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What is broadband?

What is broadband?

By Yvette Fletcher

Article 1 of 3

Baffled by broadband jargon? Read on to find out the meaning of common terms.

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Whether you’re looking to upgrade or fix your broadband connection, you may quickly find you’re confronted by jargon. 

Our plain-English guide will help you to understand the meaning behind common broadband terms such as 'ADSL' and 'FTTP'.

Once you know exactly what you’re looking for, browse our broadband deal reviews to find out which providers offer excellent customer service and technical support, as well as the broadband speed that's best for you.

4G broadband

This refers to broadband transmitted via a 4G connection. 4G is fourth-generation mobile technology that enables connection speeds and reliability comparable to ADSL and fibre broadband connections. If you're stuck with slow broadband speeds where you live, it might be worth considering. Find out more in our guide to 4G broadband.

ADSL

ADSL is an acronym of asymmetric digital subscriber line. It’s a technology that involves the communication of data at high speed, using a standard telephone line. Voice and data channels can be split, making it possible to make a phone call while accessing the internet simultaneously. ADSL allows for download speeds of up to 20Mbps over copper wire, and is also referred to as ‘standard’ broadband. Compare standard broadband deals to find the best one for you.

Average speed

This is the speed broadband providers refer to in their adverts. It's the download speed available to at least 50% of customers at peak times (between 8pm and 10pm). Up until May 2018, providers advertised 'up to' speeds which only had to be available to 10% of customers.

Bandwidth

The refers to the capacity of a broadband connection – it’s the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time. It’s usually expressed in megabits per second (see Mbps).

Broadband

This is a general term for a high-speed internet connection that is ‘always on’.  It can work using fixed lines or wirelessly.

Cable broadband

Broadband that’s delivered using coaxial cable lines. The largest cable broadband provider in the UK is Virgin Media (although it’s not the only one). Virgin Media’s network uses fibre optic connections to street cabinets (see FTTC), but coaxial cable is used for the last stretch to the customer’s premises, rather than copper wires.

Download speed

How quickly your broadband connection can receive data. It’s usually expressed in megabits per second (Mbps).

Estimated speed

When you sign-up to a new broadband deal - or use a provider's website to check the broadband speed available at your address - you should be given an estimated speed to expect at your home. It's usually given in a range and reflects the speeds available to similar customers.

Fibre

This broadly refers to broadband that uses fibre optic cables. Data is transferred using pulses of light sent along a plastic or glass tube, rather than the copper cable traditionally used for phone lines. Fibre works faster than copper, and it's less prone to interference. When providers refer to a ‘fibre’ connection, they can mean either Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) or Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), but the former is more common. Read our guide on broadband speeds to establish whether fibre is right for you.

 

FTTC/Fibre to the Cabinet

This describes a fibre connection where the fibre optic cables extend only as far as the street cabinet.  The distance from the cabinet to the customer is then typically covered by copper cables, though some networks (such as Virgin Media's) use coaxial cable instead. Data travels more slowly over the last stretch of copper (or coaxial) cable, so FTTC connections aren’t as fast as those that use optical fibre all the way to the home (see FTTP).

FTTP/Fibre to the Premises

This describes a fibre connection where the optical fibre reaches all the way to the customer’s premises, allowing for faster broadband speeds. Sometimes called ‘full fibre’ or Fibre to the Home (FTTH), these connections offer the fastest broadband speeds currently available.

Full fibre

See FTTP

Internet

A global collection of interconnected networks accessed by users with a computer (or connected device) via an internet service provider (ISP).

IP Address

IP stands for internet protocol. An IP Address is a string of numbers acting as an identifier for every device connected to the internet. It can be static (permanently assigned) or changeable (aka ‘dynamic’).

ISP

This stands for internet service provider – a company that provides access to the internet. Use our reviews of the best and worst broadband providers to compare the major ISPs in the UK.

Line rental

Line rental is the fee paid to cover the use of the phone lines used to deliver broadband. If you have a broadband deal from a provider that uses the Openreach network (this is the majority of providers – Virgin Media is the main exception) or your deal includes a home phone line, you’ll need to pay line rental.

Megabits per second

The unit typically used to describe broadband speeds - denoted as Mbps.

Mobile broadband

Broadband that can be access wirelessly rather than using a fixed line – for example, via wi-fi, using 3G or 4G on a phone or tablet, or using a portable modem or other device.

Ofcom

The telecoms regulator – the Office for Communications. Ofcom regulates broadband, home phone and mobile services, as well as broadcasts via TV and radio. It also oversees the postal service.

Openreach

The company responsible for maintaining the telecoms network in the UK. Openreach is the network division of BT, and is responsible for ensuring the network infrastructure is working as it should, and for upgrading it. Most broadband companies (including BT, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk) use the Openreach network to provide their services.

Satellite broadband

This is broadband that you connect to via a satellite dish, which is connected to a modem. It’s not a common form of broadband at the moment, but it's useful in areas where a fixed-line network isn’t available, particularly if 3G/4G coverage is also weak where you live. Find out more in our guide to satellite broadband.

Streaming

This is the process of watching or listening to audio or video files as they are being sent via the internet, unlike downloading, where the files are saved on the device before you access them.

Superfast

This generally refers to broadband that is faster than ADSL, but the exact definition varies. The UK government considers any broadband connection faster than 24Mbps ‘superfast’, while the EU uses it for connections faster than 30Mbps. We use the UK government definition for our superfast broadband reviews

It’s possible for satellite and 4G broadband to be superfast, as well as fixed-line broadband.

Ultrafast

As with superfast, there are varying definitions for ultrafast broadband. The UK government and EU definition – and the one that we use for our ultrafast fibre deals – is broadband that is 100Mbps or faster. 

Ofcom uses a different definition – 300Mbps or faster.

Unlimited data

This means your broadband provider won't limit the amount of content you download to a fixed amount each month. It used to be common for providers to cap the amount of data you could download, but deals with data limits are now rare.

Upload speed

How fast your internet connection can send data to a server or the internet. Like download speed, it’s usually expressed in Mbps.

Wi-fi

Wi-fi is typically used to describe wireless broadband connections that use radio waves transmitted from a router in order to connect devices to the internet.

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