Broadband technologies have become all pervasive – they are enabling fast Internet access to both residential users, mobile users and small businesses at an affordable price. Just, what are the various options for accessing broadband Internet? Read on and you might be surprised…
A broadband connection has become common place in both houses and small businesses. Hence service providers are providing the broadband technologies in a variety of ways. And more often than not, multiple broadband access methods might be suitable for the same application and a combination of wired and wireless broadband technologies might be a good option for redundancy and high availability of Internet connection.
One reason why broadband technologies are so popular is the high download speeds that it offers. For most of the Internet browsing applications, this attribute of broadband networks might be very advantageous as people download more content while browsing and for browsing. But for certain enterprise applications like video conferencing, remote server access etc, broadband may not be a good option as these applications require equal download and upload speeds. Let us look at the various options available for individuals as well as small businesses for accessing broadband Internet.
Fixed Broadband Internet Technologies (Wired Options):
Broadband through Telephone Line/ Modem (ADSL 2+): This is the most commonly found broadband technology. Since many houses / companies already had the telephone (2-Pair copper) cables, the telephony service providers used the same cables along with modem to provide ‘always on’ broadband connectivity. The Internet access speeds start from 256 Kbps and can go up to 4 Mbps for common connections and some high speed connections could go even up to 8 Mbps /36 Mbps. But don’t take these numbers on their face value as these connections are shared connections and hence the actual download speeds might be very less. The upload speeds are even lesser. Both unlimited plans and bandwidth consumption based broadband plans are normally available from the service providers.
For small and medium businesses, fixed broadband is provided at a higher cost with certain additional facilities like permission for multi-user access, static IP address, email accounts, etc. Some service providers even provide an SLA (Service Level Agreements) for commercial broadband usage for companies and commercial establishments.
Broadband through Cable: Like the telecommunications industry, the cable TV service providers also have a huge network of co-axial cables primarily used for accessing cable TV services. By using cable TV modem, subscribers can both avail cable TV services as well as access to broadband Internet simultaneously. They offer speeds from 256 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps and even more. These services are available only in certain countries and localities.
Broadband through Fiber – FTTH: FTTH stands for Fiber To The Home and yeah, you guessed it right – Optical Fiber cable terminates directly in your house! Fiber cables have the unique property of transmitting large amounts of data over long distances. More over, the fiber networks can be upgraded to support higher bandwidth by just upgrading the active components connecting at either side and hence there is investment protection in not having to change the cables all over again in the near future. Fiber To The Home provides any amount of bandwidth from 1 Mbps to 100 Mbps and even 1000 Mbps! Mostly they are shared connections, and if you are very rich, probably you might even get a direct dedicated fiber connection to your home! The enterprise customers already have Internet Leased Lines, MPLS, Point to Point Leased lines etc, where fiber cables terminate in their premises.
Broadband Over Power Lines: Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL) is a very interesting technology that uses the electrical lines that come to home to provide broadband! This requires a BPL Modem (Broadband over Power Line Modem) and some alterations in the transformers and power stations to work. Broadband Over Power Lines provide Internet Connection with a bandwidth of around 256 Kbps to 2.7 Mbps or even higher at some places and the Internet can be accessed by a modem that connects to an electrical plug at one end and RJ-45 cable/ Jack at another. Since electric power and RF vibrate at different frequencies, data can be transmitted over a power line through RF signals without interfering with the power signals. Since power lines are already present in every household, BPL can provide Internet to remote areas more easily. Of course, there are limitations to this technology, like excessive noise in HT lines etc, but power companies usually come up with alternative methods, based on the area.
Mobile Broadband Internet Technologies:
Have you heard of broadband access on high speed trains in China? Well, a lot of stuff is happening today in China, and this article is not about that 🙂 Wake up!! Other than accessing the Internet on high speed trains, the various mobile broadband technologies available today enable people to access broadband Internet from mobile phones, iPads (Yes, thats what tablets have become today!) and of course, laptops. Be it high speed Internet (LTE/3G/HDSPA/CDMA/EVDO) or just basic access (GPRS/EDGE), mobile broadband technologies are up to the task.
