Know Your Terms: Internet Connections

While everyone might be using the same Internet, there are a handful of different ways to connect to it. Since its inception, there have been a variety of connection types — both wired and wireless — with some that have fallen out of use while others continue to flourish.

For those of you out there looking to brush up your Internet trivia, here are a few of the most common Internet connections out there:


Before cable television was commonplace, Internet connections were piggybacked off wired phone lines. While dial-up helped lay the foundation to consumer Internet plans, one major drawback was that phones on the same line couldn’t make or receive calls when the modem was in use. This left customers in an either/or scenario that was addressed as DSL and cable options became more popular.


ISDN, or Integrated Services Digital Network, is an international standard for data like voice clips and video over digital or analog telephone lines. In the early 2000s, it was used as an alternative to dial-up. Today, however, it’s used in some local network connections but very rarely used for Internet access.


Digital Subscriber Lines properly separated telephone lines from Internet connections, allowing users to be online without limiting phone usage. DSL uses a router to transport data across the network at much higher speeds than dial-up or ISDN.


With the rise of cable television, Internet service providers began offering Internet connection servers through cable TV lines. By using a coaxial cable instead of telephone or DSL lines, the amount of data being sent up or downstream was much greater without affecting the performance of other services.


As the name implies, broadband (short for broad bandwidth) is a high-speed Internet connection that uses multiple data channels to send information. Both DSL and cable connections might also be broadband, depending on an ISP’s equipment and configuration, as well as a customer’s data plan.

Cellular / Mobile

Cellular Internet access is driven by wireless connections between cellphones and a nearby tower. Cellular data packages often refer to terms like 3G, 4G, or 5G, each of these meaning the third, fourth, and fifth generations of wireless Internet telephony.

Fiber Optics

Fiber-optic Internet connections (or simply “fiber”) are some of the fastest wired connections possible, pushing data transfers of up to 1Gbps (for reference, one gigabit is equal to 1000 megabits, with the national average speed through traditional broadband at 18.7Mbps in 2017). While fiber is widely available for business connections, it’s growing slowly into residential areas as well.

Wireless / Wi-Fi / WLAN

Wireless Internet connections are created by sending out converted wired signals into the air through wireless routers and then picked up by receivers, whether Bluetooth or wireless adapters. Wi-Fi is short for wireless fidelity, whereas WLAN stands for wireless local area network — the grouping of devices connected wirelessly to a signal router. While wireless connections are convenient, there needs to be a clear connection between the transmitter and receiver; metals, thick rock or concrete, and even trees can interrupt signaling, though different frequencies have been developed over time to better address these issues.

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