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Broadband history

The internet has been around for a very long time. In news that will surprise some of you, it's been with us since the first email was sent in the 1970s. It gained widespread attention in the 1990s and has since arguably become one of the most important technological developments of all time.

Way back when, we had to dial a connection through our telephones, which ran at a painfully slow 56k. For comparison, an 8Mbps connection is 8000Kb, and we used to connect with just 56Kbps. That's one twentieth of today's slowest recognised UK broadband speed.

This made it very, very difficult to download anything apart from text. At full speed a single, low-quality song (3.5MB) would take around ten minutes to download, but internet is always "up to", so realistically it would take 30 minutes to a few hours. If you wanted to download a low quality movie (700MB), it would take 28 hours at full speed, or around three-five days at low speed.

In addition to atrocious speeds, dial-up internet was also extremely inconvenient because it took up full use of the telephone. People were unable to use the telephone and surf the net at the same time, forcing them to choose between massive inconvenience or the cost of a second line.

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And then there was broadband...

Broadband breathed new life into the internet in the early 2000s. In the years since, broadband technology has gone from strength to strength by giving internet users faster connection speeds without disrupting their telephone usage. Broadband basically means that the signal in one line can be split between telephone and internet, so users can use them simultaneously and at much greater speeds.

The advent of broadband networks meant that people were able download files, songs, TV shows and movies at greater speeds. This opened up a whole new world in online media - on 56k connection speeds, sites such as YouTube just weren't possible.

Like most new technologies, broadband was extremely expensive when it was first launched and initial take-up was slow. Once prices became more competitive, however, ISPs began to compete with each other on things like offering the fastest broadband, the best "heavy use" broadband and best broadband bundles.

Now the days of dial-up are long gone. And gone too is the time when two or three big-players dominate the market. Nowadays, the UK broadband sector is a buyer’s market with plenty of great offers to choose from.

More recently, we've seen the rise of new broadband technology, such as 3G mobile broadband and cable broadband. The former lets you get online on the go at super-fast speeds, while the latter has dramatically boosted connection speeds to a UK maximum of 300Mbps.

2012 also saw the launch of the UK's first-ever 4G network, which promises to deliver mobile broadband connections of the speed and reliability you normally only get with fixed-line technology.

For more detailed information on broadband, and an explanation of commonly used terms, check out our broadband jargon guide.