The term broadband is a relatively
new term in the field of computers and even most savvy Internet
users seem a little confused at its meaning. Yet we hear it
all the time. Broadband providers, broadband access,
etc. But what is broadband? Do you need it? Or do you
even want it? Some big questions with some pretty simple
answers but those answers all depend on you and how you use your
What is broadband?
Simply put, broadband is a faster
way for you to gain access to the Internet and the sites or pages
that you want to see.
Think of your dialup connection
like a garden hose. Only a certain amount of water can pass
through it. Broadband is then more like a fire-hose that can
bring in the same thing, only much faster.
Every time that you go to a web page,
there are files that must be sent to your computer such as the page
itself, images, and other components that make up each page that you
look at. These files vary in size and generally, the more
files that must be transported, the longer it takes for the page to
A broadband line can send those
files to your computer faster than a dial-up line can and therefore,
you can see the entire page faster.
You have to connect to the Internet
and this is always done through some kind of modem. The
connection is often referred to as "the pipe" because it
carries data. If you were to compare your phone line pipe to a
garden hose, then a broadband connection is like a fire hose.
More data moves through it in a shorter time.
Broadband generally comes in three
Cable - Generally available in
markets where you have cable television access. It uses the
same line that you receive television on. It is easily the
most available and can be ordered through many cable television
DSL - Available only through your
telephone company, DSL has some pretty severe limitations as to
where it can be installed. Unlike cable, the infrastructures
are not well established and there are distance limitations.
While many metropolitan areas have DSL available, only a call to the
DSL provider (your telephone company) will tell you if it is
available at your address.
Wireless - This is a form of
broadband that while available, it is hardly worth mentioning at
this time. It is often faster than either cable or DSL, but
the costs are generally much higher, and it even fewer people are in
a geographical location where wireless is available.
Broadband access is also referred
to as an "always on" connection, meaning that your
computer is in constant contact with the Internet. You don't
go through a dial-up or login process. You simply open a
browser window and there you are... on the Internet and ready to go
to your favorite site.
Same thing with email. You
can just open or leave your email program open and your computer
will regularly check to see if you have new email.
Because it is faster, you can go
from web site to web site much faster than you can with a dial-up
modem. Pages load much quicker. You can also access
better quality multimedia (music, movies, etc.) because the files
will transfer faster. There are not the breaks or waits while
your computer is still trying to access the file.
Downloads are much faster. If
you download programs, files, or email attachments, having a
broadband connection may allow you to spend a few minutes instead of
There are no automatic
cutoffs. Many dial-up providers will cut off your connection,
even though you are downloading a file. A broadband connection
will not only download the file faster, but you can set it up to do
so and go to the store or take a nap without risking your ISP
shutting you down.
While faster, broadband connections
are often times twice as costly as a dial-up connection and can cost
you $40 a month or more. Part of this may be offset however,
if you have a separate line that is only used for Internet
access. With broadband, there are no extra line charges.
"Always on" connections
offer greater speed, but they also pose increased risk to your
system. Because your computer is always connected to the
Internet, it is possible (if not likely) that someone will try to
access your computer. This can largely be overcome through
proper security, but still something
that needs to be dealt with.
In order to access a broadband
connection, you will also need a NIC (network interface card).
If you don't have one in your computer already, you will either have
to install or have one installed for you. These are available
for $20 - $40 at any computer store plus labor costs if they install
it. The NIC is required to connect to the Internet and
something that you will probably have to handle before the installer
Do you need broadband?
The answer is generally no, you
probably don't need it. If you are work online and
time is money, then perhaps you need it. A
more appropriate question would be whether you want it or
If you spend a great deal of time
at your computer, have the desire to download large programs, or
often get frustrated with slow loading pages, you may want to
consider increasing your speed by 50-100 times with broadband.
When you might actually have a need
for it is if you want to do some things that are otherwise virtually
impossible, like watch live broadcasts, watch videos, or play
Internet games. Trying to do these on any dial-up just doesn't
Note: While a broadband
connection increases your capable speed on the Internet, it doesn't
guarantee it. Your speed on the Internet is also governed by
the speed of the computer where the site is located. If the
server computer on the other end is
a slow computer or is over-burdened, a site may still be slow to
load. Most sites however, will load significantly faster.
Another issue that can come up from
time to time with broadband (specifically cable) is how many other
people are connected to it. You won't have anyone else
directly on your cable but your cable feeds into a hub along with
everyone else. Think of it like a hub on a wheel, or in
technical terms, you are on a network. You are sharing the
That hub can only carry a finite
amount of data and if there are several people that are downloading
massive files all the time, it can slow down the entire
network. Unfortunately, my experience is that few cable
companies will do much about it unless everyone revolts. DSL
doesn't generally have the same problem.