The different types of broadband and what they mean to you
At first glance, there are three main ways of getting online: ADSL, fibre optic or mobile broadband. While this is technically true, it can be broken down even further, with various sub-categories of connection offering wildly different levels of speed. Here’s a jargon-busting guide to your options for the different types of broadband available in West Yorkshire.
If you’ve been using the internet for a long time, you may remember dial-up, when going online meant your landline was engaged. This was surpassed by ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), which is broadband carried on a telephone line alongside voice calls. Faster than dial-up, with speeds of up to 24Mbps, consumers could get online and use their landline at the same time.
The ‘asymmetric’ part of the name refers to how downloads are prioritised compared to uploads; downloads are always faster, mainly because providers felt that customers were more likely to draw down content from the internet than upload new material to it. ADSL is the most widely available broadband in the UK, with around 99% of the country having access to it.
Currently the fastest way to get online in the UK, fibre optic broadband is named after the cables (glass or plastic) on which the data is carried. Unlike the copper wires used by ADSL connections, data carried on fibre broadband doesn’t slow down as noticeably over long distances.
The most widely available fibre broadband in the UK delivers up to 152Mbps, meaning you could download an MP3 album in around four seconds, a TV show in 20 seconds or an HD movie in around five minutes.
The downside of fibre is that it requires a whole new network infrastructure, which leaves more rural parts of the country still left waiting. This is where Superfast West Yorkshire aims to make a difference by aiming to help the roll out of superfast broadband to 97% of premises in our project area the end of autumn 2015 using FTTC technology – see below.
As advanced as fibre optic technology is, the connection will still slow down once it passes through copper cables. The more copper the signal has to pass through, the slower it’s going to get. That’s why the further your data can travel on fibre before hitting copper, the better – ideally avoiding the slower cables completely. There are three types of fibre connections commonly found in the UK, each with differing levels of fibre-to-copper use:
FTTC: Standing for ‘Fibre To The Cabinet’, this is the most common fibre connection, with the superfast cables running from your local exchange to your nearest telecoms cabinet. The final leg of the journey from that green box to your home is handled by copper cables. Confusingly, no matter how long that distance is, telecoms workers always refer to it as “the last mile”. FTTP: ‘Fibre To The Premises’ brings fibre one step closer to your home, connecting to a box on an external wall. In blocks of flats, rows of terraced houses or other shared buildings, copper cables handle the remaining “last mile”.
FTTP: ‘Fibre To The Premise’ is the best option for anyone looking for the fastest possible connection. FTTP sees fibre cables running all the way from the local exchange right to your door ,or even, in some cases, right to your router. By using the least amount of copper (or none at all, in some instances), the chance of your signal slowing down on its journey is minimised.
Should you find that you aren’t in an area with fibre but can get a great 3G or 4G signal on your phone, then mobile broadband could be for you. By getting a SIM for your phone or tablet, a dongle for your laptop or desktop PC, or one of a range of mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices, you can get online at home or on the move.
With good signal coverage across much of West Yorkshire (particularly between Bradford and Leeds), optimum speeds of up to 50Mbps, plus the flexibility of taking your broadband connection with you when you leave home, there’s a lot to be said for mobile technology. Although you’re more likely to encounter data download limits on mobile broadband than ADSL or fibre, the range of plans and variety of contract lengths (as little as 30 days) makes up for this.
If you’ve got a smartphone with a data allowance (and if your network allows it) you can use your handset as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. This process, called tethering, allows other devices to connect to the internet through your phone. Not all providers allow tethering, however, as it can be a data-hungry activity. When you browse to a webpage or view a video on your phone, you’ll probably get a version that’s optimized for handheld devices. If you tether, you’ll get the more content-rich (and data-intensive) standard versions, meaning that customers connecting by this method are likely to use more data than someone browsing on a phone.
If ADSL, fibre or mobile broadband isn’t for you, there are a few other solutions to try. Although generally not as fast as fibre, these solutions offer a good fallback for anyone who simply can’t get online any other way.
With microwave or radio broadband, also known as Fibre Through the Air (FTTA), consumers receive a signal from an ISP transmitter via an external receiver and their home router. ISPs mount transmitters at key locations, and generally, the larger the provider, the more transmitters they will have. Although you’re still reliant on being within range of a signal, the wireless nature of microwave or radio broadband means that areas without traditional connections can still get online.
Most microwave or radio broadband requires a small receiver to be mounted on the outside of your home, but they’re generally far smaller than satellite dishes (about a quarter of the size of a typical burglar alarm box).
You will need a dish, however, for satellite broadband, which is a viable solution if none of the other options are open to you. All you’ll need is an unobstructed line of sight from your home to the sky, plus a fairly large dish to receive it. Since your broadband signal is bounced to and from satellites to your home, you should be able to get it virtually anywhere within Yorkshire.
This article was written by Cable.co.uk, the Ofcom accredited broadband, TV and phone comparison site.
Cable.co.uk is a provider of impartial information to increase public awareness in matters of broadband, TV, landline and mobile.