DEFINITION of 'Broadband'

Broadband is a high-speed, high-capacity transmission medium that can carry signals from multiple independent network carriers. This is done on a single coaxial or fiber-optic cable by establishing different bandwidth channels. Broadband technology can support a wide range of frequencies; it is used to transmit data, voice and video over long distances simultaneously.


The two defining characteristics of broadband are that it is high speed and on all of the time. Both of these characteristics distinguish broadband from the older dial-up connections. Not only was dial-up slower, but it was also not always on. When it was on, it often interfered with phone line usage. Broadband provides more flexibility in usage than dial-up, although, like dial-up, it serves to connect homes and businesses to the Internet, and to the global community of online users.

Capabilities of Broadband

Some government departments give precise definitions of broadband that include the minimum download and upload speeds, such as a certain number of megabits per second. The download, upload and media usage capabilities of broadband are much greater than dial-up, although the exact amount of these depends on the specific type of broadband in use as well as the user's location. The speed of broadband also makes online gaming and interactive services possible.

The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as having minimum download speeds of 25Mbps and the minimum upload speeds of 3Mbps. Over the years, the FCC has changed the requirements for broadband multiple times. 

Types of Broadband

Types of broadband include digital subscriber lines (DSL), such as the asymmetrical digital subscriber line and symmetrical digital subscriber line; cable modems; fiber; wireless; and satellite. DSL provides broadband access through wireless transmissions. DSL connections are available at different speeds for businesses and homes. Broadband may also be available via cable modem, meaning users can access the Internet using the same cable service from their television cable providers without interfering with television usage.

Fiber can provide an exceptionally high speed of Internet transmission. It utilizes very thin transparent glass fibers to transmit information as light. Wireless broadband transmissions include both fixed and mobile. Fixed wireless provides limited range broadband access within a wireless local area network (WLAN), and it is often used in homes or businesses. Mobile telephone service providers may provide mobile access to broadband that enables a user to get onto the Internet wherever corresponding mobile signals are available. A type of mobile broadband service comes via satellites orbiting the earth. Satellite broadband can help with getting broadband access to individuals and businesses in more remote locations, although severe weather can disrupt service for some customers.

Broadband over powerline distributes broadband via existing electric powerlines and has similar speeds to DSL and cable models. A rare form of internet access, it allows users to plug into the internet through traditional electrical connections and outlets. 

The term broadband is sometimes used to distinguish between public and private lines, where broadband is used for public access. 

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