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All About Bandwidth, Broadband and Bytes!

by SIRKGM14vg / March 27, 2006 11:07 PM PST

I see a lot of users in this forum asking questions about their connection, and asking which service they should go for. Some of the questions are fairly simple to answer and some are pretty interesting. I've decided to put together a guide to help users decide about broadband, and what everything means...simply! Everyone can add their thoughts to this too!

So, to answer the first question, why is it called broadband? Well its term really is derived to segregate the difference between Dial-Up and DSL/CABLE/FTTH (What's FTTH you ask, I'll answer that shortly!). Narrowband would be Dial-UP and Broadband would be Cable, DSL, etc.

Now everyone says they have broadband, but what really determines how fast you are going? There are many different factors that play. Let?s first explain how the "Internet" works.

The internet is a type of computer network in which certain machines route connections to and from other computers that wish to request information about each other. This would home user "Joe" visiting He uses his Web-Browser to make this request and a machine called a DNS, (Domain Name Server) takes his request and looks up the proper IP address and forwards him to the computer that hosts That's right; IP addresses are basically your Address on the internet. How do you get an IP address? From your internet service provider (ISP). For most of you, you have a DYNAMIC IP Address. It's always changing, but CNET machines have one designated IP because a lot of people need to look up their site. I won't get into the details about dynamic and static IP's, but you can take a look here:

Ok, so now you know how information requests work on the internet. What you really want to know is how to get that information faster then everyone else...

Copper! Everyone knows what copper is! Hopefully, copper is malleable too! What does that mean? You can make into a wire! Well, for those of you who are saying...please this is remedial, hold on one sec.

Telecommunications has forever relied on copper wire to have a signal travel from end to another. You CABLE or DSL connection uses copper connections to do just this. Until recently, Fiber Optics has stepped in as a new means of communication. Fiber optic cable is basically a glass tube, which uses light to transmit data, and let me tell you light is infinitely faster than copper electricity.

Ok, so you have your basic knowledge there. Lets break down the actual different types of connections we have out their. I'll start with the home connections.

DSL or Digital Subscriber line uses existing copper wire telephone lines to transmit a signal that uses a higher frequency than a normal voice signal. The benefits to this, is that you do not need any additional lines into your home to get DSL. There are some setbacks and bonuses.

DSL lines are treated as individual connections. Your ISP will be channeling information directly to you, rather than on a larger scale network like CABLE internet. Some find this more secure than others. There is also a wide variety of bandwidths you can receive. Uh-oh... what!?

Bandwidths are basically capacity limits that a particular connection can handle. This is something that confuses most people as they think bandwidth is directly related to speed. The actual speed of your connection is determined by throughput. While bandwidth can definitely have influence on the connection speed, it does not directly determine how fast you can go. Now with that aside, I can explain CABLE internet.

Cable internet was introduced using a network connection technology IPX. This allowed data communication to travel through cable lines as a (Digital) signal and be retrieved on the other end by what we call a cable modem. Some cable boxes have already had this technology built in them, especially when digital cable was introduced. This also travels along copper wire, except end-users are setup on the network differently. Instead of having a dedicated line, you are amongst other users in your area (also know as a MAN or Metropolitan Area Network). So you speed of your connection can sometimes be hindered by heavy traffic usage in your area.

Last bet definitely not the least is FTTH, or Fiber to the curb is a way having the fastest available data connection brought into your home. However it?s kind of tricky. Since Fiber Optics does not use copper wiring, your household has to be setup to use this. Some ISP are providing the setup for free in return for you subscribing to their FO service, others actually will allow you to connect to the network yourself, and bring your own equipment, just sign up like you would do anything else on the internet. This is a fairly new technology and its bandwidth capability and throughput speeds are through the roof. It?s also less expensive then the other types of internet connections bit/dollar.

So I dropped that word in again, throughput; and before I had said that is your connection speed, well let?s see what throughput and bandwidth have to do with your internet connection. What is a bit? A bit is a memory allocation that the computer uses to assign value. Multiple bits make up instructions, and programs. Bits follow a numerical structure. Kilo equals one thousand bits (Kb), Mega equals one million bits (Mb), and Giga indicates one billion bits (Gb). There are numbers beyond this, but these are the most common. (Tera is one trillion. (Tb)) You have also probably heard the term byte. A byte is 8 bits. The reason for this relies on a memory architecture design in logic systems. I won?t go into to details, but Bytes were mainly used by programmers to establish instructions easier?but back on point. Bytes follow the same numerical structure as bits.
Although ISPs use Bytes to represent Bandwidth, and bits are used for measuring throughput speed this is where the confusion comes in.

If your bandwidth is 512Kb/s (Kilobits per second) you through put speed will be some where in the neighborhood of 64KB/s. big difference. This means a 512KB program will take approximately 8 seconds to reach your computer? not 1. So when you see advertisement that says 6Mbps remember that your maximum speed could be around 700KB/s? Doesn?t seem that fast now does it. DSL Connection can range anywhere from 768Kbps to 10Mbps, however they cannot not support many users, therefore its bandwidth is limited. Cable same, however ISP?s provide faster speeds for less cost to the home user. What about FTTH? 15-30Mbps! Now hold on a sec, I?m just talking about downstream, not upstream! This is where some people are mislead too!

Upstream is expensive! It?s basically how fast you can send out data. To prevent home users from flooding the internet with broadcasting and pirated signals, the FCC has put regulations on the upload speed its home users can receive, per connection. If you want to spend the money, you can get the upstream though. DSL normally provides a bandwidth of 128Kbps, cable 512Kbps and FTTH?a whopping 1Mbps!

So before you say you have broadband, make sure you take your new-found knowledge and compare it to what your neighbors have. If you have a lot of users on your network, perhaps going for more high-bandwidth connections like Cable and FTTH. If it?s just you, and you just ?surf? DSL will fit your needs. Oh yeah, if you interested in what connection I have? A ?Half? non-fiber T-1. 10Mbps down / 1Mbps up. I?m switching to FTTH.

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