Broadband Terminology

What is Broadband?

The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as:

  • Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
  • Cable Modem
  • Fibre
  • Wireless
  • Satellite

The broadband technology you choose will depend on a number of factors. These may include whether you are located in an urban or rural area, how broadband Internet access is packaged with other services (such as voice telephone and home entertainment), price, and availability.




DSL stands for digital subscriber link. DSL is a fast and reliable form of high-speed Internet. DSL utilizes existing telephone networks that are amplified to accommodate higher capacity data. It is one of the earliest and is likely the most common high speed platform used today in North America.

Although technology improvements over the last several years have meant DSL is able to reach more rural areas, it is still most available in more urban settings. Also, as with most other high-speed platforms DSL in rural communities tends to be slower than it is in larger centers.

Service providers that offer DSL typically offer packages between three and 30 Mb per second and with moderate monthly usage caps. Because DSL is operated by national telephone/Telecom carriers it is also possible for subscribers to bundle other services such as home telephone and television.



What is Fibre

At some point, most networks utilize fibre optics in their network infrastructure. Most DSL, wireless, Cable and even satellite networks use these high capacity lines to deliver aggregated network data to and from the Internet. Recently ISPs and other Telecommunication companies are making it more affordable to the end user to connect to the internet directly (or almost directly) through fibre. Most home and small business users that subscribe to Fibre to the Home services would also use that same Fibre connection for their phone and television services too. Fibre to the home is extremely fast and reliable. The main drawback to this service platform is that it is the most urban-focused service as their needs to be a large customer base to justify the infrastructure expenditure.




Cable or Cable Modem service uses the same infrastructure that delivers Cable television. Cable is fast and reliable, however quite urban-centric. New infrastructure builds using this technology is also very rare as Telecommunication providers have opted to use wireless, fibre and satellite platforms to deliver television, data and phone services instead. Most service packages through cable infrastructure are similar to those of DSL including data caps and bundling of services.




As the name suggests, satellite internet access uses orbiting communication satellites to “bounce” packets of data from a customer’s location to the satellite and back to a strategic location on earth where the data connects with other internet traffic. The huge advantage of this platform is that it is widely available to 99% of the country. Some of the limiting factors are that the service tends to be more expensive per bit of data as compared to the other platforms. Also, because of the distances each packet of data has to travel (to space and back) some problems occur including a delay (latency) that is mostly noticed in real time and streaming applications as well as a degradation in service when it rains or snows heavily.



Cellular mobile wireless

Wireless Internet access from cellular networks goes by many names including “Mobile”, “HSPA’, “3G”, “4G” and “LTE”. Sometimes extremely fast and usually quite reliable, cellular is an excellent option as a secondary Internet connection for most users. Although widely available in rural Canada, relying on cellular networks as a primary Internet connection can be very costly especially if the user streams video from services like YouTube or Netflix.



Fixed wireless

Like mobile wireless, Fixed Wireless uses a network of towers to deliver data to and from the Internet to a customer’s premises. But, unlike cellular wireless, fixed wireless requires a permanently installed access point on a residence or business to secure an upload and download link from a tower. Depending on the frequency used, output power, and tower height, most customers require an unobstructed line of sight from a near-by tower to their location. Depending on topography the range of most towers in a fixed wireless network can vary from anywhere between 2 to 12 km or more. Fixed wireless is typically not as fast as the DSL services however it is more readily available in rural areas. Also, most fixed wireless providers also tend to have a higher monthly usage caps for data on their services.



Bandwidth vs. Speed

The term “bandwidth” is often confused with “speed” when it comes to high speed internet access and is sometimes used interchangeably. The Speed of a connection generally refers to “bit-rate” and how quickly a connection can find and retrieve data. Speed is often used as a measure of internet packages; ie 10 Mbps as the advertised download speed and 80 Kbps upload speed.

However bandwidth refers to capacity of the internet pipe a user connects to. A connection with a high bandwidth service would allow multiple users sharing the same pipe to access content at the same time without greatly impacting speed. Generally speaking an internet connection with higher bandwidth also means a higher speed connection.



Usage Cap

As of July 2015 there were close to 3.2 billion global internet users. All of these users access the internet by a variety of platforms capable of different speeds- from lightning fast fibre to super-slow dial-up. More and more internet users want richer data content like streaming HD video services more frequently. Many networks are struggling to cope with these demands. In Canada instead of suppressing content from these high demand applications to mitigate the impact on their networks, Internet Service Providers issue a daily, weekly or monthly allotment of data transfers referred to as “usage caps”. If the subscriber uses more data than they are allotted the ISP will bill the subscriber for their overuse. As is the law, these usage caps, as well as the charges for overuse must be explicitly detailed in the subscriber’s service agreement.