What Is High-Speed Internet and How Does It Work?
By Michelle Mista
High-speed Internet, also commonly called broadband Internet, is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as Internet access of at least 200 Kilobits per second (Kbps) but can reach as much as 60 Megabits (Mbps) per second. Broadband Internet speeds let users take advantage of technologies including videoconferencing via computers, voice calls over computers and streaming high quality audio and video. As of 2011, the major types of broadband available in the United States include DSL, cable, satellite, fiber-optic and mobile broadband.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is terrestrial broadband Internet delivered over copper phone wires. Traditional DSL requires an active phone line, though "dry loop" DSL that does not require a phone line also exists. Traditional DSL speeds range from 768 Kbps to as fast as 7 Mbps--but must be located within 2 miles of the phone company's central office for optimal speed.
Fiber-optic broadband, commonly referred to as "fiber," is broadband Internet delivered over fiber-optic lines--these use light to transmit data signals at far faster speeds than traditional copper wires or coaxial cable. As of 2011, major DSL providers including AT&T, Qwest and Verizon are using fiber technology to achieve the higher DSL speeds, called Very High Speed DSL (VDSL.) VDSL can reach download speeds of faster than 25 Mbps.
Cable broadband Internet is a terrestrial broadband technology that delivers data at broadband speeds over the same cable used to deliver television data. Basic cable Internet speeds range from 4 Mbps to 6 Mbps, while more advanced cable Internet can reach speeds of 20 Mbps and more. Cable Internet speeds can be affected by users within the same vicinity using the same cable connection.
Satellite broadband uses orbiting satellites to transmit and receive broadband data. Satellite broadband is primarily used in areas where terrestrial broadband technologies like DSL, fiber and cable are otherwise unavailable. Speeds for satellite broadband are comparable to traditional DSL, ranging from 768 kbps to 5 Mbps--but data speeds can be affected by changes in the weather and satellite position.
As of February 2011, mobile 3G networks are a wireless broadband technology accessible via 3G enabled cellphones and smart devices like ebook readers. In June 2010, PC Magazine tested top 3G carriers and discovered the average national download speed ranges between 1.04 and 2.11 Mbps. Speed differs between carriers and can be affected by user location and carrier coverage.
Michelle Mista has loved technology since her earliest days. She began her career as an IT professional in the Silicon Valley. Mista combines her love of technology and writing to write about technology for the non-techies.