The broadband market is filled with jargon, perhaps to a greater degree than any other industry and so for first time users it can be difficult to navigate the mess of buzz words and broadband slang.
If this describes your feelings on the subject, read on for a full explanation of the most common pieces of broadband jargon you will encounter when comparing broadband deals online.
When you sign up for a broadband connection you will usually be supplied with the necessary equipment to get you online in your own home. This should consist of a wireless router and some microfilters. The router will usually have an integrated modem to decode the digital broadband signal that is sent down your line and it is the device to which you will need to connect your computer. Wireless routers will allow you to broadcast your broadband connection over a short distance without the need for network cables, although most wireless routers will give you the option to connect via a network cable if this is preferable. If you are receiving your broadband via your existing telephone line, then you will need to hook up microfilters to every telephone socket in your home, even if only one of them has the router attached to it. The microfilter will split the digital broadband signal from the analogue telephone signal, which means that if you do not have microfilters installed on every socket you could end up with interference with both your broadband and telephone connection.
Most broadband packages are advertised by their maximum download speed. This can be misleading, because most providers will harp on about the speed which is theoretically possible in the ideal situation. In real life, speeds will tend to be lower than they are advertised, because various factors will influence the speed you attain in your own home. Broadband speeds are given in Megabits per second, which can also be referred to as Meg or Mbps. A typical connection could be advertised as capable of downloading at 8Mbps. This means that its peak performance will let you download 800Kbps, or 0.8 megabytes. To put this in a context that may be easier to understand, an 8Mbps connection will let you download a five megabyte music track in a little over six seconds.
Upload speeds are less commonly talked about by providers, but they are another important consideration. Most of the time you will be downloading information to your PC and so a fast download speed is important. But every time you send an email, upload pictures to your social networking account, chat online or share a file you will be relying on your internet connection to upload data back out onto the world wide web. Download speeds are traditionally many times faster than upload speeds for home users, because most people do not require upload functions as frequently. There are still differences in upload speeds amongst providers and as with download speeds these are measured in Megabits per second. However, upload speeds can be below 1Mbps and so might be rated in kilobits per second, or Kbps. As such a 500Kbps upload speed might also be expressed as 0.5Mbps.
Depending on the type of broadband connection and package you choose, you may be restricted by a monthly data allowance. This is something put in place by providers to limit the amount of information you can download via your connection each month. Every time you go online, whether it is simply to check your email, browse the web or chat to friends, you will be using your connection to download data. Basic actions such as browsing do not require much data, but streaming videos from YouTube or downloading films will take a big chunk out of any data allowance. Providers will typically give you a set data allowance in gigabytes, or GB. A monthly allowance of 10GB is the equivalent of watching about 15 hours of video online, or sending thousands of emails. Larger allowances such as 20GB or 40GB are sometimes imposed by certain providers, so you will need to check before you commit.
Providers who do not directly impose data allowance or download caps will offer what is referred to as an ‘unlimited’ broadband connection. In theory this should allow you to surf, download and play as many online videos as you wish to. In practise, there is something called a Fair Use Policy to take into account. This is basically an agreement between the user and the broadband provider which means that you promise not to use your connection for data-intensive services in peak periods between about 6pm and 11pm. In return the provider will not limit your connection at any other time of the day and will also let you download as much as you like with no monthly limit. The problem with the Fair Use Policy is that most people will not be aware of the in-depth implications, which can sometimes allow your provider to artificially reduce your download speed during peak periods either because you have breached certain terms of the policy, or because the provider wants to give all of its users the same connection speed when a majority of people are using their home internet connections.
Broadband Types – ADSL, Fibre Optic and Mobile Broadband
There are three main types of broadband and each differs in several key areas. The most common is ADSL, which stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. This uses your existing copper landline connection. Cable broadband, which uses underground fibre optic networks rather than overhead telephone wiring, is the second fixed line broadband option. Fibre optic broadband is faster and more stable than ADSL broadband, but the coverage of cable networks is much more limited, which means that many people will not be able to choose between the two. Mobile broadband is the third and most recent addition to the broadband market. It does not rely on landline connections as do the other two, but instead is made possible thanks to the 3G mobile telecommunications networks which service modern mobile phones with internet connections. Download speeds via Mobile Broadband are typically slower than both ADSL and Cable, but its flexibility and portability means that it will find favour amongst customers who need to move around or do not want to commit to a fixed line service.