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Broadband Terminology

Bandwidth is the maximum allocation of data that can be transferred through a connection over time. This is measured in Mbps (megabits per second) or Gbps (gigabits per second) and is shared between your devices for downloading and uploading data. The more bandwidth you have, the more devices you can have transferring data simultaneously.

Think of bandwidth like a road, low bandwidth (say 1 Mbps) would be like a single lane road where only one car can use it and can get slowed down by other cars on the same road. Higher bandwidth is like a highway with multiple lanes where more cars (devices) can travel at the same time without slowing.

Bandwidth is shared with other devices. Say you have a 50 Mbps download connection, and you’re watching a 4k video stream which uses 25 Mbps, you would be using half of your available bandwidth to watch a movie and another device (or devices) would have 25 Mbps left of bandwidth to use while you’re watching your video.

Data Cap/Usage Threshold:
Not to be confused with bandwidth, a data cap or threshold allows a certain amount of data you can use in a month. It’s not measured by Mbps like your bandwidth, it is measure as size (usually measured in GB – Gigabytes). When you go over a data cap, either there is additional charges for data, or speeds (bandwidth allowance) is slowed.

Data that is “pulled down” from the Internet. Examples would be viewing a web page, browsing social media, or streaming videos or music.

Data that is “put up” to the Internet. Examples would be adding a picture from your computer to social media, adding a file to a GoogleDrive or OneDrive, or putting a video up on YouTube.

Latency is the delay it takes between taking an action to when the action reaches it’s destination. For example, when a gamer presses the “jump” button on a game, high latency will cause their character to delay the actually jump action. Toddlers have high latency…it takes a long time after requesting an action for it to happen!

Latency is measured in milliseconds, and the higher the latency, the slower and choppier your Internet speeds can feel and can also cause voice and video calls to freeze or become “choppy”. 50ms or less is the target for best latency, although up to 100ms could be fine for most Internet activities (except gaming and voice/video calls).

Long Haul/Backbone Network:
The long haul, or backbone network, consists of the submarine fibre running between continents and the national fibre backbone that is fed from the submarine fibre and then runs across the country.

Middle Mile Network:
Middle mile network is where bandwidth is split off from the national long haul backbone network as “backhaul” bandwidth (allocation of bandwidth to disperse to the “last mile”- homes and businesses). The middle mile network is what links regional networks to the larger long haul backbone.

Backhaul refers to the main allocation of bandwidth that is allocated to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to use on their own network to their customers. Similarly to how a home/business Internet package has an allocation of download and upload bandwidth, a backhaul is simliar but on a larger scale. Instead of bandwidth shared between devices like in a home network, the backhaul network is shared between customers!

Last Mile Network:
The last mile network is the final connection from the Internet to your home or business.

Modems are used for DSL, Cable, and sometimes fixed wireless LTE services. A modem is what brings the Internet connection into your house, communicates with your Internet service provider (ISP), and “translates” the signal coming through the lines to be a useable Internet connection.

Optical Network Terminal (ONT):
Similar to a modem, an ONT is used for fibre Internet and connects the fibre inside your home and communicates with your Internet Service Provider (ISP), which is then connected to a router.

PoE Injector:
PoE (Power over Ethernet) uses an ethernet cable to transmit both the Internet data and power. Fixed Wireless and Satellite Internet typically use a PoE which powers the dish/antenna/panel that is outside your house receiving the Internet signal – which is why the dishes/panels/antennas don’t plug directly into power. PoE is often also used for outdoor cameras.

The PoE brings the Internet signal into the house (similar to a modem or an ONT) and is then connected via another ethernet cable to a router.

Ethernet cables (also referred to as “Network Cables” are used to transmit Internet data to and from devices. Ethernet cables can also carry low voltage power using a PoE injector. Connecting a device, such as a laptop or gaming system, via an Ethernet cable directly to your router or modem is called a “hardwired” or “direct” connection. Hardwiring a device can be beneficial to provide the direct connection without using WiFi which can be susecptable to interference.

Routers are used to “route” the Internet data to and from your devices. A router will provide WiFi and can also be directly connected to a device using an Ethernet cable. Routers are a crucial piece of your internal network and are often the first place to troubleshoot Internet connectivity issues.

WiFi refers to the wireless network within your home or business. WiFi is generally broadcasted from a router. The WiFi signal can then use repeating devices, such a mesh extenders or wireless access points to extend the range of the signal.

WiFi signals are broadcasted over three frequencies (also called “bands”): 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz or 6 GHz. The lower the frequency, the further the signal can reach and is less affected by physical obstructions (ie walls), but carries less traffic. Higher frequencies can carry more traffic and speeds, but work best for devices that are close by and not obstructed by walls, doors, appliances, etc.

Frequency Band:
All wireless signals are transmitted over various frequencies. Cell phone service, wireless Internet, satellite Internet, WiFi, radio, communications radios, garage door openers, remote car starters, etc. Different frequency bands can carry different types of data.

Frequencies are waves. The lower the frequency the larger and more spaced apart the waves are. The higher the frequency the more frequent and close together the waves are.

Frequency Spectrum:
Spectrum refers to a range of frequencies. Spectrum for wide networks (ie Fixed Wireless towers) is regulated by Industry Canada. While some spectrum is open licensing and does not require regulated (paid) licensing, much of Canadian spectrum access is limited and “auctioned” off to service providers to use. Licensed frequencies/spectrum is in place to limit interference between provider infrastructure.

Interference of wireless signals is when signals on the same or similar frequency interfere with each other. A good way to think of this is like ripples in the water when you drop a stone in the water. If you drop one stone, waves will ripple out from where you dropped the stone. If you drop a second stone close to where to dropped the first stone, the waves from the second stone will interfere with the waves from the first stone.

When the frequency waves of a wireless Internet signal are disrupted by interference like this, it can cause the Internet signal to cut out or weaken significantly.

Network congestion is like an Internet traffic jam. When many people are online at the same time using the Internet, the backhaul of the Internet Service Provider can become congested and users may experience slower speeds. Congestion also applies to a home network, if you have multiple people using the Internet at the same time using a lot of bandwidth, some devices may experience slower Internet speeds or have issues connecting entirely.

FTTH (Fibre to the Home) or FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) is when the last mile fibre is run directly to the home or business and goes right to the premises.

FTTN (Fibre to the Node) is when fibre runs to a point on the network to provide a fibre run backhaul, but the last mile is then delivered by copper cable lines or wireless tower. Often, ISPs advertise these services as “fibre powered”.

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is internet run to the premises via the telephone line infrastructure. DSL bandwidth availability is dependent on the distance from the main points of connection and how many subscribers are already using the lines.

Coaxial Cable:
Cable Internet infrastructure runs on the existing copper cable television lines. Bandwidth available over cable Internet is highly dependent on congestion levels and whether the service has FTTN backhaul.

Fixed Wireless:
Internet service is delivered via fixed (stationary) infrastructure via a wireless signal. Fixed Wireless services are dependent on LOS or NLOS (Line of Sight or Near Line of Sight): a clear path (or near clear path) between the fixed infrastructure and the home/business getting connection. Clear path meaning there are no, or few very, obstacles like thick foliage, other buildings, or hills block the line of sight for the wireless signal between the tower and premises.

Satellite Internet:
Internet service is delivered to the premises via the internet traffic flowing between satellites in the Earth’s orbit and a receiving satellite dish at the premises. Traditional satellites are located approximately 35,700 kms above the earth, whereas LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites orbit between 500-2000 kms from earth. LEO satellites have much less distance for a signal to travel and therefore can provide better speeds and much lower latency (the time it takes for signals to send and receive).