What Is Broadband?

Broadband refers to various high-capacity transmission technologies that are used to transmit data, voice, and video across long distances and at high speeds. Common mediums of transmission include coaxial cable, fiber optic cable, and radio waves.

Broadband is always connected and removes the need for dial-up. Its importance is far-reaching; it allows for high-quality and quick access to information, teleconferencing, data transmission, and more, that can be used in a variety of capacities, from healthcare to education to technological development.

Key Takeaways

  • The term broadband is used to describe high-speed and high-bandwidth communication infrastructure.
  • It is commonly used in relation to high-speed Internet services, which have become increasingly important both to consumers and governments.
  • New innovations in satellite-based broadband services could potentially broaden the scope of access throughout the world.
  • There are six main types of broadband technologies. They are digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modem, fiber, wireless, satellite, and broadband over powerlines (BPL).
  • The bulk of Internet users (92.6%) across the globe access it through their mobile phones.

How Broadband Works

Today, the discussion of broadband often centers on its use to provide high-speed Internet access. Historically, broadband Internet was defined as being faster than a traditional dial-up Internet connection. However, it is now common for more precise definitions to be required.

For instance, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in 2015 that, in order to be considered broadband Internet, the service must offer download and upload speeds of at least 25 and 3 megabits, respectively.

In general, however, the two defining characteristics of broadband are that it is high-speed and available at all times. Both of these characteristics serve to distinguish broadband from older dial-up connections. Not only was dial-up Internet connection slower, but it was only available when specifically requested by the user. 

Special Considerations

Because of its clear advantages over dial-up services, broadband Internet access is preferred by both end-users and governments. The use of broadband has been growing rapidly as well improving considerably. As of January 2021, there were 4.66 billion active Internet users globally. That is almost 60% of the global population. Of this amount, 4.32 billion (92.6%) accessed the Internet via a mobile connection.

Overall, there are currently 1.18 billion broadband subscriptions, globally. That is a fixed broadband subscription rate of 15.2 per 100 people. Mobile broadband subscription rates are 75 per 100 people.

By 2023, Asia Pacific will have 46% of the world's global public WiFi hotspots; the highest share. Broadband speeds are also improving. In 2018, the global broadband speed was 45.9 Mbps and is expected to be 110.4 Mbps in 2023. Regarding mobile speeds, in 2018, the global speed was 13.2 Mbps. In 2023, this is expected to be 43.9 Mbps.

Types of Broadband

The six main types of broadband technologies are digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modem, fiber, wireless, satellite, and broadband over powerlines (BPL).

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

DSL transmits data over copper wires that already exist in homes and businesses from telephone lines. The speed of DSL broadband ranges from several hundred Kbps to millions of bits per second (Mbps).

There are two primary types of DSL technologies: asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL) and symmetrical digital subscriber line (SDSL). ADSL is asymmetrical because its users receive a lot of data but do not send a lot of data. Home residences fall under ADSL where individuals use the Internet primarily for surfing, watching movies, and playing video games. Because of the user profile, ADSL has faster speeds for the incoming stream than for the outgoing stream.

SDSL is primarily used for businesses that require fast speeds for both sending and receiving data. Business Internet needs encompass the typical Internet needs for home residences but also require sending large amounts of data, such as when video-conferencing.

Cable Modem

Cable modems allow for the transmission of data on the same coaxial cables used by cable companies that send pictures and sound to your television. Cable modems are external devices that provide speeds of 1.5 Mbps or more. Speeds vary depending on the option selected from your cable provider, the cable modem, and traffic.


Fiber broadband uses fiber optic technology that converts electrical signals to light. The electrical signals carry data and when converted to light, the light is sent through transparent glass fibers. The speed at which fiber transmits data is significantly greater than that of DSL and cable modems; usually by tens or hundreds of Mbps.

As of 2020, Asia Pacific was the region with the highest number of online users; over 2.5 billion people. In second place was Europe, with approximately 728 million Internet users.

Fiber connections can also deliver voice and video, so it acts as an alternative to traditional cable connections. Currently, access to fiber is limited as it requires companies to build out fiber networks, which have been growing over the past several years.


Wireless broadband is either mobile or fixed and transmits data via radio signals from the service provider's facility to the customer's location. Wireless is helpful in providing long-range transmissions to areas that are remote that do not have access to DSL, cable, or fiber. The speed of wireless is similar to that of DSL and cable.


Satellite broadband is a form of wireless broadband but uses satellites in the earth's orbit to transmit data. Satellite broadband is critical in providing broadband connectivity to remote areas in the world and is a focus of many technology companies that have the goal of providing Internet to the entire globe. Satellite broadband speeds vary depending on many factors but are generally 500 Kbps for downloads and 80 Kbps for uploads.

Broadband over Powerlines (BPL)

As the name suggests, BPL transmits data over existing powerlines and can be set up via a building's existing electrical system. The speeds are similar to DSL and cable. BPL is a fairly new technology and is only available in select areas. The idea is that access and set up will be simpler and affordable as powerlines exist far and wide and, therefore, the need to build out other broadband connections, such as fiber, will not be necessary.

Real-World Example

One emerging frontier of broadband transmission technology involves the use of advanced satellite networks to provide Internet access without the need for large-scale investments in terrestrial infrastructure.

A notable example of this emerging approach is the Starlink Project currently being pursued by the private space exploration and development company, SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved SpaceX to launch 12,000 satellites designed to work in tandem to provide high-speed satellite Internet access to users throughout the world. SpaceX has also filed paperwork with an international regulator to launch up to 30,000 more satellites.

As of May 26, 2021, Starlink has launched 1,735 satellites. If successful, the stated aim of the project is to provide low-cost broadband Internet services to users throughout the world, potentially undercutting ground-based telecommunications providers in the process.

What Is a Broadband Connection?

A broadband connection is the transmission of high-quality data of a wide bandwidth over fast Internet connections. In its simplest form, it is a high-speed Internet connection that is always on. Broadband connections include WiFi, DSLs, fiber, and satellites.

What Is a Broadband Modem?

A broadband modem is an external device that is used to connect to high-speed Internet, such as over a DSL or cable network. The connection is always on and does not require the user to connect before using the Internet.

What Is Considered a Good Broadband Speed?

For standard broadband, a good speed is 11 Mbps. Faster speeds would be between 11 Mbps and 50 Mbps and very fast speeds would be 100 Mbps or higher.

What Is the Difference Between Broadband and WiFi?

WiFi is a type of broadband connection. Broadband is access to the network that provides the Internet, and WiFi is one of the means of access. WiFi uses wireless connectivity, primarily radio signals, to connect.

What Is the Difference Between Broadband and DSL?

DSL is also a type of broadband connection, like WiFi. Broadband is the method of receiving and sending data. DSL is one of the technologies that allow for this. It uses copper cables in the house to connect to the Internet.

The Bottom Line

Broadband is a high-quality transmission technology that allows for the transfer of voice, video, and data. It is primarily used in the capacity of the Internet, with individuals and businesses accessing broadband connectivity via fixed or mobile connections.

Many companies are attempting to provide broadband services to the globe, as fast access to high-quality data is seen as a benefit to humankind.