A Netgear wireless router.

Internet Jargon Explained: Broadband vs Fibre vs WiFi vs Dial-Up

You probably hear the terms “broadband,” “fibre”, “dial-up” and “WiFi” (or “Wi-Fi”) all the time. But what are the exact differences between these words?

In this piece, we’ll explain some of the common internet jargon you’re likely to hear when shopping for a new internet plan.

Broadband

A Netgear wireless router.

This term has taken on a completely new meaning since the invention of high-speed internet.

In the past, it simply referred to methods of transmitting data which used a wide range of frequencies or transmission bands. Hence the term “broadband”.

These days though, it’s used to refer to home internet connections that are significantly faster than dial-up. You’ll see it used by major telecommunications companies to sell their medium-speed internet plans (typically with a 5-25Mbps download speed). But it may also be used when advertising fibre-optic plans.

Bandwidth

This is another term that has a completely different meaning to what it meant was when it was coined.

Originally, bandwidth referred to the range of frequencies used to transmit a certain signal. For example, broadcasting over a wide band (high bandwidth) was called “broadband” as we explained above.

Now, it can refer to:

  • The amount of internet data used/allocated to you in a particular period.
  • How fast your upload/download speed is.
  • What proportion of a home internet connection is being used – “Muuuuum! [Little brother]’s hogging all the bandwidth!”

Fibre

Fibre optic cable.

Fibre on the other hand has a much more simple definition.

This word refers to fibre-optic cable, which is the stuff they use to supply modern ultra-fast internet connections.

The difference between broadband and fibre is:

  • The technology used to facilitate your connection. Broadband will typically use copper cabling from the ISP to the node and from the node in your street to your house. Fibre will obviously use fibre-optic cable instead of copper.
  • The speeds offered by the two services. Fibre may enable you to download data at up to 100Mbps or even more.

Confusingly, you might see some internet services sold as “fibre broadband”. In this context, broadband simply refers to a home internet connection. So “fibre broadband” means “a fast home internet plan”.

WiFi

A WiFi router.

WiFi is another easy one. It refers to wireless internet access, like what you get at McDonalds or at home (if you’ve got a WiFi router). Interestingly, it doesn’t stand for anything – it’s a made-up word (but the “Wi” was probably used to denote “wireless”).

You can get WiFi by having a broadband connection available at home, for example.

Some people have taken WiFi to mean internet access in general, but this isn’t what it refers to. You’re only on WiFi if there’s no ethernet cable connecting your device to your router.

Dial-up

Old Sharp computer

For all the kids out there who never had to experience dial-up, it was basically snail-pace internet.

Regular phone lines were used for data transmission, which made uploading and downloading very slow. The modem had to physically “dial up” the ISP in order to establish a connection (which is why you always heard that beeping as it connected).

Apart from the speed, dial-up was similar to broadband in that it was a way of accessing the internet at home.

Conclusion

Hopefully all these definitions are a little less confusing now!

If you’ve got any lingering questions about what these words mean, please leave a comment below and we’ll get right back to you.

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