7 Internet Connection Types and One More

1. Fiber-optic Internet (Fiber)

Fiber-optic internet is the fastest type of internet connection available and it’s typically built out first in metropolitan and suburban areas. The internet signal travels along pulses of light within long, thin strands of glass or plastic, known as fibers, that are encased in protective cables. The cables are dug underground or affixed aerially on poles. The internet travels along the fibers as light signals that almost reach the speed of light. Fiber optic signals are also more stable than other internet connection types. Equipment installed at your home translates the light signals into electrical signals that your devices can interpret and then translates them back to light signals so the data can travel along fiber. Speeds can reach 10 Gig and with fiber optic it’s normal to have symmetrical download and upload speeds, meaning, the same speed for both.

2. Cable Internet

Cable internet uses the familiar coaxial cables you know from cable TV. Most, but not all, homes in the U.S. have cable internet available. Large telecom companies often offer cable internet bundles with TV and VoIP or mobile phone service included in the rate. Broadband cable speeds are adequate for most online activities and with hybrid adaptors cable companies are often able to offer top-of-the-line 1 Gig plans that are similar to the entry-level fiber optic plans of 1G.

3. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

Description: DSL is a wireline transmission technology that transmits data faster over traditional copper telephone lines. It provides transmission speeds ranging from several hundred Kbps to millions of bits per second (Mbps). The speed and availability may depend on the distance from the user's location to the closest telephone company facility. Types of DSL include Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) and Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (SDSL).

4. Fixed Wireless Broadband

Wireless broadband in general can mean Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) that provide wireless broadband access over shorter distances. It’s also used to describe Wi-Fi signals. However, “fixed wireless” is a specific type of connection using antennas and transmitters to provide internet access to a specific location. It's often used in rural areas where traditional wired connections aren't available. The connection is established between two fixed points: a central antenna and a receiver at the user's location. connects a location to the Internet using a radio link. Speeds are generally comparable to DSL and cable modem. An external antenna is usually required.

5. Mobile Cellular Broadband

Mobile, or cellular, broadband uses the same cellular network infrastructure as your mobile phone to transmit data over radio waves. When a smartphone, tablet, or mobile hotspot, connects to the internet using mobile broadband, it communicates with the nearest cell tower. The cell tower then routes the data over the cellular network to provide internet access. This allows for internet connectivity on the go, wherever there's cellular coverage. Speeds are dependent on the type of cellular technology in use (e.g., 3G, 4G LTE, 5G), network congestion, signal strength, and the user's location relative to the cell tower. 4G LTE and 5G offer faster speeds and lower latencies compared to older 3G networks. This is a great solution if you’re often on the move in areas without fixed broadband infrastructure or if you simply travel often. Mobile broadband often comes with data caps or limits after which your speeds slow down. Additionally, in areas with weak or no cellular signal, mobile broadband may not be accessible or may offer reduced speeds.

6. Satellite Internet

This type of internet connection uses satellite technology to deliver internet access. It's especially useful in areas where other types of connections (like cable or DSL) are not available.

7. Broadband over Powerlines (BPL)

BPL is the delivery of broadband over the existing low and medium voltage electric power distribution network. It uses high-frequency signals atop regular AC power signals. Adaptors parse the internet signal from the electrical power. BPL speeds are comparable to DSL and cable modem speeds.

Bonus Round: Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN)

ISDN was an early pioneer in data transmission signal types because it sends voice, video and data over public telephone networks and is still used as a backup system by some entities in the event other systems go down. The speeds we’re accustomed to with cable and fiber optic aren’t possible with ISDN but it can still serve a purpose. IDSN was notable for translating analog voice data into digital data so that calls were clearer. It was used in the 1990s and early 2000s for video conferencing, voice calls and a faster internet than old-school dial-up. It’s still used where broadband infrastructure isn’t in place or where a legacy system designed for ISDN is still actively in use.

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