What is High Speed Internet Access?

May 12, 2009

in Internet

by David Hakala

It seems every form of Internet access is “high speed” or “broadband” these days. But you have to wonder exactly what “high speed” means and who really has it.

“High speed” and “broadband” are used interchangeably. “Broadband” refers to the range, or band, of signal frequencies on which an Internet signal operates. The broader the band is, the more data traffic it can carry. Think of an 8-lane highway versus a 2-lane residential street.

Of course, traffic may move faster on the 2-lane street during rush hour or when an accident snarls the highway. “High speed” refers to potential, not the actual speed you experience at any given moment.

Dial-up Internet access may be likened to a gravel country road. You are never going to go really fast. Dial-up is limited to only 56 Kbps, twice that if you combine two phone lines and modems. “High-speed dial-up” is an oxymoron.

Cell phone carriers are touting “high speed” and “broadband” Internet access these days. The official term for the fastest cellular access is “3G” for “third generation.” 3G theoretically supports up to 14.4 Mbps on the download side and up to 5.8 Mbps on uploads. Also in common use are GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) at 56 to 114 Kbps, and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) at 400 Kbps to 1.0 Mbps.

EDGE is part of the official 3G standard but is usually referred to as “2.75G”. Be careful of carriers who tout “3G” service when they really mean EDGE. It’s obviously much slower than full 3G.

GPRS is commonly used for SMS text messaging, email, and other things that don’t require moving lots of data. EDGE is preferred for Web browsing and viewing streaming videos. 3G is going to revolutionize everything, they say.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service is offered by traditional wired telephone companies and their ISP resellers. Depending on the level of service you buy and the condition of the wire between you and the phone company, DSL download speeds can range from 256 Kbps up to 24 Mbps. The nicest thing about a DSL line is that you have it all to yourself. The speed is pretty stable because you don’t share the road with anyone else.

Cable TV Internet access can range up to 400 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload. But those top speeds will cost you hundreds of dollars per month and are usually made available only to business customers. Residential customers get up to 100 Mbps download and about 384 Kbps upload. The reason for these speed limits is that a cable connection is shared among multiple customers. The more people using the connection, the slower everyone’s experienced speed.

“Broadband” and “high speed” are relative terms, ever changing in real life. But these definitions will give you some idea what to expect when you are shopping for high speed Internet access.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at

{ 1 comment }

Yury 10.07.15 at 9:16 am

when I have called nuormeus times on a monthly basis .the att workers that have come have all told me that the problem is NOT with my house or my connection that the problem is in Georgia which is ATT main location in this area .but in a few days the problem continues im going today to comcast and seeing if they have internet without att and i dont care what i pay because right now im paying for no service because when i get home there is no service! its highly frustrating! when i need the service the most its not functioning. WHen I needed it to work because I have something to do for work its out!

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