What should my broadband service actually look like?

  • Getting a connection isn't simple, unfortunately
  • Make sure you know what your plan entails
  • Before searching for a plan, make sure you know what you want

“I want to get some broadband”.

That’s how we get most of our enquiries. It’s easy to chuckle at how misinformed some people are about getting an internet connection, but it’s a serious matter – our site, which gets plenty of traffic and enquiries, is dedicated to this very issue. Because the market and the provisioning of a high speed internet connection is so very complicated, there needs to be somewhere to go to decode this mess and just find the cheapest, easiest plan to suit your needs.

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                       how to set up a broadband internet connection


There’s a very good argument that it absolutely shouldn’t be this complicated. Most cynics will be able to tell you that everything relates to money, and unfortunately, that’s never more true then when it comes to communications. Let’s take an example most of us are comfortable with : The car.

A car is a highly complex machine. It contains thousands of moving parts, operates on complicated physical principles and requires numerous chemical reactions. But building machines worth tens of thousands of dollars will only work if you make these machines as easy to use as possible, to reach as many people as possible. So carmakers are incentivized to make the operation of cars as easy and straightforward as they possibly can.

Likewise, a telecommunications link is highly complicated. It operates on complex mathematical and electrical engineering principles, and engages a network spanning cities, states, countries and even oceans. But because communications is at the core of so much of what we do, there is a moneyed incentive in making it complex, and having people pay more than they need to. To pay less, you need to know, in detail, how to best manipulate the equipment at your end. If you don’t want to bother how to do all of that, then there are several companies willing to set you up with expensive services and bundles that do everything except what you want them to do. In a nutshell, a broadband internet connection is one of those things where most people don’t even know what they want, and companies can take advantage of that

Why you can’t “get some broadband”

Broadband is an adjective, not a noun. What you’re looking for is a connection to the Internet. Because an internet connection is reliant on a digital electrical signal, its capability is measured in ‘bands’, just like radio. The more data that can be sent down a line, per second, the more ‘bandwidth’ a connection can be said to have.

‘Broadband’ is what it says on the tin- lots of ‘band’. It’s a term that is almost obsolete now. Early connections to the internet relied on a  telephone call to a computer, which relies on sounds to transmit information. This is Dial-Up, which might be called “Narrowband” using the same naming convention (it's also why your dial-up connection started with a phone call followed by a bunch of alien language).

Since Dial-Up is almost extinct, ‘Broadband’ is almost obsolete in the same way that “Motor Car” is obsolete – there are very few cars or carriages pulled along by horse these days, so we can drop the 'motor' description. To the same extent, a typical internet connection isn’t “Broad” compared to anything we commonly use anymore.

Pick your poison

Getting an internet connection is a matter of finding a service that is set up to transmit a signal from a network provider to a piece of customer equipment. The customer equipment is commonly called a Modem. The word ‘modem’ is shorthand for ‘Modulator/Demodulator’. It’s the device that takes in all those signals and translates them into YouTube videos, cat pictures and emails – the computer then displays them to you. That’s a very basic, but no less accurate way of illustrating how your connection works.

A modem will look different depending on how you get your signal. In an ADSL connection (internet over a copper telephone line), the modem is a device about the size of a small paperback, with a port in the back that can be linked to a telephone connection. Other ports will link a cable from the modem to your computer, and the modem might also be Wi-Fi enabled. Wi-Fi is a short range wireless technology that allows your computer and modem to connect without a cable. It will also be connected to a power outlet.

                            adsl line in

A cable modem is more or less identical, but instead of a phone jack input, there will be a thread which connects a screw-on coaxial cable.

                              cable modem

A mobile broadband modem will be completely different. The most common type is the ‘USB dongle’. This modem looks like a thumb drive. Inside is a SIM card, which, like the SIM card in your mobile phone, will be programmed to grant access to a specific mobile service provider. It is powered through the USB port that you connect it to, so it runs on your computers battery or via your computers own AC power connection.

                                 slow usb dongle internet broadband

There are other mobile broadband modems. There are modems that are almost identical to an ADSL or Cable modem – they run on their own AC power source and they transmit the connection via Wi-Fi to your computers. But instead of phone line jack or cable connection, they just connect via antenna to your local mobile network. They can be more easily rigged to a cable connected to a high gain antenna, mounted on a roof, to boost your connection speed.

There are also ‘Pocket Wi-Fi” modems. These nifty little devices are the size of small wallet, and do what they say – they sit in your pocket, connected to the mobile internet, and then they transmit to whatever you’re using, via Wi-Fi- whether it’s a laptop, or an iPad, or your smartphone. They run on a rechargeable battery.

The end result

The end result of all the searching, calling and cajoling is this: All of the computers in your house, wirelessly speaking to a modem via Wi-Fi.

The modem is connected to either a clip-in copper telephone point, a screw-in Cable point, or speaking wirelessly to a mobile phone tower out in your neighbourhood.

In some cases, a landline telephone service should be involved, connected to a double adaptor that your modem is also plugged in to. In other cases, a phone will be set up that connects to the modem, and uses a cheap Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) service to make cheap calls. or, you could have no landline phone at all, if you use a mobile for all of your calls.

Any Wi-Fi capable devices, including smartphones and tablets, will switch over to your home connection when they get inside the house.

Getting to this point is far easier than most people make it out to be. The tricky bit is just before that – actually getting connected. People agonize a lot over small differentiations in price – which is good for our business! And it is worth noting that yes, many providers are playing the game of confusing you into buying stuff you don’t need. But don’t spend too long on it – the difference between the high and low ends of the market is a matter of $20 a month in most cases. That’s not nothing, but its not necessarily worth having a heart attack over, either.

Then there are cases where you can’t get a decent connection at all. We have no real advice for that – the fact that the current situation is untenable and unfair is something being addressed, but its highly political and therefore not going to change soon. It’s a real shame, in a country as advanced as ours.

Whatever your needs are, remember to take advantage of Compare Broadband. Apart from our analysis of the cheapest plans, we’re also pretty good at cutting straight to the point and working out the plan that works best for you. We can also assist with general enquiries about how this whole thing works. We can’t answer everything, and we can’t fix problems that are the responsibility of your service provider- but we can help you get on your way with some straightforward answers.

Call us on 1300 106 571 to see if we can help you!