What is Broadband?
The term broadband refers to a telecommunications signal or device of greater bandwidth, in some sense, than another standard or usual signal or device (and the broader the band, the greater the capacity for traffic).
Different criteria for "broad" have been applied in different contexts and at different times. Its origin is in physics, acoustics and radio systems engineering, where it had been used with a meaning similar to wideband. However, the term became popularized through the 1990s as a vague marketing term for Internet access.
In telecommunications, a broadband signaling method is one that includes or handles a relatively wide range (or band) of frequencies. Broadband is always a relative term, understood according to its context. The wider (or broader) the bandwidth of a channel, the greater the information-carrying capacity, given the same channel quality.
In radio, for example, a very narrow-band signal will carry Morse code; a broader band will carry speech; a still broader band is required to carry music without losing the high audio frequencies required for realistic sound reproduction. This broad band is often divided into channels or frequency bins using passband techniques to allow frequency-division multiplexing, instead of sending one higher-quality signal.
A television antenna described as "broadband" may be capable of receiving a wide range of channels; while a single-frequency or Lo-VHF antenna is "narrowband" since it receives only 1 to 5 channels. The US federal standard FS-1037C defines "broadband" just as a synonym for wideband.
In data communications a 56k modem will transmit a data rate of 56 kilobits per second (kbit/s) over a 4 kilohertz wide telephone line (narrowband or voiceband). The various forms of digital subscriber line (DSL) services are broadband in the sense that digital information is sent over a high-bandwidth channel. This channel is at higher frequency than the baseband voice channel, so it can support plain old telephone service on a single pair of wires at the same time.
However when that same line is converted to a non-loaded twisted-pair wire (no telephone filters), it becomes hundreds of kilohertz wide (broadband) and can carry several megabits per second using very-high-bitrate digital subscriber line (VDSL) techniques.
In the late 1980s, the Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network (B-ISDN) used the term to refer to a broad range of bit rates, independent of physical modulation details.
In computer networks
Many computer networks use a simple line code to transmit one type of signal using a medium's full bandwidth using its baseband (from zero through the highest frequency needed). Most versions of the popular Ethernet family are given names such as the original 1980s 10BASE5 to indicate this. Networks that use cable modems on standard cable television infrastructure are called broadband to indicate the wide range of frequencies that can include multiple data users as well as traditional television channels on the same cable. Broadband systems usually use a different radio frequency modulated by the data signal for each band. The total bandwidth of the medium is larger than the bandwidth of any channel.
The 10BROAD36 broadband variant of Ethernet was standardized by 1985, but was not commercially successful. The DOCSIS standard became available to consumers in the late 1990s, to provide Internet access to cable television residential customers. Matters were further confused by the fact that the 10PASS-TS standard for Ethernet ratified in 2008 used DSL technology, and both cable and DSL modems often have Ethernet connectors on them.
Power lines have also been used for various types of data communication. Although some systems for remote control are based on narrowband signaling, modern high-speed systems use broadband signaling to achieve very high data rates. One example is the ITU-T G.hn standard, which provides a way to create a high-speed (up to 1 Gigabit/s) local area network using existing home wiring (including power lines, but also phone lines and coaxial cables).
Broadband in analog video distribution is traditionally used to refer to systems such as cable television, where the individual channels are modulated on carriers at fixed frequencies. In this context, baseband is the term's antonym, referring to a single channel of analog video, typically in composite form with separate baseband audio. The act of demodulating converts broadband video to baseband video.
However, broadband video in the context of streaming Internet video has come to mean video files that have bitrates high enough to require broadband Internet access for viewing.
Broadband video is also sometimes used to describe IPTV Video on demand.
The standards group CCITT defined "broadband service" in 1988 as requiring transmission channels capable of supporting bit rates greater than the primary rate which ranged from about 1.5 to 2 Mbit/s. The US National Information Infrastructure project during the 1990s brought the term into public policy debates.
Broadband became a marketing buzzword for telephone and cable companies to sell their more expensive higher data rate products, especially for Internet access. In the US National Broadband Plan of 2009 it was defined as "Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access". The same agency has defined it differently through the years.
Even though information signals generally travel nearly the speed of light in the medium no matter what the bit rate, higher rate services are often marketed as "faster" or "higher speeds". (This use of the word "speed" may or may not be appropriate, depending on context. It would be accurate, for instance, to say that a file of a given size will typically take less time to finish transferring if it is being transmitted via broadband as opposed to dial-up.) Consumers are also targeted by advertisements for peak transmission rates, while actual end-to-end rates observed in practice can be lower due to other factors.