Media Fact Sheet
International Telecommunication Union
Telephone: +41 22 730 6039
Fax: +41 22 730 5939
The Birth of Broadband
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is broadband?
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)”.
are the main benefits of broadband?
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?
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 services.
What’s the profile of a typical broadband user?
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 corporate networks.
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.
types of technology are considered broadband technology?
Some of the most common types of broadband technology are:
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
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.
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.
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
+41 22 730 6923