What is broadband?

The term is today used to describe almost any always on, high speed connection to the internet.

What is bandwidth?

The bandwidth of a connection is the width of it or the amount of data that can fit through it. To use an analogy, a ten lane road can fit more cars down it than a five lane road. We express the bandwidth in bits per second (bps). This indicates the number of bits of information that can fit down the line for a second. These days, bits per second doesn’t cover many methods of connection so we use kilobits per second (kbps) and megabits per second (mbps) for thousands and millions of bits per second.

Bandwidth units

What do these mean? How fast is 128kbps anyway? We propose the use of a bandwidth unit (BU) to help understand these better. We have chosen 42kbps as a bandwidth unit as it is the average speed of connection to the internet using a dialup modem and most people are familiar with that speed. (While dialup modems are capable of 53kbps, depending on line quality and equipment used, less than 50kbps is more realistic.)

Back to broadband

Broadband is a ‘broad bandwidth’ connection. It allows a large amount of data to travel through a medium at the same time. There are many opinions about what a large amount of data entails. It is all relative. When the internet was in its infancy, 2.4kbps was the fastest dialup speed available. Current 53kbps dialup speeds would seem to be broadband compared to back then.

The other consideration is that network traffic is bi-directional. In internet terms, there are download and upload paths for a connection. Many always on, high speed services have lower upload and higher download capacities. In network terms, these are called asymmetrical services. This complicates things somewhat when rating a service as both are significant.

We will define broadband here for our purposes;


Up to two channel ISDN at 128kbps (3BU) in both directions.


Up to 512kbps (12BU) download and 256kbps (6BU) upload.


Above 512kbps (12BU) upload and 256kbps (6BU) download.


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Community Networks What is Broadband? Future Site Enhancements
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