Broadband vs. WiFi: Explained

Last Updated: October 25, 2022By

Wifi icon on iPhone

Wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, is high-speed wireless internet transmitted over radio waves. The setting up of Wi-Fi requires a LAN cable directed to a router with antennas. An internet service provider supplies broadband through the LAN cable, which is then dispersed by the router through antennas to provide a wireless internet connection.

Multiple devices can use the wireless connection at once in the local proximity of the router. Wi-Fi is used by devices that support wireless internet connection, such as mobiles, tablets, TVs, and computers, and can be used for video and audio streaming, calls, web surfing, downloading, etc.

Broadband refers to the transmission of high amounts of data over an internet connection in a given period; this is done using a wide range of frequencies. Broadband is the internet connection that the router disperses as a Wi-Fi connection.

According to the FCC, For the internet to be defined as broadband, it has to have a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps and a download speed of at least 25 Mbps.

Broadband is supplied through a copper LAN cable which can be plugged into your computer or TV box and is used to stream HD videos, songs, download games, video calling, and other high internet consumption activities. Generally, suppose you want to surf the web, stream videos, or voice call someone over the internet.

In that case, a 25 Mbps broadband connection should be sufficient. Still, if you want to download large files, stream 4K video content, or enjoy a virtually instant internet connection, you should look to get something around 100 Mbps. Still, your preference may come down to how patient you are while using the internet.

Origins of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is short for wireless fidelity and describes a technology that transmits data at high speeds through radio waves rather than cables.

It was first invented and released in 1997 and set the standards for communication for wireless local area networks (WLAN). This established a wireless data transfer rate of two megabytes per second (Mbps) between devices. 

Evolution of Wi-Fi

White wifi router

Over the following years, Wi-Fi technology improved at an unprecedented rate. The routers were getting more powerful, the coverage was far better, and the speed, in just six years after its release, was already competing with the fastest wired connections at the time.

In 2009 an incremental advancement to Wi-Fi increased its speed even more, and it was more efficient than ever.

The improvement allowed ‘multiple input multiple outputs,’ which used more antennas and made the communication between transmitter and receiver far more seamless than it had been, meaning that more volume of data could be transmitted in a shorter time, using lesser power.

This allowed mass adaption; around this time, Wi-Fi became essential in households.

2012 saw the advent of the ‘beamforming’ concept in the field of Wi-Fi. It proposed that rather than transmitting the signal in a radius, it should be concentrated on the target it hopes to reach for faster connectivity and transmission.

While the masses did not adopt the beamforming concept as widely, It paved the way for the latest installment in the field, Wi-Fi-6.

Wi-Fi 6 was introduced in 2020 with speeds up to 9.6 gigabytes per second (Gbps) which was 480,000% faster than the initial Wi-Fi speed at the time of its invention.

Wi-Fi 6 not only promised significantly increased rates from previous generations, but its main selling point was that it could maintain the same speed over all the devices connected to it rather than being overwhelmed and distributing the rate over all the devices connected.

Origins of Broadbands

The advent of broadband in the early 2000s allowed people to use one single line for telephone and the internet and allowed users to use both services simultaneously.

A wired connection using a copper LAN cable meant that internet speeds were way faster than other available methods at the time, like Wi-Fi and 2G, which opened up an entirely new world of online connectivity as people could now share videos, messages, songs, files, and data transfer.

Evolution of Broadband

Blue fiber optic

Initially, broadband usage was relatively low, primarily used in research facilities and universities because of how expensive it was. Broadband gained traction and got adopted because of the dot-com bubble, in a period when investors were putting their money in internet-based companies and businesses. Still, when the dot-com bubble burst, broadband usage declined swiftly.

A few years later, the world wide web usage picked up again thanks to sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube, and Reddit after the burst, and people used the internet for social connectivity rather than for businesses.

This meant that now people were sharing more content like pictures and videos than ever before, and the demand for the internet, specifically high-speed internet, shot up drastically by 2008.

This was the right time for broadband to switch to fiber optic cables rather than the traditional copper telephone wires since they could transmit data significantly faster than ever before. When broadband switched to fiber optic cables, it could provide speeds up to 50 Mbps, which was at least double what was promised by other services like Wi-Fi.

By 2010 the internet became a staple in every household, and broadband speeds were increasing at an unprecedented rate, and internet service providers used this time to market speeds up to 1 Gbps and higher.

Such high speeds were unheard of at the time as it was at least 100 times faster than traditional copper wire broadband; this meant that downloading a file that would’ve taken at least an hour could have been downloaded in mere seconds.

Forwarding to 2020, the mass consumption of high-quality data, such as 8K video streaming and video game streaming alongside the global pandemic, put much more reliance on internet connectivity.

It ramped up broadband speeds to higher than what can ever be necessary, even in this day and age, with the highest broadband speed being 319 Terabits per second (Tbps). Still, because such high rates are unnecessary and even a connection of 100 Mbps is more than sufficient for all types of tasks, broadband had to compete with Wi-Fi, which is cheaper and more accessible to more people.

Possibilities for the Future

With the world being more connected than ever and high-speed internet being used for everything from streaming video games at 8K to rendering entire worlds in virtual reality in real-time, the next step in the direction is 5G mobile broadband, which uses newer 5G towers, and projects like Starlink, that provide breakneck internet speeds using satellites that orbit the earth wherever you are with low-latency.

This opens up pandora’s box full of possibilities. The implementation of projects like 5G mobile broadband and Starlink would greatly expand the horizon of internet consumption where it wouldn’t just be limited to staying connected socially and streaming high-resolution video content but even to performing surgeries controlled over the internet by a surgeon operating a robotic hand in a remote area of the world.

So far, such a thing has been unheard of, but in this day and age, it is only a matter of time until that becomes the norm.