Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is broadband?
A. Many people associate broadband with a particular speed of transmission or a
certain set of services, such as digital subscriber loop (DSL) or wireless local
area networks (wLANs). However, since broadband technologies are always
changing, the definition of broadband also continues to evolve. Today, the term
broadband typically describes recent Internet connections that range from 5
times to 2000 times faster than earlier Internet dial-up technologies. However,
the term broadband does not refer to either a certain speed or a specific
service. Broadband combines connection capacity (bandwidth) and speed.
Recommendation I.113 of the ITU Standardization Sector defines broadband as a
"transmission capacity that is faster than primary rate Integrated Services
Digital Network (ISDN) at 1.5 or 2.0 Megabits per second (Mbits)".
Q. What are the main benefits of broadband?
A. Broadband has three main benefits:
- Broadband speeds are significantly faster than previous technologies,
making it faster and more convenient to access information or conduct online
transactions using the Internet. The speed of broadband service has also
enhanced existing services, such as online gaming, and enabled new
applications, such as downloading music and videos.
- Depending on the type of technology deployed, there can be economic gains
associated with broadband. For example, with DSL, users can use a single
standard phone line for both voice and data services. This enables them to
surf the Internet and call a friend at the same time-all using the same
phone line. Previously, avid Internet users may have installed an extra
phone line in their homes for Internet access; but with broadband, two phone
lines are no longer necessary.
- Broadband enhances existing Internet applications, while paving the way
for new solutions, which were too expensive, inefficient or slow to consider
in the past. This may include everything from new e-government services,
such as electronic tax filing, to online health care services, e-learning
and increased levels of electronic commerce.
Q. How do people use broadband?
A. Broadband changes user habits, for instance, by encouraging 'always on' use
and positioning the home computer as a multimedia entertainment device. The most
popular consumer broadband applications today are faster web surfing, games and
file sharing. With the advent of broadband and its faster, dedicated
connections, ITU anticipates further development of Internet services, in the
areas of web surfing, instant messaging, file sharing, e-commerce and e-mail. In
addition broadband opens the path to the development of interactive
applications, virtual reality and other high-quality, bandwidth-hungry digital
Q. What's the profile of a typical broadband user?
A. Consumer broadband users tend to be young and highly educated. However, for
broadband to go mass market, the user profile will need to broaden, with
services developed for and marketed at business users. For small and
medium-sized businesses in particular, broadband brings the advantages of
high-speed, high-capacity communications that may have not been affordable
before. However, even larger businesses may start to shift to broadband, which
could reduce costs one hundred fold, as compared to some of today's private
It is important to note that prices play a vital role in both consumer and
business decisions to adopt broadband. Economies with high broadband
penetrations are typically characterized by low prices-usually as a result of
flourishing competition and innovative pricing schemes that attract a wide
variety of customers.
Q. What types of technology are considered broadband technology?
A. Some of the most common types of broadband technology are:
Digital subscriber lines (DSL): The most common broadband platform in the
world today is DSL. DSL uses different frequencies to split voice and data
services using the same standard phone line. This means users have the ability
to surf the Internet and talk on the phone at the same time, using just one
phone line. Like all broadband technologies, DSL offers higher speeds and
greater quality when transmitting voice, data and images. DSL is a dedicated
service, where each user essentially has his or her own private circuit to the
central telephone office. This means bandwidth and service speeds do not vary
based on the number of subscribers in a particular area.
Cable modems: Cable modems are also a popular broadband technology and
have flourished in economies with developed cable TV networks. Cable networks
are capable of carrying different "channels" along the same physical
cable. Originally, these channels carried different television channels. Now, in
addition to these television channels, one channel sends data to users from the
Internet and another channel sends data from users back to the Internet.The main
difference between DSL and cable is that all cable modem subscribers in a small
area share the same channels to send and receive data. As a result, the amount
of bandwidth and the resulting service speeds each user experiences depend on
how much bandwidth neighbours are using at the same time.
Fibre optic cable: Unlike DSL and cable technologies, which are both
based on copper wire, fibre optic cable uses lasers to transmit pulses of light
down extremely fine strands of silicon. Because light uses higher frequencies,
fibre optic cable can carry thousands of times more data than either electric
signal or radio waves. Fibre optics can theoretically provide nearly unlimited
bandwidth potential, so this solution is often used for either high bandwidth
connections between cities or heavy bandwidth areas within cities. The cost of
installing the fibre optic cables previously made it prohibitive for connecting
small communities or homes, but prices have fallen to the point that in several
economies, users can now connect to the Internet via fibre optic cable at speeds
20 times greater than the fastest DSL and cable modem connections. Several
governments are gradually laying fibre infrastructure to have it ready when it
finally becomes cost effective to install the connections and "light
up" fibre to the home. This includes countries such as Korea (Rep. of),
Iceland, Japan, Singapore and Sweden.
Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) and Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi):
WLANs are local area networks that use electromagnetic waves to transmit and
receive data over short distances, instead of using wireline networks. Mobile
devices access the network by connecting, via radio, to a wireline access point
that passes traffic back and forth over the network. WLANs are an effective way
to share wireless Internet access from a broadband connection within a distance
of 100 metres. They are also increasingly used to provide broadband access over
long distances in rural areas and developing nations (using special equipment
and technology to boost the effective distance of the connection points). The
most common type of WLAN technology is known as Wi-Fi; however, Wi-Fi is one of
several WLAN standards and is not synonymous with WLAN. Other WLAN technologies
include Home RF2, HiperLAN2, and 802.11a.
In rural areas and developing countries, particularly in regions that do not
already have access to a traditional wireline infrastructure, broadband can help
"leapfrog" these infrastructures and provide access to voice, data and
Internet services. This is particularly true with WLAN technologies, such as
Wi-Fi, which are easy to install and inexpensive. Many projects around the world
are looking for ways to use WLAN to bridge the last mile. For example, the ITU
Telecommunication Development Sector is in the process of implementing three
pilot projects to determine the performance of WLANs for providing community
access in rural areas of Bulgaria, Uganda and Yemen. As the prices of fibre
optics fall, rural areas and developing economies may also be able to leapfrog
by using high-speed fibre optic cabling for all new connections, rather than the
older copper lines that are common throughout the developed world.
For more information please contact:
Media Relations Manager
Tel: +41 22 730 5260
Fax: +41 22 730 6923
Media Relations Manager
Tel: +41 22 730 5229
Fax: +41 22 730 6923