown.
Fiber isn’t available in many areas but is slowly spreading to new cities.
Satellite internet isn’t common because it’s typically the most expensive service per megabit, offering the lowest overall value. It’s most often used in rural regions that are poorly serviced by DSL, cable, and fiber.
The economics of broadband satellites might be changing, though, as SpaceX deploys its Starlink constellation of broadband internet satellites. While still being deployed and operating in a limited beta capacity, Starlink costs $99 per month and is expected to eventually offer download speeds of 300Mbps.
However Starlink has also proved controversial, as its satellites are clearly visible from Earth, attracting complaints from scientists and environmentalists about light pollution and space junk.