What is the difference between broadband and Wi-Fi?

Oct 14, 2022

Broadband and Wi-Fi are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing at all. In this Netomnia Insight, we’ll guide you through the differences.

What is broadband?

According to Ofcom, the UK Telecoms Regulator, broadband is “… a way of connecting to the internet. It allows information to be carried at high speed to your personal computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or other web-enabled device. Broadband has largely replaced the original 'dial-up' (narrowband) method of connecting to the internet, which was much slower.” Most broadband services are delivered to your home via a fixed line. Traditionally these were the same copper wires that were installed decades ago for low speed “narrowband” voice or telephony services. What remains of the CableTV industry in the UK, VirginMedia/O2, uses copper-coax cable in the areas it has its own network. These types of copper-based networks provide legacy broadband services.Some new broadband services can operate without a line. These are called wireless broadband services and should not be confused with Wi-Fi. We will discuss this in more detail below.

What are the different types of broadband technology?

There are various types of broadband connections that offer internet to their users. Here are some of the most popular types of broadband technology available:

ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line)

This is the most commonly available type of broadband. It is delivered to your property through the copper wires of your low speed legacy phone line. Broadband speeds will be affected by how far you live from the telephone exchange and ADSL cannot offer consistently fast speeds.

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

As described in more detail here, FTTC uses copper wires or copper coax cables from a streetside cabinet to connect to your home. Although often marketed as “Fibre broadband”, as it uses copper wires, or copper coax cables, then it can’t be fibre optic broadband. FTTC copper wire services use a signalling system called VDSL. FTTC copper coax cable services use a signalling system called DOCSIS. Both these variants of copper broadband are legacy services.

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) Fibre optic broadband uses optical fibres typically made from glass. These are extended out from the network and are terminated directly in your home or business premises. It offers much faster internet speeds than ADSL, VDSL, G:Fast or DOCSIS and is often referred to as FTTP.

Cable broadband

Cable broadband technology uses copper-coax cables to deliver relatively high-speed broadband services directly to homes and businesses. But just as with ADSL and its relations ADSL2+, VDSL and G:Fast legacy signalling systems over copper wires, signal strength is lost the longer the copper coax cable. For those technically minded, signal loss is measured in decibels (dB), which are measured exponentially. A loss of 3dB means a weakened signal by 2x!

Mobile broadband

Mobile Broadband works with Internet-enabled mobile devices such as portable and wireless modems, smartphones, and laptops. It connects your devices to broadband services using 3G (although in many parts of the world 3G networks are being turned off), 4G and 5G networks and you can then access the internet from anywhere, as long as you have a mobile signal. Mobile broadband is an alternative to fixed-line broadband if you need to use the internet on the go and are a light internet user.

How does Wi-Fi work?

Wi-Fi is a wireless connection in your house or business that connects your electronic devices to your modem/router so that you can use the internet, irrespective of what type of internet connection you have. It uses radio frequencies and signals to receive and send information wirelessly between the Wi-Fi router and your Wi-Fi enabled devices without using a cable. Wi-Fi is basically a wireless local area network, most often used in the home as a method of accessing the broadband supplied by your internet provider.

Broadband and Wi-Fi

Broadband is a type of internet network connection that is set up for you by an internet provider. Wi-Fi is a very popular local area network technology and is one way to connect your devices to your broadband router and access the internet service provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Or by your favourite café’s ISP…The main advantage of a Wi-Fi connection is that you can access and share data without needing a wired connection between two devices. In other words, you don’t need to run wires everywhere throughout your house for your devices to connect to the internet. You can flood your house quite safely with Wi-Fi so all your devices can be online all the time, from anywhere in your house or even in your garden!

Wi-Fi problems and how to overcome them

Wi-Fi sounds great, and it is, but it’s not a panacea. The wireless electromagnetic field of a Wi-Fi router is shaped like a ringed donut and the optimum position for it is as close to the centre of your house as possible.

If your Wi-Fi router is installed close to an external wall, then half of your Wi-Fi signal will go outside of your house, either into your garden or into your neighbour’s house – and their signal into yours!

If you have particularly thick walls as many older buildings have, these can affect how far the Wi-Fi signal goes as it can’t penetrate thick walls very well. Similarly, if you have a particularly tall house, then the donut-shaped Wi-Fi field may not reach all the floors.

If you have such problems, then it might be worth having a Wi-Fi Mesh network, which as the name suggests provides multiple Wi-Fi devices which act together to completely cover whatever shaped building you’ve got with a strong Wi-Fi signal.