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Broadband guide

Broadband connection types explained

Broadband connection types explained
Mark Whelan

Mark Whelan

Staff Writer

There is a wide range of broadband connection types available in Ireland including ADSL, fibre, wireless, mobile and satellite. Choosing the right one can be challenging and confusing. All five types are explained below, along with their pros and cons.

What is DSL?

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is the generic term for a broadband connection that uses copper telephone lines to transmit data. Because of this, DSL is the most widely available internet connection across Ireland but it has almost been surpassed by fibre broadband in recent times, especially in urban areas (see below).

Because DSL uses the traditional copper telephone network, most households will not need to install a second line, a cable or any other type of new wiring or device in the home. It also means that you can avail of a service that includes a landline and broadband as a bundle if you wish. 

DSL is capable of delivering speeds of up to 50Mb or so. However, the speed of your service can be affected by how far away your home is from your local telephone exchange and the condition of the copper wires. The further away, and the older the wires, the slower the connection will be. In addition, the service can slow down at peak usage times, such as the evenings and weekends. That's because DSL services work on shared connections.

You’ll sometimes see the phrase “contention ratio” in the small print for DSL providers. This is industry jargon for sharing. If the contention ratio is 50:1, it means that at peak times you could be sharing your connection with as many as fifty people. And this will slow your connection down considerably. The lower the contention ratio, the better.

What is fibre broadband 

Fibre broadband can boast speeds of up to 1,000Mb and uses fibre optic cables to transmit data. In recent years Eir and SIRO, a joint venture between the EBS and Vodafone, have been rolling out fibre networks across Ireland. 

Virgin Media has been investing in its fibre network too and recently introduced a 500Mb service.   

There are two main types of fibre broadband: fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-cabinet. 

With fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband, the network of fibre optic cables runs to your local telephone exchange cabinet from where data is transferred through (often old) telephone copper cables for the final few hundred metres or kilometres to your home.

Since copper wires significantly slow down the speed of a connection, FTTC broadband has a maximum speed of 100Mb. But depending on how far your home is from your local cabinet box, the speed you're able to get could be far lower.

To get anywhere near the superfast broadband speeds of 1,000Mb that are possible with fibre broadband, you need to live in an area where there are FTTH (fibre-to-the-home) connections available. In these cases, fibre optic cables run all the way into your home. Fibre-to-the-home is often called pure fibre as it doesn't rely on old telephone copper wires for any of the network. 

What is fixed wireless broadband?

Wireless broadband is an alternative to customers in areas where DSL or fibre is not available. A small transmitter in your local area broadcasts wireless signals that are picked up by a small antenna on your house, which channels the signal to a router or connection point inside the house.

One of the big advantages of fixed wireless broadband is that it offers a ‘symmetrical’ connection, which means that you can upload data at the same speed as you download. Most other services usually have a much slower upload than download speed.

Speeds are generally limited to 7Mb, but some services can offer up to 10Mb or even 30Mb. Among the downsides are that coverage can be patchy and installation costs can be pricey.

Fixed wireless broadband is common in rural areas that are not well served by phone line and cable based broadband providers.

What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband allows you to access the internet via the 4G network operated by mobile operators, usually through a USB dongle or modem plugged into your PC, laptop or mobile device. Speeds of between 10Mb and 40Mb are achievable. 

But the good news is that 4G is beginning to be superseded by the next generation of services, known as 5G, which promise speeds up to 10 times faster. 

What is satellite broadband?

If you live in a part of the country with no cable, fibre, ADSL, fixed wireless or even mobile broadband service, but you need a reliable connection, satellite might be the answer.

By its very nature, it can provide a reliable connection to the internet no matter where you live and even if you don’t have a phone line. Just install a satellite dish and you can avail of broadband with download speeds of up to 50Mb.

There are two disadvantages compared to other services, however. The first is that the quality of the connection is more likely to be affected by adverse weather conditions. The second is the cost of the installation, which can be around €200 for labour and equipment.

Some satellite users also experience latency which is caused by the distance the signal has to travel. This can affect live gaming, and services like Skype.


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