The history of broadband and Wi-Fi
21 Oct 2020
Always-on broadband connections have radically changed what the internet is capable of, delivering everything from automatic file backups to online gaming, video chats and 4K video streaming. As the way we use the internet has changed, broadband has had to evolve to keep up.
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), so-called because upload speeds were much slower than download, was the first type of broadband. It was better than dial-up, for sure, but its maximum download speeds of 24Mbps were only obtainable under perfect conditions, with many people getting less due to how far they lived from the telephone exchange or poor-quality phone cables.
Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) came next, with a dedicated high-speed line coming into the street cabinet, but the final run to your home is through the standard telephone cable. Maximum download speeds were increased to 80Mbps, which is good enough for 4K video streaming. However, the distance to the street cabinet and quality of your cables can drastically reduce these speeds, and upload speeds are still much slower, topping out at around 16Mbps.
Today, homes need a broadband connection that can provide enough bandwidth for everyone that lives there, and fast upload and download speeds regardless of distance. Here’s where Fibre to the Home (FTTH) comes in.
Using dedicated fibre cabling straight to the house, quality is assured, maximum speeds go up and the upload speed is the same as the download. This is brilliant for file sharing, live streaming or having HD video chats with other people.
While the physical broadband connection is important, quality, reliable Wi-Fi is essential to fully use a broadband connection. Wi-Fi has evolved with broadband to meet this goal. At first, Wi-Fi was an interesting curiosity but quite expensive, slow (originally it ran at 11Mbps) and quite unreliable.
Newer versions of the technology have made Wi-Fi ubiquitous, built into practically every single device from computers and phones to smart TVs and games consoles. As well as getting more reliable, the technology has become faster.
Now, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) is the most popular standard, capable of transmitting on the 2.4GHz band (for range) and 5GHz band (for speed). And, it’s quick enough to deliver 4K streaming or fast downloads, such as for the latest games, where it’s needed.
The future will see a shift to Wi-Fi 6, which improves headline speeds but shares bandwidth better between devices. That’s important, as it means that each Wi-Fi user gets their own slice of the network and their own slice of the high-speed network.
How Wi-Fi is installed has changed, too. Single routers aren’t so popular, with mesh networks using multiple Wi-Fi access points around the house to make sure that there are no dead spots.