Information Technology (IT) is an industry that is bursting with complex nomenclature and enough acronyms to start its own specialised dictionary ‒ which we are sure has been invented already, most likely by the same person who will publish a Star Trek Atlas.
Jokes aside, the terms ‘internet’, ‘broadband’ and ‘Wi-Fi’ are used regularly every day, often interchangeably (incorrect) as well as mixed up with other terms like WWW, router, etc. This leaves many people asking, ‘What is the difference between internet, broadband and wifi?’
Let’s look at each one to simply “decode” why they are not the same thing.
What is the difference between broadband and Wi-Fi?
The technology methodology called ‘broadband’ has different definitions depending on whether you are referring to broadband in:
- Computer networks
- Internet access
- TV and video
- Alternative technologies like power cables
In this comparison document, we will only be covering the definitions of broadband relating to computers, mobile phones and the internet.
Wi-Fi and broadband are not interchangeable, and whilst they co-exist close to each other and work together, they are different technologies and methodologies.
In addition to those two terms being erroneously mixed up, you might have found a third option thrown into the conversation: fibre. Again, this is not an interchangeable term and, in fact, you will see that Internet Service Providers (ISPs – yes, another acronym) will quote different prices for them on their packages list.
What is the difference between broadband and fibre?
When the access methodology of broadband comes up in a service package or conversation, ADSL, FTTC or FTTP protocols are being referred to. Has your head exploded from acronyms yet?
When the access methodology ‘fibre’ is discussed, then the protocol of transmitting data is in the form of light pulsing along a super-sensitive, super-fast, very expensive fibre optic cable.
To explain this clearly, let’s look at each methodology independently first.
What is broadband?
Broadband is a connection technology. You use it, for example, to get access at home or work to the internet. The methodology is designed to work over a wire. But because IT is such a complex sphere, there is a difference when you discuss mobile broadband. The latter broadband utilises 5G technology as the internet access methodology for mobile phones on the back of the mobile service network.
Up until a decade ago, homes and businesses used modems and routers to connect to the internet. The routers and modems would have created access over a telephone fixed landline and, later, via cables made from fibre optics. In outlying areas with minimal infrastructure, broadband services can be supplied through satellite connections.
In addition to your smartphone, your iPad, tablet, notebook or laptop would also connect to the router using a local Wi-Fi connection within your premises. If you are a personal computer (PC) user or a gamer, you can use a cable to connect to the router. This usually gives a faster local solution. Because of these different connection methods from the different pieces of equipment and locations, people mix the terms Wi-Fi and broadband because they actually just want to say “high-speed connection”. Broadband is indeed used in the industry to refer to high-speed access for domestic, commercial or hospitality locations.
One of the great benefits of broadband access to the internet is that it allows more than one device to be connected at the same time. In an era with an ever-growing number of devices connecting to the internet and to each other, fast, versatile internet access is vital for the smooth running of everyday life. How many of these things do you have connecting across the internet?
- Multiple mobile phones
- Multiple laptops or similar
- Gaming systems
- Security systems
- Lighting management systems
- Garden sprinkler systems
- And more
Broadband has saved many relationships from fights over the remote control. Now multiple users can connect their multiple devices from multiple rooms at the same time.
Types of broadband
Subject to your location on the globe, there will be limited or a combination of various broadband options on offer to the market. You might be offered:
- Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line service (ADSL)
- Community Access Television (CATV or Cable)
- Fibre broadband
- And more, depending on the specifics and legislation of your location.
An example of legislation that might restrict your access can be found in China. Not only is the cross-border transfer of data severely restricted, but the government will only supply satellite connectivity to their rural areas when they have positioned their own dedicated satellites in space.
The United Kingdom has much more liberal legislation, which has encouraged excellent growth in the broadband providers market. This, in turn, means clients should be careful that they choose a provider that has a proven track record of quality, the ability to deliver the service sold, and a reputation for excellent after-sales service. Broadband providers are also known as ISPs.
If you are connecting via a broadband methodology, the setup utilises shared physical equipment to send and receive data packages (your information). When you receive an email or photos, they will go through a download process. The data packages that make up that email or photos will fly, at high speed, along a channel (or data highway) alongside multiple other packages of data being sent or received by other people. Your “connection speed” might have its maximum speed listed as sixty Mbps (megabytes of data per second) but this can’t be achieved if the highway is chock-a-block. It will probably be achievable at off-peak hours, hence the odd hours used by gaming enthusiasts.
Fibre optic leased line
A fibre optic line transmits data using pulses of light along extremely high-tech, very fine glass strands. When you choose a leased fibre package, that fibre line is dedicated to your home, office or restaurant. Your packages of data are not elbowing someone else’s packages of data for space along a channel; it’s smooth, plain sailing. This is why your data packages travel at higher speeds and have greater security levels. In addition, you get what you pay for ‒ in a positive way. For exale, if you bought 60Mps, you get 60Mps all the time.
Additional differences between fibre and broadband
Service level agreements – Broadband might have slightly more downtime than a fibre leased line. Issues should be resolved within a few hours, and a serious problem might take two days.
