Broadband is a technology that transmits data at high speed along cables, ISDN / DSLs (Digital Subscriber Lines) and mobile phone networks.
The term 'broadband' refers to a wide range of frequencies which can be divided into channels. The most common type of broadband is ADSL (carried along BT phone lines), though cable (using new fibre-optic cables) and mobile broadband (using 3G and 4G mobile reception) are hot contenders to topple ADSL's dominance.
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Broadband developed from a need for greater amounts of information to be transmitted across the internet.
If you imagine a narrow motorway tunnel with hundreds of cars attempting to pass through at rush hour, that's what using the internet with a 56k dial-up connection was like. In this analogy the best solution would be to add extra lanes, and it is on this principle that broadband is based.
If you want to find out more, take a look at the uSwitch guide to What is Broadband?
How does ADSL broadband work?
ADSL broadband comes from your local telephone exchange, owned by BT, through a Fixed Line Access Network made out of copper wires. These are the telephone lines that you see in the street.
The lines in the street connect to the wiring inside your house and provide you an internet and phone connection through the BT socket on the wall. At this point there is also a piece of equipment called a micro-filter, which separates out your telephone line from your broadband.
The information that you initially receive in your home is a series of digital signals which are decoded and recoded into usable information - in this case for telephone calls and an internet connection. An ADSL broadband connection is 'always-on'.
How does cable / fibre-optic broadband work?
Unlike the copper wires of an ADSL connection, cables are partially made of fibre-optic material, which allows for much faster broadband speeds and increased reliability.
The other advantage of cable is that it also allows for the transmission of audio and visual signals, which means you can get both landline and digital TV services from your cable broadband provider.
How does mobile broadband work?
Mobile broadband uses 3G and 4G mobile phone technology. These are made possible by two complementary technologies, HSDPA and HSUPA (high speed download and upload packet access, respectively).
The connection is provided from mobile phone masts, and is therefore available on the move or abroad.
How does wireless broadband work?
Basically speaking, the internet comes into your router and is then converted into a radio signal and broadcast. The wireless network card in your computer picks it up and re-encodes it again.
With the exception of 3G and 4G broadband, it is not the broadband connection that is wireless, it is the router and network card in your computer.
Like radio, the signals can be changed and set to different frequencies, so if one channel is too busy you can switch to another.
Now that you know how they work, why not use the uSwitch broadband postcode checker to compare broadband packages that are available in your area?