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What is broadband?

Broadband is a type of high-speed internet connection that has surpassed dial-up as the standard way to connect to the internet.

Broadband packages come in all shapes and sizes, from ADSL broadband to cable broadband and 3G and 4G mobile broadband.

A broadband connection, like a telephone line, is never switched off and can be accessed at any time.

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Broadband is the UK's most popular form of internet connection and is used by millions of people across the country. Broadband is actually a relative term because it can only be understood in context, i.e. as opposed to narrowband, which was the technology behind dial-up connections.

In the days of dial-up, you had to hang up the phone to use the internet. With broadband the frequencies can be split into channels, so you can use the phone on one channel and the internet on another.

Broadband is most often in the form of ADSL, which means it is transmitted along BT phone lines, although there are also cable (fibre-optic) broadband connections, and 3G and 4G mobile broadband connections (which use phone signal).

For more information about broadband and to find out all the latest news see our broadband news page.

What is ADSL Broadband?

ADSL broadband is provided through existing BT phone lines, and is the most widely available broadband connection on the market. 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 in the street.

The information that you receive is a series of digital signals that come through these lines. These are then split into phone and internet by a microfilter - a small, plastic box that plugs into the main BT socket.

The speed of ADSL broadband depends on your distance from the local telephone exchange. Signal deteriorates over distance, so the closer you are to your exchange, the higher your speed.

To find out more read the uSwitch quick-guide to ADSL broadband here.

Compare all ADSL broadband packages at uSwitch now.

what is broadband

What is Cable Broadband?

Cable broadband uses fibre-optic cables to transmit data. Not too long ago, the only providers to offer cable were Virgin Media and BT. However, now cable broadband is available from an array of companies.

Virgin Media operates its own cable network, after buying it from the NTL / Telewest Group in 2008. Virgin's fibre service is now available to over 12 million homes in the UK.

BT also offers a fibre service, called BT Infinity, which uses their existing lines. BT's network is also used by a host of providers, including Sky, TalkTalk and EE, for their own cable products.

Unlike the copper wires of an ADSL connection, cables are partially made of fibre-optic material, which allows for far less signal degradation and much faster broadband speeds.

The other advantage of cable is that it also allows for the transmission of audio and visual signals. This is what allows you to get your landline and digital TV services from your cable broadband provider.

To find out more read the uSwitch guide to cable broadband here.

Compare all cable broadband packages at uSwitch now.

What is Mobile Broadband?

Mobile broadband is transmitted over mobile phone networks, and requires no cabling. Users are able to get online wherever there is a mobile phone signal.

3G mobile broadband is offered through all the major mobile phone networks including:

4G mobile broadband is a newer, faster technology, but is much less widely available. Initially solely available from EE in the UK, you can now get a 4G service from a host of rival providers too, including Three, Vodafone and O2.

To find out more read the uSwitch guide to cable broadband here.

To compare mobile broaband packages see our mobile broadband comparison page.