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What is Broadband

As used in the current sense, Broadband refers to having a high-speed data connection for Internet access and other uses for your home. A broadband connection is differentiated from a normal dial-up one in that it is: 1) significantly higher speed than dial-up, and 2) always-on always connected and ready to use.

Why is Broadband useful

The higher speed of a broadband connection means that any single user can quickly access much larger files, for example pictures, movie clips, music, or software downloads to add to or enhance your system. It also allows a number of users to share the same connection. A broadband connection would normally run at something like 1 Mbps, 1 million bits per second compared to the best dial-up at 50Kbps 50 thousand bits per second, which is 20 times faster. The always-on aspect means you can use the Internet just like any other utility in your house phone, power, or cable TV you can depend on it and weave it into your daily life.


Current Status

For a business, the standard high-speed data connection available in the Boston Metro West area is a T1 telephone circuit. It runs at a maximum speed of about 1.5Mbps and costs from $300 to $1000 per month depending on the speed. Because of the cost, this is not normally used by individual homes. Larger companies will use even higher-speed connections, some of which may require optical circuits,

For the individual home, the picture is more complicated and it changes frequently.

Although not broadband speed, many people use a second phone line and dedicate it for computer use. Various combinations of hardware and software allow the line to be shared among a small number of computers and to be dialed up automatically as needed.

The real broadband options available today are DSL, cable modems, high-speed cell phone access, and fiber to the home. Plans are underway for fixed wireless.

A DSL (digital subscriber link) connection allows a standard telephone to be used for both voice and high-speed Internet access at the same time. Verizon will provide DSL service but you must be within 18,000 feet of the Verizon central office in your area. You can use the Verizon web site (www.verizon.com) to check for availability to your house. There are other vendors that will provide business-class DSL if you are within the required distance. Use www.dslreports.com or www.2wire.com to check.

IResidential DSL will cost about $50 per month and the speed will vary from 200Kbps to 1.5 Mbps. The equipment is often provided at no cost with a one-year contract and the individual does the installation.

Verizon has now started to deploy fiber to the home (called FIOS by Verizon) in a number of local communities. This will allow much higher Internet access speeds for both home and business use. Check with Verizon on the timetable for FIOS to be available in your area. Local phone service and television access will also be provided over the same fiber link.

A cable modem allows you to use your cable television connection for high-speed Internet access and costs about $50 per month. The modem is often free with a year of service.  Check with your local cable provider. Comcast is now the primary cable provider in the Metro West area. In some areas, they also provide local phone service and a higher-speed business class Internet access.

If you currently use a national ISP (AOL, MSN, Earthlink) for dial-up Internet access, check with them to see if they provide other high-speed access methods. Most of them are looking at different alternatives.

Future Plans (2006-2008)

Both DSL and cable modems are solutions to the "last mile problem". That is, how do you get from the telephone central office or a high-speed Internet hub to all the individual homes within a town?

Cellular providers are increasing the speed of their networks. It is now possible for an individual to watch movies, listen to CD-quality music, and play interactive games on their "cell phones". While the speed of 3G cellular systems will support one person for Internet access, it is not sufficient to support an entire house. There is another set of technologies that will take the current wireless computer networks used in business and increasingly in homes (variations of the IEEE 802.11a and b standards based systems) and allow them to operate over distances of several miles. These may operate in conjunction with the cellular companies or evolve as totally separate entities.

Within the Metrowest area, the main competition for the next few years will be between cable modems (Comcast) and fiber to the home from Verizon.


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