A fibre leased line will practically guarantee zero downtime, and if a hiccup does occur, it is usually repairable within a maximum of a few hours.
Stability – The choice of the service provider is a factor in the stability of your connection so it is important to assess your service provider based on their experience, who they partner with and what their reviews are like. Don’t only chase pricing. Broadband is, however, reasonably stable.
The challenge that broadband might experience is the issue of it being a shared infrastructure. This adds multiple risk points of problems, just like a plumbing pipe with more cuts and connections. Every cut and connection point is a potential leak point.
As mentioned earlier, the fact that your data packets are ‘driving’ along the ‘data highway’ with other ‘data cars’ means that you cannot predict how busy the data traffic will be when you want to send data. You will start to notice peak traffic times and should plan any sending or receiving big files away from those peak times.
A fibre leased line can be monitored and the highway is always open for your traffic, so it is highly predictable.
Data security – The fewer people who have access to your data, the better. Having shared infrastructure does not mean that people can easily access your information because it is encrypted. However, if there is a super-sleuth out there who has decided to try and crack your encrypted restaurant orders to the mushroom supplier, then having shared broadband will make it one step easier – but NOT easy. You can therefore see how a dedicated fibre line will be safer, and the additional monitoring service will also assist with observing any security breaches.
However, it is important to remember that choosing a fibre leased line does not wipe out the threat of a cyber-attack. For this, you will need the latest virus software and additional support. Talk to us about your cyber security, including the protection of your website.
Package costs – With the big benefits gained from a fibre leased line and the quality of the infrastructure needed for such a setup, the pricing for this service would be higher than a standard broadband service.
So back to ‘ What is the difference between internet, broadband and Wi-Fi?’, we believe that the muddling up of the different terms happens because they are so often combined in the process of supplying a connectivity package to a client. When working from home (WFH), you might have a subscribed broadband service but will mistakenly think it is Wi-Fi because of how you connect to the broadband service. Let’s look at each component.
Are broadband and mobile broadband the same?
The generally referred to term ‘broadband’ is one that is used in domestic, commercial and retail setups. It implies that you are using a wired connection to the internet from your location, possibly in combination with a Wi-Fi LAN in the interior of the building that originates from a wireless router.
The most prolific broadband connections are:
- Fibre broadband
Mobile broadband is a different kettle of fish, or bundle of data packages. This nomenclature refers to the utilisation of 5G (previously 4G, 3G, 2G and 1G, of course). A mobile broadband protocol doesn’t use any type of cabling at the final delivery or initial sending point. It initiates via mobile radio-wave networks. Radio waves are electromagnetic radiation just like microwaves; however, radio waves are greater than 100mm, and microwaves range from 0.1 of a mm to 1mm, i.e. tiny. Radiowaves can also travel in multiple directions, but microwaves are unidirectional.
Mobile phone network usage has skyrocketed in popularity as the connection is super fast, so fast that it can outperform most fibre broadband connections.
Another popular use of mobile networks is to Work From Anywhere (WFA) by using the mobile hotspot facility on your phone for connecting your laptop et al. to the internet. This temporarily converts your phone into a Wi-Fi router and multiple devices can connect to it. Very handy! Depending on the country you are in and the package you have purchased, you might find that the data charges for the mobile network are too expensive to use this option extensively or predominantly.
What’s the difference between ‘broadband’ and ‘internet’?
The most non-interchangeable of all the terms is internet versus broadband.
Broadband – This is your access point to the internet, like a gate to a playpark. Broadband is the gate. A narrow gate will let one person through; a wider gate will let many people through.
Internet – If we continue the above analogy for a little longer, then the internet is the playpark that the gate has given you access to. It is the global network of servers connecting computers and other devices from almost any location in the world.
Is the internet the same as the worldwide web (WWW)?
Again, these terms are used interchangeably, and the confusion is understandable as the two are so closely aligned.
The internet (our above-mentioned playpark) is the networking framework that creates a system of channels (billions of channels) for devices to communicate with each other globally.
The WWW (joy, another acronym) is a methodology of linking to information and being able to use it. The WWW uses the network offered by the internet, and it offers a user-friendly way of being able to read the information stored on the internet.
The term ‘Web’ was first introduced in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee when he referred to a ‘web of information. Hyperlinks are automated links that create digital bridges between documents and repositories of information. The information is written in a special ‘language’, namely Hypertext Markup Language and, guess what, it comes with its own acronym: HTML. The digital bridges, or hyperlinks, can link to any HTML page or file in HTML code that is located anywhere on the internet framework.
Computers use their own language, Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP to manage the HTML documents and information over the internet framework. Each access point to the internet framework is called a Uniform Resource Location or Unique Resource Location (URL), so the information is retrieved precisely from the right location and delivered to the right location.
Well, as we said at the beginning, there are enough acronyms and nomenclatures for a whole new dictionary to be started, but we do hope that this explanation has demystified the roles that the many important parts play in your digital world.
Our experts are at your disposal if you need to ask further questions regarding ‘What is the difference between internet, broadband and wifi?’ Call for advice today.