Have you ever stared blankly at a broadband brochure, unable to work out the difference between the options? Acronyms, technical terms and contradictory articles combine, seemingly to make things as confusing as possible. But don’t worry! If you’re new to broadband and want to find out more about it, then read on.
In this post, the terms will be brought down to their most basic forms so that you can compare the different types of broadband with ease.
What exactly is broadband?
Scientifically speaking, broadband is a wide bandwidth data transmission, transporting multiple traffic types and signals. To put it simply, it’s a high-speed internet connection. This system means you can send large amounts of information quickly between electronic devices.
Before broadband, you would access the internet with ‘narrowband’ dial-up connections. As the name suggests, dial-up works by dialling a telephone number via a conventional telephone line, with a modem decoding and encoding signals to establish a connection.
Because of that, a single line can’t be used to do two things at once – which is why there are so many tales of connection being lost when someone makes a phone call. Thankfully, broadband has now superseded dial-up, with BT switching off its dial-up service in 2013, affecting only around 1,000 people who still used it.
Broadband is much quicker and can be used to do more things simultaneously. A broadband connection can be accessed at any time and is never switched off. If you can use your landline at the same time as the internet – congratulations, that’s broadband. Used by more than 60 million people a year, broadband is the UK’s most popular form of internet connection.
What about the different types?
There are three kinds of broadband that are the most common in the UK. These are (A)DSL, Fibre and Cable:
This acronym stands for Digital Subscriber Line, or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. Not to be confused with dial-up internet, this is the most common connection in the UK and is internet you access through your copper-based phone landline. There are two kinds frequently used in the UK – ADSL1 and ADSL2+.
Generally speaking, ADSL can reach speeds of up to 24mbps (megabytes per second). However, this is tied to your location – the further away you are from your telephone exchange, the slower your internet will be.
The most simply named type of broadband in the UK is fibre optic. This quite literally uses fibre optic cables to send data. It comes in two kinds – FTTC, or ‘superfast’, and FTTP, or ‘ultrafast’.
The first is Fibre to the Cabinet, the slower of the two. Fibre optic cables go to the ‘cabinet’ on your street, and from there, copper cables go to your house. According to Ofcom’s research, superfast broadband, at speeds of or above 30mbps, is now available to 90% of UK properties.
Fibre to the Premises, also known as ‘full fibre’, uses fibre optic cables for the entire journey, directly into your home or commercial premises. It’s much less readily available but also much quicker at up to 1gbps. In fact, this is the quickest option for broadband currently available. The difference between FTTC and FTTP is comparable to the difference between 4G and 5G on your phone.
Like FTTC broadband, cable uses fibres to go to your street cabinet. The difference here is that then from the cabinet is a ‘coaxial cable’ network, the same cables that deliver cable TV. These cables transmit data faster than the copper wires, so cable internet is faster than superfast fibre broadband.
Cable is more reliable than ADSL and at up to 152mbps, faster than FTTC. Also, unlike ADSL, it can deliver fast broadband speeds regardless of distance. However, it is still not as fast as FTTP broadband.
Other kinds of UK broadband
There are a few kinds of broadband that are accessible in the UK, but are much less popular.
If you live somewhere very remote, you may have to use satellite broadband. It’s probably the easiest to understand – it comes from a satellite in orbit.
Satellite broadband download speeds typically range between 2-30 Mbps, depending on your provider. Although much slower than fibre optic broadband, it’s on par with standard ADSL broadband. However, it is much more expensive and can be affected by inclement weather, so it really is a last resort. Download and upload speeds can also vary quite dramatically, but competitive deals are becoming more widely available.
This one is a little harder to explain. Essentially, if broadband is not possible (via cable or telephone wires), it may be available using wireless technology. Think Wi-Fi Hotspots, like in an airport or at certain shops on the high street. You can also occasionally access mobile phone style ‘roaming’ facilities. A quickly developing alternative is Wi-max, or ‘worldwide interoperability for microwave access’. This makes it possible to provide broadband to areas where other technology is unsuitable.
This is also classed as broadband – but you wouldn’t want to use it to support a whole business! This is the 3G, 4G and 5G you use on your phone when you get disconnected from the Wi-Fi. Think of the charges you’d rack up!
However, this can be useful if you are working on the move, for example, if you’re working on the train and its internal Wi-Fi has gone down. But you have to be careful, as it can be slow, and in rural areas the coverage can be very patchy.
Choosing the right type of broadband for your UK organisation
When making a decision about broadband, it’s important to factor in four things – your location, your needs, your budget and the right provider.
First and foremost, coverage is varied for the different types of broadband in the UK. Traditional ADSL broadband is available to 99% of the UK, while superfast fibre broadband is an option for 90% of properties. However, if you want to upgrade to ultrafast ‘full fibre’ broadband, you might be out of luck, as its coverage currently only stands at 21%. The same is true for 5G mobile broadband, which is still a work in progress.
The main takeaway? Your choice of broadband type might be determined by your location, with certain options already ruled out. As mentioned earlier, location can also affect the speed of ADSL broadband – relative to your nearest telephone exchange – which could determine how practical this type of broadband is.
Next on the list are your requirements. What do you actually need your broadband for? There’s no point in splashing out on ultrafast FTTP fibre optic broadband if you mostly use the internet for sending the occasional email. But equally, if you’re constantly uploading and downloading massive files, and need it done quickly and reliably, try to avoid using satellite broadband.
You can better understand your broadband requirements using the general bandwidth requirements of common day-to-day activities for businesses and charities. Emailing and VoIP calling both use 1mbps, while general web browsing uses 0.33mbps. On the other hand, uploading large files typically requires 2mbps, uploading photos requires 5mbps. You’ll need 5mbps and 28mbps for streaming videos and video calling, respectively.
It’s worth noting that the more users you have, the greater the bandwidth requirement. If you have lots of people video calling, streaming or uploading images, you’ll need a fast, powerful type of broadband to support it.
Both of the factors above need to be balanced with your budget. Sure, you might prefer ultrafast or superfast broadband, but it comes at a cost. It’s up to you to determine whether you prioritise lightning-fast speed and flawless connectivity or a few extra pounds saved each month.
However, remember that internet connectivity is no longer an added extra for UK businesses and charities. It’s an essential facility that’s required for so many day-to-day operations. Choosing a cheap type of broadband might seem like a cost-effective idea, but it could cost you in the long run through constant delays and inadequate performance.
Finally, there’s your choice of provider. While many businesses will simply go for the cheapest price, it’s essential to consider the added value each provider can offer you. Do they provide responsive support? Are they well-reviewed? Do they have experience working with organisations like yours?
Over time, the right answers to these questions can pay off hugely – not least because the right provider can help you choose a type of broadband that’s tailored to your requirements.
Let’s talk about your broadband
At VS Group, we specialise in broadband for UK charities and small businesses. Understanding the unique requirements of SMEs and the voluntary sector, we can recommend the right type of broadband to keep you connected. Get in touch today to talk about your options in more depth.