Let's compare the basic functionality of these several types of Broadband service, starting with the two highest capacity contenders - DSL and Cable.
These two technologies provide similar services and can offer super-fast web surfing when they have been upgraded with fiber to the neighborhood (FTTN) in their core network architecture. Typically these services can be up to 200 to 1000 times faster than the speed of a dial-up service. This means that with these two services one can download files, send multiple emails and many other things that require movements of large amounts of data. At these speeds high definition video streams and two way video conversations are easily supported.
Although they appear to be similar, there are also some important differences between them.
DSL is an abbreviation for (Asymmetric) Digital Subscriber Line, which is a type of Broadband connection that is available through your phone line. Older DSL services in some areas which have not been upgraded with fiber in their core network are dramatically slower; typically limited to 3 to 6 Mbps which is only 300 times faster than dial-up. However, even at this speed video services and high speed web access will work only marginally well.
Unlike dial-up service which uses your phone line to get connected to the internet, the ADSL is transmitted over the phone line, side-by-side with your voice calls. That means that, using the ADSL service, you can connect to the internet and make and receive phone calls at the same time.
With ADSL, the data transmission rate can range from good to excellent, depending on the distance from the subscriber location and the nearest telephone company central office or fiber-optic connection point. The age of the copper wires used and the number of people served from a single connection point can also affect the actual speed experience by a user.
The speeds offered by DSL are asymmetric. The rate at which the data is uploaded and downloaded is not the same. The uploading speed is usually significantly lower than the downloading speed. While the download speeds can often reach as high as 8 to 12 Mbps, the upload speeds are rarely faster than about 1Mbps.
Because the DSL service is provided over existing phone lines, it is widely available. For effective, interference-free DSL Broadband connection, one needs to connect micro-filters on all the telephone lines. This eliminates crackling sounds on the phone during internet access.
Finally, installing a DSL modem/router, connecting an Ethernet or USB cable to your computer or indoor wireless router device will be necessary in order to log onto the web. Often DSL service providers will provide a modem for connecting to their network that has a built in wireless router to reach your Wi-Fi enabled computers, TVs, and other devices throughout your home.
Unlike DSL service, the cable service is not provided via your phone line, instead it is supplied via Coax (coaxial) cables which can also bring TV signals to your home. The coax to your home is usually connected to a fiber-optic connection point in a cabinet in your neighborhood. Older cable services may not have these fiber to the neighborhood (FTTN) distribution capabilities and will therefore provide much slower services. The cable data services share a single coax run that distributes the data services to multiple homes along an individual run from a neighborhood node. Because of the sharing of the speeds, service can sometimes vary depending on the traffic load produced by various users on that run.
The cable modem allows the user to send data over the cable television infrastructure. This is done to make use of the unused bandwidth available on the cable network. Many cable networks can also provide digital telephone service over the same cable.
Typical Broadband download speeds available from cable can range from 10 Mbps up to 100 Mbps. The actual speed is a function of how many customers are connected to a fiber-optic connection point and how many of those customers are using the network at the same time.
If a cable system does not have a fiber-optic backbone distribution network to neighborhoods the typical speeds will be at the low end of the range.
Also known as “Fixed Wireless,” wireless is an alternate way of connecting Broadband service to your home without using any cables or wires.
It is typically based on using transmitter/receivers located on one or more mountain tops in the service area. These central transceivers then connect to a transceiver unit mounted on your roof. Internet data is then sent and received between the central unit and the unit on your roof. The capacity of the central unit is shared between all users that are connected to that central unit.
Like all other Broadband internet access solutions, as traffic loads increase, download and upload speeds will decrease. Typical download speeds available from fixed wireless networks range from 1.5 Mbps to 6 Mbps depending on how many customers are using the service at a given point in time.
Also often referred to as mobile Broadband, this is an enhancement to existing cellular telephone networks. Some 3rd generation and all 4th generation cellphone networks are capable of delivering maximum Broadband speeds (greater than 3 Mbps download) some are not. At the current time peak speeds available with 4th generation connections can achieve as much as 12 Mbps.
The actual Broadband speed performance of these networks depends on the strength of the radio signal to/from the nearest cell tower and more importantly how many customers are trying to send or receive data at the same time. Data performance can also be limited if the back-haul capacity to the tower is limited.
The good news for Satellite Broadband is that the service is available nearly anywhere that has a clear view of the southern sky.
The less than good news is that the 22,000 mile trip from the earth to the satellite and back takes over 1 second of time for every data “handshake” for every burst of packets sent and received. This causes a significant slowdown in both the download and upload speeds that are possible.
Some satellite services have a maximum download speed that barely meets the definition of Broadband (3 Mbps download). Recent services have increased download speeds to as much as 12 Mbps. Because of traffic loading satellite services more often deliver speeds that are equivalent to dial up service. Additionally because of limited satellite capacity most satellite internet services also impose data caps limiting how much data can actually be transferred per month with extra charges.