What is Home Broadband and How Does it Work?

The chances are, if you’re reading this article from the comfort of your own home, you’re doing so using home broadband. We’ve come to rely on it for almost everything – but do we actually know how it works? We’ve broken down the technology and installation process step by step so you can tell your FTTP from your ISP.


What is home broadband?

Home broadband is the term we use to describe the high-speed internet connection most of us now have in our homes. It emerged in the 1990s and became common in households by the mid-2000s. In fact, 99.7% of UK households now have access to a fixed broadband connection.


The dark days of dial-up

Until the late 1990s, dial-up internet was the norm in most households. Which meant we all had to put up with that irritating noise every time we wanted to connect! The maximum speed for dial-up internet at that time was 56 kbps (kilobytes per second) which meant downloading 1Mb could take up to 20 minutes. To put that into context, a one-minute video on YouTube is about 24Mb. That means it would take 8 hours just to load one video in today’s world – ouch!

Each time you used the internet with dial-up, you were essentially making a phone call, using your existing phone line to access the internet. Which, I’m sure we all remember meant you couldn’t use your phone and internet at the same time. Dial-up connections used modems to translate the digital signals from your computer into the analogue used on the phone line.


The emergence of home broadband

By 2007, however, almost half of all households had broadband – bumping the average speed up to 4.6 Mbps (megabytes per second). Home broadband in those early days continued using existing phone lines but used a different frequency with more capacity to transport the data. This meant there was no need to convert the data to analogue. That lead to faster internet, easier browsing and revolutionised home internet for us all!


How fast is home broadband?

Any internet connection with a download speed of 256 kbps or more is considered ‘broadband’ – although that is at the very low end of the scale when it comes to modern download speeds. According to ISP regulator, Ofcom, the average download speed in the UK in March 2022 was 59.4 Mbps.

There is a significant gap, however, between the average speed in larger cities vs smaller towns and villages. The average speed in urban areas was 62.1 Mbps, while non-urban areas had an average speed of just 39.4 Mbps – that’s 58% lower.  Find out more in our guide to broadband in rural areas.


How does home broadband work?

To connect your home to broadband, you’ll generally choose an internet service provider (ISP) who will provide you with the equipment you need to connect to the internet. But not all broadband was born equal!


Types of home broadband

How your broadband works is determined by the type of connection you choose. The most common connection types are:

  • ADSL: An Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) uses the copper phone wires from your home telephone network to give you access to the internet. ADSL is a very popular connection type as most homes already have a phone connection. So, it’s very easy to install!
  • Cable broadband: Unlike ADSL, cable broadband does not use your actual phone line, instead using cables which connect your home to a local ‘cabinet’ (those green boxes you see by the side of the road) to give you internet access. This type of connection is known as FTTC (fibre-to-the-cabinet).
  • Fibre optic broadband: Essentially an upgrade on cable broadband – fibre optic broadband uses fibre optic wires for all the connections and transmits information through light rather than electricity. Ultra-fast full-fibre broadband (which around 8% of the population has) uses what is called an FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) FTTP means your internet is directly connected to your ISP, making your internet connection faster and more reliable.
  • Wireless broadband: Used by some internet providers to give people internet access where fixed-line broadband is not available. Not to be confused with Wi-Fi, which still uses a wired connection through a modem which connects to a wireless router.
  • Satellite & mobile broadband: Like wireless broadband, satellite broadband provides access to the internet via satellite where fixed-line access is not available. Mobile broadband uses the same 3, 4 and 5G mobile networks your mobile phone uses to connect your laptop or desktop to the internet.


What do I need to use home broadband?

Setting up your home broadband connection is easier than ever before, and you can be up and running in just a few simple steps. To set up your home broadband connection, you’ll need:

  • A phone line or cable/fibre optic connection: Whatever broadband connection you’re using, you’ll need some way to connect. If you’re using an older ADSL connection, you’ll need a phone line to connect, or for cable and fibre optic, an engineer will need to install the connection at your home. You should find out which connection type is best for you before you sign up.
  • Subscription to an internet service provider: There are many different types of subscriptions, so always do your research on the best deals before you commit. You may decide to sign a rolling monthly contract or commit to a longer-term subscription.
  • A modem and wireless router or Wireless gateway: When you sign up with an internet service provider, they will normally rent you all the equipment you need although you can provide your own if you like. Your modem is the little box that translates the signal between your device and the connection to your ISP. You’ll connect directly to the modem if you’re using a fixed-line connection, or you may have an additional wireless router. Most modems today are combined with wireless routers and are known as ‘wireless gateways.’


Find out more about how we use Wi-Fi to give whole-home internet coverage.


How can I get home broadband?

To get home broadband, you simply choose an ISP either by a recommendation from friends and family or by using a comparison site such as USwitch. Then, you can contact them by phone or via their website to get your subscription started. If you’re changing provider, you can contact your new ISP who will arrange the switchover with your existing one. Each home broadband set-up will be slightly different, but your internet service provider will explain the process to you.

Find out if Broadway broadband could be right for you.

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FAQs: What is Home Broadband and How Does it Work?

While you can install Wi-Fi routers at home without broadband, you can only really use them for connecting devices such as printers and laptops – not for connecting to the internet. To connect to the internet via Wi-Fi at home, you need a broadband connection.
Yes, it’s possible to use a mobile data subscription rather than Wi-Fi. However, your connection will likely be much less reliable and slower than a broadband connection.
No, you do not need a landline in to connect to broadband. If you’re using a cable or fibre-optic connection, you’re connected to your ISP without phone lines. If you’re using an ADSL connection, however, you will still need a phone line. In the UK, you’ll need to rent this phone line from Openreach as part of your subscription.
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