Broadband Internet Options 

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Broadband Internet Options 

In this article an overview of each of some of the available broadband Internet services, covering DSL, cable or hybrid fiber coaxial, fiber to the home, mobile, and satellite broadband, including geostationary or low earth orbit (LEO) is presented. The articleI touches on the infrastructure, equipment required at home, the internet speed expected and other key issues one should keep in mind.
Broadband Internet carries various interpretations, but generally, it signifies a high-speed internet connection. In the USA, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) sets the benchmark, defining broadband as having a download speed of 25 megabit per second and an upload speed of 3 megabit per second.

The choice of broadband Internet service depends on such factors as availability, individual requirements, and budget constraints. For instance, a user in Dimire Township, a remote village in Zimbabwe, might only have access to expensive satellite broadband or extremely unreliable mobile broadband, A user in Kansas City in the USA, on the other hand, enjoys a wide range of options, including 20 gigabit internet through fiber to the home from Google Fiber.

Digital subscriber line (DSL):

DSL is transmitted via twisted copper pairs, which is used in fixed telephone lines connected to homes. In contrast to dial-up internet, which shares the phone line, DSL operates at a higher frequency, necessitating a splitter to separate the two services. Additionally, a MODEM is required to connect the DSL line to a router that connects to devices.
DSL is typically offered by incumbent local exchange carriers such as the so-called baby bells or regional bell operating companies in the USA, British Telecom in the UK, or Telkom in South Africa.

Different types of DSL comprise Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), characterized by unequal download and upload speeds, and Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line (SDSL), with equal download and upload speed. The speed of DSL can significantly differ between providers, and certain providers offer download speeds of up to 100 megabit per second.

Very High Bitrate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL)

Very High Bitrate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) is another variant of DSL that you might come across. Unlike traditional DSL that is delivered through copper wires that run all the way from the central office to the home, VDSL uses a fiber to the node (FTTN) architecture. Fiber from the central office is used to connect to a node from which twisted copper is then run to the home. Up to 400 megabit per second is typical but speed varies inversely with the length of the copper portion of the link – that is the shorter the copper link, the more speed is possible. is another DSL variant you might also come across, where the “G” merely denotes the IEEE standard designation such as G.9701. is based on the same FTTN architecture used for VDSL, but is intended to deliver up to gigabit speeds over short lengths of twisted copper pairs.

Cable or Hybrid Fiber Coaxial (HFC)

In cable broadband Internet, Internet is provisioned over the same network used for cable TV. Almost all cable TV companies in America, such as COMCAST, and Time Warner Cable offer broadband internet over their cable network..
Early cable networks utilized coaxial copper cable extending directly from a cable headend to residences. However, modern cable infrastructure employs a hybrid fiber coaxial approach. Fiber is deployed from the headend to a node, and from there, coaxial cable is employed to establish the connection to individual homes.

A cable modem is necessary for connectivity, linking to either a router or directly to your computer through an Ethernet cable.
Cable internet generally offers faster speeds compared to DSL. While gigabit Internet is widely accessible and 10 gigabit Internet over cable is available in specific communities, it is important to note that cable internet can have significant asymmetry, with upload speeds far lower download speeds.

Fiber to the Home (FTTH)

For the ultimate Internet speed, fiber is deployed all the way from the central office’s optical line terminal to the home. An optical line terminal (ONT) is the interface that is used to connect the fiber infrastructure to your home and acts as the modem. A router is then connected directly to the router to deliver the Internet to your devices
Due to the substantial expense associated with installing fiber optic infrastructure, FTTH networks are primarily present in densely populated areas where it is economically viable. Unfortunately, if you reside in a rural location, the likelihood of accessing fiber to the home service is zero to minimal.

While optical fiber has the capacity to transport data at Terabits per second data rate in core networks and deliver hundreds of gigabit per second to businesses, FTTH is specifically designed to offer enough capacity to meet the requirements of individual users. The prevalence of gigabit internet is now widespread in areas where FTTH networks are deployed, and by 2024, certain communities have gained access to 10 gigabit Internet services and 20 gigabit per second internet is just being introduced . View our video on 10 gigabit Internet for additional details.

