How does broadband work?

Broadband is often used as a blanket term to describe any type of high speed internet, and it is true that the technology works by transmitting large amounts of data at fast speed across cables, phone lines and mobile networks.

Unlike older dial-up technology like 56k modems, broadband packages are capable of sending much larger amounts of data at a faster rate.

The word ‘traffic’ is often used in internet speak, and it serves as a good analogy for the difference between the two technologies.

Older dial-up modems are like a traffic jam of cars all waiting in line to use a single lane, while a broadband connection is like a steady stream of cars travelling at faster speeds down a motorway with more lanes.

However, broadband comes in different forms like ADSL broadband (phone lines dedicated to the internet), cable broadband (fibre-optic) and mobile broadband (3G and 4G networks).

Although ADSL broadband is currently the most popular type of broadband package, many users are relying on other types of broadband connections because of the advantages they bring.

If you would like to know more about what exactly broadband is, have a look at Broadband: A beginner’s guide.

How ADSL broadband works

ADSL/ADSL2+ broadband uses a fixed phone line which serves as a dedicated internet connection. Although ADSL broadband still uses the phone socket in the wall and is connected to the local telephone exchange via copper telephone wires, this type of broadband is always on and it is much faster than older dial-up internet access.

You can still use the line to make calls as the broadband connection is separated from the telephone channel by a micro-filter, which plugs into your phone socket.

The data and digital signals sent down the ADSL line are decoded by your modem, and it is translated into usable information so you can access the internet.

Compare the latest ADSL broadband packages.

How cable/fibre power broadband works

Cable broadband works on the same principles of ADSL broadband. The modem still receives data and signals from a wire and the connection is always on.

However, instead of using copper wires, cable broadband uses fibre-optic materials. Fibre-optic wires are not only capable of sending data at much faster speeds, they can also carry much more data (bandwidth).

Cable broadband is also typically more reliable than other types of broadband because it is not affected as much by interference from noise and electromagnetic signals.

Digital TV can also come as part of cable broadband packages as the connection can transmit audio and visual signals along with data.

Compare the latest cable broadband packages.

How mobile broadband works

Mobile broadband uses mobile phone masts to provide high speed internet access. Just as these masts are capable of providing a network for telephone calls, they can also be used to send and receive data for internet use. Mobile broadband uses 3G and 4G networks to provide internet access to users who have devices capable of receiving and using this mobile data, like USB dongles and smartphones.

Compare the latest mobile broadband packages.

How wireless broadband works

Wireless broadband isn’t necessarily a different type of broadband, it is simply the conversion of an existing internet connection into a wireless radio signal. Wireless routers are still connected to the internet via an ADSL, cable or even mobile connection, but the signal is re-coded and transmitted on a designated radio channel. Wireless network cards can scan and access these different frequencies, enabling internet access without a physical broadband connection.

See what broadband packages are available in your area by using the broadband location checker.