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Broadband history

The internet has been around for a pretty long time — since the first e-mail was sent in the 1970s. It gained widespread attention in the 1990s and has since 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 56kbps. For comparison, an 8Mbps connection is equal to an 8000kbps connection, and we used to connect with just 56kbps. That's a tiny fraction of today's slowest recognised broadband speed within the UK.

This made it very, very difficult to download anything apart from text. At full speed a single, low-quality song (roughly 3.5MB) would take around 10 minutes to download. But internet speeds are always 'up to', so realistically, it would take 30 minutes to a few hours to download one song. If you wanted to download a low-quality movie (around 700MB), it would take 28 hours at full speed, or three to five days at low speed.

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

And then there was broadband...

Broadband breathed new life into the internet in the early 2000s by allowing the signal in one line to be split between telephone and internet, meaning users could be online and make phone calls at the same time. This also led to faster connections, making it easier to browse the internet and download files.

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 the previous 56kbps connection speeds, sites such as YouTube just weren't possible.

Like most new technologies, broadband was extremely expensive when it was first launched, so initial usage was low. 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, nearly everyone uses some form of broadband, whether through their phone lines or other connection types.

Since the launch of broadband, we've seen the rise of new broadband technology, such as 4G mobile broadband, which allows users to get online anywhere, and cable (fibre-optic) broadband, which has boosted connection speeds in the UK to a maximum of 300Mbps.

Now the days of dial-up connection are long gone, as is the time when two or three big players dominated the broadband market. Nowadays, the UK broadband sector is a buyer’s market with plenty of great offers to choose from. Compare our best-selling home broadband packages to find the best offer for you.

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