Mobile wireless broadband internet

For accessing the internet on the move and for communities that do not have access to wireline internet access, mobile broadband is a viable option. Mobile networks operate as a system of base stations connected to each other and to a local exchange by optical fiber or microwave links. The individual base station covers a specific geographical area known as a cell and hence the name cell or cellular networks.
Each base station is equipped with at least one fixed transceiver antenna, enabling the transmission and reception of signals between devices such as mobile phones or dongles. A dongle is a small device, typically USB, that connects to computers or WIFi routers.

The speed achievable from a mobile network is subject to various factors such as your location, proximity to the cell tower, and the generation of your mobile network (2G, 3G, 4G, or 5G). In the USA, average 4G LTE download speeds can range from 12 megabit per second to 35 megabit per second. It’s worth noting that the theoretical maximum speed for 4G LTE is cited as 100 megabit per second to 1 gigabit per second. Those with access to 5G mobile internet are reporting average speeds of 100 to 300 megabit per second with a theoretical maximum of 20 gigabit per second.

Satellite broadband:

If you are in a remote area lacking alternative broadband access or while airborne or at sea, satellite broadband emerges as the sole viable option. This type of access can be facilitated through either Geostationary (GEO) or Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.
Satellites in geostationary or geosynchronous orbits circle the Earth at approximately 36,000 km (22,000 miles) above its surface. In this orbit, a satellite appears fixed relative to a specific location on Earth. The internet service provider utilizes ground antennas to send signals to the satellite, which then amplifies, changes their frequency, and broadcasts them back to Earth. The round trip of the signal to and from the satellite is approximately 72,000 km, resulting in a large delay or latency in geostationary satellite Internet services.

It is worth noting that the speed of light is often presented as a notable advantage of optical fiber over satellite communication. However, this assertion cannot be further from the truth. Both satellite uplink and downlink operations rely on radio frequency, which is a form of electromagnetic wave. All electromagnetic waves, including light, travel at the same speed. The crucial distinction lies in the spectrum: satellite systems have a comparatively restricted bandwidth, whereas fiber optics boast a vast spectrum, reaching thousands of gigahertz.
For satellite transmission to occur, a direct line of sight is necessary, mandating the use of an outdoor antenna or satellite dish to receive the signals. As is typical in most internet access setups, a modem is necessary, linked to the antenna and, if needed, a router.

Geostationary satellites offer internet speeds of up to 150 megabit per second. It’s important to note that the monthly data that can be downloaded may be restricted, with the option to choose unlimited downloads available at a higher monthly cost.
Mobile satellite internet options are also available in the form of mounted satellite dishes, tripod satellite dishes and router-style receiver boxes.

Low earth orbit (LEO) satellites

Employing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites markedly reduces latency compared to geostationary satellites. LEO satellites orbit the Earth at approximately 2,000 km. However, these satellites complete an orbit roughly every 90 minutes, resulting in 16 trips around the Earth each day. Consequently, a continuous line of sight to a specific satellite is unattainable.

Turning our attention to SpaceX’s Starlink, a prominent LEO satellite internet provider, we can explore how this challenge is addressed. Starlink comprises a large number of satellites in low Earth orbit linked together by radio frequency (RF).
Future iterations of Starlink satellites will be interconnected using free-space laser optics.This extensive constellation allows for seamless handovers between satellites as they orbit the Earth. When one satellite moves out of sight, another satellite quickly takes over, minimizing interruptions in the internet connection.

An electronic phased array motorized self orienting antenna supplied by Starlink is required. During installation, the self orienting antenna will adjust itself to face the direction of the satellites. The phased array means that the antenna consists of multiple small antennas or antenna elements which work together coherently to electronically steer the antenna beam without physically moving the entire dish.
Typically, a WiFi router is employed to establish connections between the antenna and the user’s devices. In 2024, the total cost of the end-user equipment package in the United States is around $600, with slight variations observed in different countries.

Starlink provides internet speeds reaching up to 300 megabit per second, offering various monthly pricing plans based on both internet speed and monthly data download limits. Additionally, options exist for unlimited data usage.

You may also watch the associated video above. If you are interested in communications, especially networking, consider signing up for one of OTT optical networking courses – Certified Optical Network Associate (CONA) and Certified Optical Network Engineer (CONE).

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