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Engineering LibreTexts

1.5C: Broadband

  • Page ID
    11488
  • The Growth of Broadband

    In the early days of the Internet, most access was done via a modem over an analog telephone line. A modem (short for “modulator-demodulator”) was connected to the incoming phone line and a computer in order to connect you to a network. Speeds were measured in bits-per-second (bps), with speeds growing from 1200 bps to 56,000 bps over the years. Connection to the Internet via these modems is called dial-up access. Dial-up was very inconvenient because it tied up the phone line. As the web became more and more interactive, dial-up also hindered usage, as users wanted to transfer more and more data. As a point of reference, downloading a typical 3.5 mb song would take 24 minutes at 1200 bps and 2 minutes at 28,800 bps.

    A broadband connection is defined as one that has speeds of at least 256,000 bps, though most connections today are much faster, measured in millions of bits per second (megabits or mbps) or even billions (gigabits). For the home user, a broadband connection is usually accomplished via the cable television lines or phone lines (DSL). Both cable and DSL have similar prices and speeds, though each individual may find that one is better than the other for their specific area. Speeds for cable and DSL can vary during different times of the day or week, depending upon how much data traffic is being used. In more remote areas, where cable and phone companies do not provide access, home Internet connections can be made via satellite. The average home broadband speed is anywhere between 3 mbps and 30 mbps. At 10 mbps, downloading a typical 3.5 mb song would take less than a second. For businesses who require more bandwidth and reliability, telecommunications companies can provide other options, such as T1 and T3 lines.

    Growth of Broadband Use (Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project Surveys)

    Growth of broadband use (Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project Surveys)

    Broadband access is important because it impacts how the Internet is used. When a community has access to broadband, it allows them to interact more online and increases the usage of digital tools overall. Access to broadband is now considered a basic human right by the United Nations, as declared in their 2011 statement:

    “Broadband technologies are fundamentally transforming the way we live,” the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, set up last year by the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said in issuing “The Broadband Challenge” at a leadership summit in Geneva.

    “It is vital that no one be excluded from the new global knowledge societies we are building. We believe that communication is not just a human need – it is a right.”[1]