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Broadband buyers' guide

A broadband Internet connection puts an end to what was popularly known as the "World Wide Wait" – the dialup and login wait times associated with a traditional, 56Kbps ("Kilobits per second") – so you no longer have to wait 10 seconds, or more, for Web pages to load, or minutes for your email messages to download.

ADSL ("Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line") technology, for example, works over the BT telephone network, like dialup, but provides a fast, "always on" connection, which, even at a basic download speeds of 512Kbps or 1Mbps ("Megabit per second"), is 10 or 20 times faster than dialup.

Broadband features, benefits & considerations

ADSL is the most common form of broadband in the U.K. and is available to the vast majority of households, while newer ADSL2 and ADSL2+ technologies – which over download speeds up to 24Mbps – are available from some providers.

Aside from lightning fast speeds – which allow music files, video clips, etc. to be downloaded in a fraction of the time that was previously possible, or streamed in real-time, and online gaming – ADSL broadband services effectively split your existing BT telephone line into two distinct channels.

One of these is used for conventional voice telephony, and the other for high speed, high frequency data communications. What this means for you as a user, is that your broadband and voice telephony services happily coexist, and you can make or receive telephone calls while connected to the Internet.

To receive ADSL broadband you'll need an ADSL modem, or if you want to share a broadband Internet connection between several computers, an ADSL router, either wired or wireless.

Where do you live?

If you live in an area that is served by a cable network operator – at the moment, probably Virgin Media, although the company may charge its rivals for use of its infrastructure in future, and BT has announced ambitious plans to rollout fibre optic broadband to 10 million homes by 2012 – a broadband cable Internet connection may be a possibility.

Cable, or fibre optic, broadband works by transmitting data via unused bandwidth in the cable television network structure – at speeds of up to 50Mbps – so no BT telephone line, or line rental is required.

The nature of fibre optic cable means that the signal transmitted is less susceptible to degradation over distance than with ADSL – the speed of an ADSL connection can vary widely according to the distance of the subscriber from a telephone exchange – so higher speeds can be maintained over longer distances.

To receive cable broadband, you'll obviously need a cable service in the first place, but also a special cable modem. Cable operators typically "bundle" together cable television, telephone and broadband Internet services, so that you get all three for one, discounted price.

Whichever type of broadband Internet connection you decide is best for you, it's worth remembering that the higher the speed, the higher the monthly download limit – measured in Gb ("Gigabytes"), where 1Gb is broadly equivalent to 10,000 Web pages or 200 MP3 music files – and the shorter the contract, the more you'll typically be asked to pay for your broadband Internet package.

Remember too, that advertised download speeds are theoretical maximum speeds, and achieving them may not be possible in all circumstances.
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