How is high-speed internet keeping
pace with our insatiable appetite for content?
Broadband has evolved considerably over the
last decade or so in the United States. Whereas just a few years ago, large
parts of the country were relegated to pokey 56K dial-up connections over
standard phone lines, now multi-megabit broadband connections are commonplace
and speed increases are being introduced regularly. In fact, in some test
markets, broadband at gigabit speeds is on the way. And yes, that’s gigabits
with a “G”, as in roughly 17,800x more bandwidth than 56K dial-up.
is high-speed internet keeping pace?
We also have many more choices today.
Connecting to the Internet used to mean firing up ADL for millions of users.
Now, though, most consumers can choose between multiple service providers,
which plenty of bandwidth for all but the most demanding users. Broadband may
not be universally available here in the states just yet, but availability is
far better than it was, and it’s consistently improving.
Despite myriad advances made to the
county’s broadband infrastructure, the story is not all good. According to a
few recent studies, the United States still trails some other nations in multiple
broadband-related categories, including average connection speed is more than
double of the United States 16.7Mbps vs. 6.1Mbps and the United States ranks 36th
in overall connectivity.
There’s more to broadband than just
bandwidth and penetration, however, and we hope to fill you in on the details
here. Our goal is to help you to better understand the various technologies
available now and outline some of the advances coming in the future. We’ve also
got some practical tips for changing ISPs and optimizing your current broadband
connection on tap, as well.
Pick you platform
Get connected over copper, fiber,
wireless, or satellite
There are a number of different ways
consumers in the United States have access to high-speed broadband Internet
connections. Some, like DSL, leverage existing telephone network
infrastructures, while others, like satellite or LTE wireless, use relatively
new technologies. Although broadband isn’t accessible to everyone in the
country, there are multiple options available for most consumers and the
choices that are available continue to mature and evolve.
The most common broadband connection types
in the United States include digital subscriber line (or DSL), cable, fiber
optic-to-home solutions, wireless, and to a lesser extent satellite. Wireline
solutions like cable and fiber-to-home will typically offer the
highest-bandwidth,, lowest-latency connections, and DSL is usually the most
affordable, but all of the connection types mentioned here have multi-megabit
plans available from numerous Internet service providers (ISPs) in many parts
of the country. Before we dig in, also note that all of the broadband
connection technologies we discuss here are sometimes referred to as “last
mile” or “network edge” connections. What that means is that they’re the
connection types used by Internet service providers to make the link between
end users and the core backbones of the Internet.
According to the most recent data available
on the National Broadband Map, DSL is the second most accessible broadband
technology in the United States, behind only the various wireless technologies.
In the locations where high-speed broadband is available, one form of DSL or
another is offered to 88.9 percent of those customers.
Although “DSL” is a term thrown around
freely, it actually encompasses an entire family of technologies, which
includes asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), symmetric digital
subscriber line (SDSL), integrated services digital network (ISDN),
rate-adaptive digital subscriber line (RADSL), and high bit-rate digital
subscriber line (HDSL), among a few others. DSL leverages the copper cabling
used throughout the telephone network to transmit digital data, and as such,
the bandwidth offered by the various technologies will vary based on a few
factors, like the quality of the physical connection and distance from the
exchange, sometimes called the “central office”.
DSL is typically more affordable than other
solutions because it’s cheaper to implement over the existing telephone network,
versus deploying new, high-bandwidth fiber cables over the same expanse. Though
sometimes cheaper, many DSL solutions can still offer significant bandwidth to
end users. Sonic.net, for example, is one of the best-regarded DSL providers in
the nation, with plans that offer download speeds of up to 20Mbps. It’s able to
offer DSL speeds so far above the national average of about 4Mbps by using
VDSL2 bonding technology that essentially links dual copper pairs into single
connections. Other DSL providers also leverage bonding technology to increase
the effective amount of available bandwidth to end users, but the fastest ISPs
are typically concentrated in the more densely populated areas of the country,
like California and the Northeast.
modems like the D-Link DSL-520B connect through standard copper phone to
provide broadband Internet access
A typical DSL setup in a home consists of
little more than a filter (or filters) that are used to separate voice and data
signals between telephones and a DSL modem. The technology hasn’t changed much
on recent years, so massive speed increases haven’t been offered by many DSL
providers, but the technology is mature and reliable, and should suit the needs
of mainstream consumers. In the future, however, large bandwidth gains are
still possible with DSL. Alcatel-Lucent, for example, announced that through a
technology advanced by Bell Labs, it has achieved 300Mbps over two DSL lines
(through bonding) at a distance of 400 meters. The technology works by
level-age bonding, something called Phantom mode, and vectoring. Phantom mode
creates a third, virtual pair on top of the existing two pairs used in the DSL
lines. And then vectoring technology filters out interference and crosstalk
among them all. The bandwidth of the physical and the virtual pairs are then
combined into a single, ultra-high-bandwidth pipe.
On some level, cable Internet access is
similar to DSL. However, instead of using the telephone network, cable Internet
leverages the cable television infrastructure to provide a broadband Internet
connection. Also like DSL, cable Internet is relatively connection technology
in the United States. In areas where broadband is available, cable Internet
access is an option for 85.2 percent of consumers.
Many of the technologies employed by cable
Internet access providers are determined by the Data Over Cable Service
Interface Specification, or DOSIS. DOCSIS was initially developed by CableLabs,
a not-for-profit research and development consortium founded by a number of
cable television providers, along with a host of additional contributors,
including the likes of Broadcom, Cisco, Conexant, Intel, Motorola, Netgear,
Texas Instruments, and a handful of other companies.
Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, or DOCSIS, is used by many
cable television operations to provide broadband Internet access over their
existing network using a cable modem, like the Motorola SB6120 pictured here
Cable Internet is also one of the more
mature broadband technologies offered in the United States and bandwidth
available to end users is relatively high. If we disregard some fledgling
fiber-to-home solutions, cable fledgling is among the fastest in the nation. It
is not uncommon for cable service providers to offer premium plans in the
50Mbps to 100Mbps (download) range, at prices below $100 month. It is also
common to see cable Internet included in “triple play” type packages that
bundle Internet, television, and phone services on a single bill.
Although fast and relatively affordable,
one of the disadvantages of cable Internet is that bandwidth is shared not only
on the provider’s core network, but among smaller nodes, or groups of
residents, as well, which can lead to slowdowns during peak usage times. If
there aren’t numerous users concurrently consuming large amounts of bandwidth,
the slowdowns may be imperceptible, but on more congested networks the
slowdowns can be significant.
Though already fairly mature, bandwidth
gains are still likely as providers improve their network and implement more
3.0 allows for bonding of multiple upstream and downstream channels to increase
total available bandwidth. The specification calls for hardware to support a
minimum of four upstream/ downstream channels, which can each offer a maximum
of 42.88Mbps, but there is no maximum number of channels defined. An
eight-channel bonded configuration could theoretically offer a connection speed
of up to 343Mbps.