The title of this article is somewhat misleading, as it is wrong to think of broadband and the Internet as two competing technologies. Nothing could be further from the truth, as both rely on each other.
The Internet, as we know it today, would not be able to provide live video between users, online interactive game play, or on-demand video, if it wasn’t for the broadband connections most of us enjoy.
Similarly, a broadband connection would be pointless without the array of Internet services to give it substance.
Introduction to Broadband and the Internet
The Internet has evolved into a global network, providing both private and public access to an assortment of services and applications. Over an Internet connection, computer users of varying levels can communicate and exchange all types of information.
Broadband on the other hand, is concerned with the physical medium (e.g. twisted pair cable, fiber optic cable, wireless, satellite) over which those users achieve Internet connectivity, as well as the speed at which data transmission takes place.
According to the FCC, broadband refers to high-speed Internet access that allows users to access the Internet and Internet-related services at significantly higher speeds than those available through “dial-up” services.
The key phrases here are high-speed Internet access and higher speeds than those available through dial-up services. Considering that today, the Internet is used to stream data, voice, and video, between any two points on the globe, this immediately makes high capacity transmission a basic requirement.
Hence, we now see that broadband not only refers to high speed transmission, but also high capacity, or as it is more commonly known as, high bandwidth.
The range of services offered over the Internet include, but are by no means not limited to, electronic mail, world wide web, file exchange and transfer, audio and video streaming, instant messaging and chat, and communications.
Many of the services that were once handled face to face, are now transacted with a computer over the Internet. Electronic banking, paying bills online, booking a holiday, even doing the grocery shopping, can now be accomplished with a computer screen and keyboard.
E-commerce stores are slowly replacing the old brick and mortar businesses, while buyers are able to quickly find all the best prices, at their fingertips. We no longer pick up a newspaper or magazine, but instead turn to online news services and wade through site after site with the latest gossip.
Digital marketing agencies with access to online, real-time traffic statistics, are able to bring about a positive impact to business sales withing days, having replaced the old board room campaign presentations that took months to prepare and even longer to implement.
Services that were once the exclusive domain of media companies and production houses, are now at the mercy of every Internet subscriber. Ordinary users now have their own blogs and can upload video content, making it publicly available to the entire globe.
Excepting the cell phone, almost all other forms of telecommunication are either handled exclusively over the internet, or are being slowly superseded and replaced by a corresponding Internet service. We Skype and Zoom, Whatsapp and Google.
How many people will post a letter these days, preferring instead to send an email or use one of the online messaging services where they can also send multimedia content.
The explosion of high-end services over the Internet has been made possible thanks to broadband connections. In order to provide the speed and capacity required to support these services, the technology has moved completely away from analog and gone fully digital.
Our old dial-up has made way for always available connections. Among the many benefits of going digital, are that it can more efficiently utilize whatever bandwidth is available from the medium on which transmission takes place, and it can better accommodate high capacity content like audio and video.
In large, this is due to the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), more commonly referred to as the TCP/IP stack, which encompass the underlying set of packet protocols used in the transmission of all data over the Internet.
The TCP/IP stack provides end to end connectivity, taking care of routing of packets using the hierarchical host addressing and identification system commonly referred to as IP addressing. All publicly connected devices on the Internet, are assigned their own, distinct IP address.
The TCP/IP stack used with today’s connections, was also used over dial-up connections. In fact, it is the same twisted-pair cables that carried the old analog telephone calls that today provide us with broadband access to the Internet.
So what is it, that gives us the ability and without a second thought, to download applications and high definition video content in a matter of a few minutes over the Internet, that once, would have taken weeks or even months to complete.
The answer is broadband connectivity. Twisted-pair cable was originally designed for the 300Hz to 3.3kHZ range to be used on analog telephone lines that connected subscribers with their local telephone exchange.
Today, these same lines can achieve speeds in the Gbps range (see Up to 8 Gbit/s broadband with new ITU standard MGfast).
Where dial-up once gave us speeds of 56kbps, today, the median fixed broadband speeds according to Ookla, shows that users are achieving speeds of 100Mbps and above (e.g. typically 137Mbps in the U.S., 156Mbps in Denmark).
The data transmission technology used over twisted-pair is Very high speed Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL). Plain VDSL provides speeds of 55Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream, while VDSL2, 200Mbps and 100Mbps, and the latest VDSL2-Vplus, 300Mbps and 100Mbps, respectively.
Twisted-pair lines are the most common connection medium (globally) from subscribers to their provider, although in the U.S., coaxial cable or just cable, used for cable TV transmission, is also commonly used for Internet connection.
While cable has better shielding than twisted-pair and can be run over a greater distance, it is more expensive. Twisted-pair and cable are often used for what is referred to as the last mile, which refers to the connection from the subscriber to the provider’s closest junction.
From there, the connection is usually then taken over by fiber optic cables which provide even greater transmission speeds and bandwidth. This is what allows providers to offer broadband connectivity to a large subscriber base.
Fiber optic cable is also used as the connection medium between a provider and their client, but usually when the client is a business or company with requirements for speeds and capacity much greater than can be offered with twisted-pair or cable.
The Internet is the convergent network upon which a variety of services and applications such as email, web browsing, and video streaming operate. The underlying physical connections and protocols, form the infrastructure that make it possible for these services to operate.
And as services over the Internet grow and develop, their need for higher transmission speeds and greater bandwidth also increases, which is today provided through broadband connectivity. Broadband and the Internet are therefore interdependent.
Think if you like, of the Internet as operating at the software application level, and broadband being the hardware level, with its underlying transmission protocols playing the role of the firmware.