by March 3, 2001 0 comments

What exactly is broadband? Do you really need it? What exactly would you use it for? What choices are available? How do they compare? What equipment do you need? Who can provide you with a broadband connection? While every-one these days is talking of broadband, the answers to these questions are not clear. In the articles that follow, we’ll answer each one of these.

Let’s start with a seemingly simple question: What exactly is broadband?

Communication carriers or media, for example, wires or cables, are of two
types: broadband and baseband. Baseband is where only one signal passes through
the media at a time. So, with broadband, multiple signals can travel on the same
media at the same time. The classic example of this is the cable that carries
multiple TV channels to your television set.

As with many other things, this definition has also undergone considerable
modification. Today, when we speak of broadband, we talk of large-bandwidth
access to the Internet. How large is large? Here, interpretations differ, based
mostly on the convenience of the person providing the definition. There are
those who say that 32 kbps and above is broadband, while there are others who’re
sure that it takes at least 64 kbps to qualify as broadband. There are yet
others (obviously, ISPs) who insist that anything faster than a dial-up connect
is broadband.

So, what exactly is broadband?

We’ll define broadband as Internet access through non-traditional media
(other than dial-up over telephone lines) with downstream speeds of at least 64
kbps. We say a lower limit of 64 kbps because a dial-up modem on a telephone
line can deliver up to 56 kbps downstream.

When we talk of non-traditional media, we’re actually talking of only two
options currently–Internet over cable and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).
Mobile broadband–broadband over your cellphone–will hopefully get added to
this list some time soon. When we talk of DSL, we’re actually talking of a
number of technologies like ADSL, SDSL, HDSL, IDSL, and VDSL, all of which
deliver Internet connects at varying speeds over existing telephone connections,
without using the all-too-familiar dial-up modem. The most common DSL
implementation in India today is ADSL or Asynchronous DSL. ADSL can deliver from
1.5—9 Mbps downstream (to the user) and 16—640 kbps upstream (user requests
to Web servers).

Ideally, when we talk of broadband, we refer to connections to the home, and
not to the workplace. Why is that? Typically, a home user will have more data
sent down to him in the form of downloaded software or streamed music or video,
than data sent back to the Net. On the other hand, businesses will need to send
more data out into the Net, in the form of data served from Web servers they
host, or software and data transferred to business partners. Asymmetric
technologies like ADSL and Internet over cable can’t support this need to
transfer large volumes of data out onto the Net. So, corporates would ideally
opt for symmetric options–leased lines or the like–where data transfer rates
are high in both directions.

However, not all businesses need to transfer huge amounts of data out. With
most Indian Websites being hosted at separate data centers, the role of the
corporate Internet connection becomes limited to sending and receiving e-mail
and browsing the Web. In such a situation, broadband can be used as a corporate
solution also.

Another advantage of broadband is that it doesn’t tie up your telephone
line and, consequently, doesn’t saddle you with heavy telephone bills. On the
flip side, while usage charges for broadband tend to be low, the cost of
equipment, like a DSL or cable modem, can be pretty high. Citing these savings
in telephone charges, some ISPs offer 32 kbps connects as an option. Does this
qualify as broadband? The bandwidth is not at all broad in this case, and you
may actually take more time to download software or browse the Web than you
would on a good dial-up connection. But then, you do save a packet on telephone
charges.

How do you choose between service providers? You may not have much of a
choice here. It’s your cable TV provider who’ll double up as your Internet
over cable provider. In the case of DSL, too, the market hasn’t become big
enough for competition yet. Most service providers currently operate in mutually
exclusive territories.

What about the choice between cable and DSL? Here again, the story is more or
less the same. If you’re lucky enough to have a choice between cable and DSL,
and with other things like backbone and gateway bandwidths of service providers
being equal, DSL may work out to be better and with cable in the long run. This
is because cable is a shared media. That is, the cable that comes to your house
runs to your neighbors’ too. As more and more users are added to the segment
of cable that you’re on, the available bandwidth will get shared between all
of them.

Krishna Kumar

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