4G – LTE/ HSDPA/ 3G/ EDGE/ GPRS Mobile Broadband: The mobile broadband technologies are not only a good choice for accessing Internet from mobile phones and laptops (using data cards) for roaming professionals, but the kind of speeds they offer make them a good contender to all the above terrestrial broadband technologies for primary Internet access at homes and even enterprise companies. 4G or LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the latest mobile broadband technology that is expected to give speeds of around 50 to 60 Mbps! (Those are the advertised speeds but the actual speeds may be lesser than one tenth of those numbers). Even the existing HSDPA/ 3G technologies give around 7.2/3.6 Mbps (Theoretically). The speeds also depends on the location (as only a few locations are covered for 3G technologies and even fewer (if at all!) for 4G/LTE). The older EDGE and GPRS technologies of the GSM cloud are slower but might be able to deliver those important mail notifications to your Inbox when you are moving around.
CDMA 2000 1x & CDMA 2000 1x EVDO Broadband Internet: The CDMA networks are more optimized for data (and hence broadband Internet access) and compete directly (and quite successfully) with the GSM networks for mobile broadband access. A CDMA 2000 1x technology device (data card) could give download bandwidths around 153 Kbps and the more recent CDMA 2000 1x EVDO could give download bandwidths of around 3.1 Mbps/ 4.9 Mbps (Generally, achieved data rates are much lesser – around 1/10 th of advertised capacity, or even lesser depending on the region, signal strength, number of simultaneous connections, etc). The more recent advances in CDMA technologies are being classified as 4G Mobile Broadband in a generic sense which could give much higher download data rates.
Wireless Broadband Internet Technologies:
VSAT Satellite Broadband: VSAT stands for Very Small Aperture Terminals and enable broadband Internet access through the satellites, and dish antennas kept at the premises. The satellites, it seems have a huge coverage area (One Geo-synchronous satellite can cover the entire North American continent!). VSAT’s are currently priced slightly more than their terrestrial or mobile broadband counterparts but very soon this pricing is expected to come down (both initial capital investment – for the small dish antennas and recurring monthly expenditure). Still, they make an excellent choice for broadband Internet access to houses or businesses in remote areas, mountains, seas etc. The service providers have multiple bandwidth based plans starting from 64 Kbps to even 10 Mbps and more. They can also inter-operate with the terrestrial MPLS networks (if the service provider supports it). The advances in satellite technologies would enable very high throughput levels (like 100 Mbps) a reality in the near future. So, watch out for the Satellites!!
Wi-Fi and Wi-Max Wireless Broadband: Wi-Max, the IEEE 802.16 based wireless communications standard can compete with all the mobile broadband technologies with current speeds of around 3-6 Mbps and virtually anywhere access (through Wi-Max enabled Cell Phones, base station at home with wi-fi/ ethernet ports, and even Wi-Max Dongles and Data Cards to connect to both Laptops and Computers. In fact, fixed Wi-Max technologies can even give a solid back-haul (point to point network extension) between various 3G/ 4G Towers and Base Stations for example, with a solid 50-70 Mbps throughput for up to 50 Kilo Meters. With 4G networks planned with Wi-Max in the future, watch out!
Wi-Fi is more of a short range (30 meters indoor, 100 – 500 meters outdoor), high throughput technology which is more suitable for applications like enterprise Intranet/ Internet access. Some small service providers have covered relatively small locations like towns/ smaller localities using multiple such Wi-Fi access points and can provide broadband shared Internet access to subscribers (around 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps generally) in those areas. Apart from this, certain institutions like Railways, Airports, Hotels have their own Wi-Fi hot spots which may give Internet access in a limited area to customers having Wi-Fi enabled Laptops/ Mobiles temporarily (Many of them charge the customers based on duration/ bandwidth).
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