The 3 types of broadband explained

When you’re shopping around for the best broadband deal you can find, you’ll often hear lots of incomprehensible jargon being thrown about, such as ADSL, coaxial cables and so on. The number of technologies used to deploy broadband internet to Australian homes can vary widely, and there are several which are commonly used. So what are the different types of broadband connections, and which type should you be looking for?

In Australia, the major internet service providers (ISPs) use three main types of fixed line broadband connection: ADSL, cable and fibre. The original means of internet connection, dialup, is rarely used nowadays having been replaced by the ADSL system some years ago. So, what does each of these current broadband services entail?

What is ADSL broadband?

ADSL stands for ‘Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line’. It’s a technology that basically allows faster download and upload speeds over existing copper phone lines – much faster than the archaic dialup method. It uses a device called a DSL filter, which separates the telephone voice signals from the digital data based on their frequency and allows them both to share the same line with little or no interference.

The main advantage of ADSL is that it’s cheap – telcos like Telstra and Optus already have thousands of kilometres of copper phone lines buried in the ground, so all they need to do is fit a DSL filter to these to allow faster internet access, which makes it cheaper for customers.

The downside is that the top speeds of ADSL are considerably slower than cable or fibre broadband, with maximum download speeds of 24Mbps and upload speeds of 3.3Mbps provided by the newest ADSL standard, ADSL2+.

So now you know. If you’re looking for cheap and accessible broadband which fulfils most of your needs, ADSL is the way to go. If you’re on the lookout for fast downloads, however, you’ll want to look for something better. Here is a selection of good value, unlimited data ADSL2+ plans currently on offer:

What is cable broadband?

The technical term used in the industry for ‘cable’ internet is hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), which is exactly what it really is – a hybrid network of super-fast fibre optic cable and slower coaxial cables. A coaxial cable is just a copper cable with two conductive layers – a core copper wire and a surrounding copper sheath, with the two separated by an insulating layer. These cables are designed and used exclusively to carry radio signals such as internet and cable TV, meaning there’s no risk of interference from phone signals.

The network structure is a bit like a tree. At the core are fibre optic lines which connect between cities, towns and local fibre-optic nodes, as well as institutions like universities. Branching off from this ‘backbone’ are coaxial cables which run down your street and finally connect directly to your home. Cable broadband is only available from Australia’s two biggest telcos, Telstra and Optus.

The whole cable network is distinct from ADSL in that it’s designed and constructed exclusively for data-heavy services such as digital TV (Foxtel) and the internet, making it much faster and more reliable to use. Maximum download speeds can be up to 100Mbps, although this is typically around 50 or less due to factors such as congestion and older hardware. The increased speeds of cable broadband are reflected by the price you pay. Here is a selection of cable broadband plans:

What is fibre broadband?

Optical fibre is the fastest technology currently available to connect you to the internet. Forming the backbone of the existing cable network, and currently being rolled out to millions of homes as part of the National Broadband Network (NBN), a pure fibre connection offers data speeds that are an order of magnitude faster than metal or hybrid connections, capable of hundreds of gigabits per second and typically up to 100Mbps.

Optical fibres are essentially thin glass cables through which light signals are transmitted, which can be bundled together to form cables. Fibre has huge advantages over copper wiring – it can transmit much higher rates of data (i.e. greater bandwidth) over longer distances, and can do so more reliably – being made of glass, they’re immune to electromagnetic interference and there’s less risk of mixed signals.

The downside, of course, is the cost. Optical fibre cables cost a lot to install around the country (which is what the NBN is trying to achieve). However, once installed, fibre cables need very little maintenance, and you can also buy cheaper plans from your ISP in exchange for lower speeds. If you’re looking for blazing internet downloads, fibre is the way to go. Here is a selection of unlimited data NBN plans:

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