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IrelandOffline Frequently Asked Questions – Internet Access services and technologies

If you have problems with abbreviations, please look up our glossary.

Types of Internet Access are:

  1. Narrowband
  2. Midband
  3. Broadband
  4. VSAT (Two Way Satellite)

1) Narrowband.
Analogue Dialup, Basic GSM and GPRS and basic ISDN (up to 2 channels) are officially Narrowband. This is typically 9.6 Kbps to 128 Kbps.
[There are 1000bits in 1Kb, not 1024, which is 1k in Memory size descriptions].
Thus speed in Mbps is 0.0003Mbps (300bps)  to 0.128Mbps for Narrowband.

2) Midband.
These are all the services that are sometimes faster than Narrowband, but sometimes poorer than ISDN, but not Broadband.
Examples of Midband products are EDGE/3G/HSPA .,etc from Meteor, O2, Vodafone and Three.They use ‘spare’ mobile phone network capacity
They do not meet the basic broadband requirements.

Limitations of 3G/HSDPA  standards (based on W-CDMA Mobile phone system)-

Not always on. A  type of dialup, like ISDN. It may not connect if the mobile phone sector is full (busy) or the sector has shrunk (a technique called CDMA breathing).

  1. Quoted speeds are the peak for all users in a sector. It’s not economic to build sectors for just one person. Total mobile phone cell throughput (according to equipment vendors) is 1Mbps to 2Mbps for a typically loaded sector. That is shared between users, so at an economic level of use the speed is under 150kbps.  It can easily be 50kbps or simply not connect at all.


These limitations are due to contention, i.e. the number of simultaneous users that  can be connected to the facilities, without reducing the quality of service per user to unacceptable levels.

  1. Latency is 80ms at best. Realistic latency is 120ms for a few users and rises to over 2000ms for a loaded sector.
  2. Not a dedicated connection. Shared with phone traffic which has priority.

See for an explanation of why any Mobile system and 3G Phone HSPA in particular is worse than Fixed Wireless Broadband. See also…

Mobile phone  masts capacities  can  be up to 1.8Mbps, 3.6Mbps, 7.2Mbps, 14.4Mbps or 21Mbps. The so called 42Mbps HSPAc+ actually is simply two “bonded” 5MHz “up to 21Mbps”, channels. A 14.4Mbps sector can serve less than 5% of its geographic coverage with that speed, and if only one user is connected. Average throughput (According to Nokia & Ericsson) is about 2Mbps, shared among all the connections, thus with 10 connections the speed can be less than 200kbps.

Mobile broadband is mis-sold as Broadband. It’s not. IBB/Imagine’s Ripwave (Broadband in a Box) has also in the past been badly marketed. This “Nomadic” product is even poorer than Mobile Phone HSPA Internet. Imagine WiMax, the Ripwave replacement is unfortunately not Fixed WiMax but Mobile/Nomadic WiMax on an unsuitable band, 3600MHz. The 3600MHz (3.6GHz) is allocated for Fixed Wireless Access Broadband. The Imagine WiMax is however a Midband Product.
LTE and Mobile WiMax are over hyped. The 100Mbps is the peak sector speed and only applies for less than 5% area and one person connected. In real life many LTE and Mobile WiMax users will not get Broadband performance, though it’s on average 4 to 8 times faster than HSPA but subject to the same restrictions.

3) Broadband is

  • Always On
  • Minimum High Speed ( 512k, 768k, 1Mbps or 2Mbps depending on Authority/ Country)
  • Low latency (< 80ms, typically 10ms to 60ms)
  • Dedicated IP connection.

Examples of Broadband

  • Fixed Wireless, performance depends on system and number of users.
  • Cable (DOCSIS) shared with Cable TV. Performance depends on number of users sharing cable feed.
  • DSL (ADSL, ADSL2+, SDSL, VDSL) ( Limitations). Performance depends on Distance, line quality and number of users.

See also

As of 2010, in the sixth Broadband Deployment Report, the US FCC has defined broadband as :  as data transmission speeds of at least 4 megabits per second, downstream (from the Internet to the user’s computer) and 1 Mbit/s upstream (from the user’s computer to the Internet). anything less than these speeds cannot be classified as “Basic Broadband”.
4) VSAT (Two Way Satellite)
This can be always on. Service can be from 50kbps to 20Mbps depending on price.
Minimum latency is about 790ms due to the distance to and  from the satellite.

The Oireachtas 24th March 2004: Define broadband as a service that provides at least 512Kbs connectivity and set a target of the widespread availability of 5Mps connections by 2006 and with a further suggested target of 10Mps connections by 2008.
“The Joint Committee has concluded, for the Irish market, that speeds of anything less than 512kbs is not broadband but is in fact in a class known as ‘mid-band’. This would include such services as ISDN connections and 124 and 256kbs DSL connections. In this respect the Joint Committee’s definition of broadband differs from that in use by other groups and significantly differs from the definition currently to be found in Section 8 of the Finance Bill 2004. The Joint Committee believes that all connections at speeds of less than 124kbs, currently the majority in the Irish economy, have to be regarded as narrowband connections”.


The ITU originally defined broadband as E1 or T1 or better (1.5Mbps minimum)

FCC [US] Federal Communications Commission: Broadband must have a MINIMUM speed of 768k
In 2010 FCC updated their spec to a minimum of  4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream. see here also US NBS (National Bureau of Standards)

OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has 256kbps as minimum speed for Broadband.,3343,en_2649_34225_39575598_1_1_1_1,00.html
ii. Does not include
1. 3G mobile technologies
2. Wi-Fi
3. Exceptions: included in rare case that Wi-Fi/3G is the transport mechanism of a fixed-wireless provider (e.g. in rural UK, CZ)

The European Commission in gathering statistics omits the description “Midband”, gathering “Narrowband” and three categories of “always on Internet labelled as “Broadband”:

  1. 0.144 up to 2Mbps
  2. 2Mbps up to 10Mbps
  3. Over 10Mbps.

They gather statistics of Mobile and dedicated Modem Mobile Internet usage separately. The European Commission is not suggesting that 0.144Mbps to 2Mbps is acceptable “Broadband” but is simply using it as a lowest tier to count subscriptions.

The EC’s Digital Agenda for Europe targets are:

  • 100% Internet coverage (‘basic broadband’) by 2013
  • 100% coverage at speeds of at least 30Mbit/s (‘fast’ broadband) by 2020
  • 50% household take-up of at least 100Mbit/s (‘ultra-fast’ broadband) by 2020.


DSL –  Digital Subscriber Line, a description of a form of service provided to enable conventional telephone lines to carry digital signals without specific modification of the actual wires. Variations are ADSL (asynchronous, not the same capacity in both directions);  SDSL  (synchronous, same capacity in both directions); VDSL (Very-high-bitrate).
Analogue Dialup –  Access to the Internet via a modem over a telephone line by dialing a special number every time.
GSM – Group Service Mobile, the original name given to the set of standards for mobile phones.
Kbps – Kilobits per second, a measure of the capacity of a connection, often equated to ‘speed’ of connection but depends on actual conditions.
Mbps – Million bits per second, a shorthand for higher capacity communications links. Again, often equated to speed, with the same reservations.
GPRS – General packet radio service,  a packet oriented mobile data service on the 2G and 3G cellular communication systems global system for mobile communications.
ISDN – Integrated Service Digital Network, a name used to describe digital (as opposed to analogue) telecommunications networks. More or less superseded by ADSL (see above)
EDGE – Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution, or Enhanced Data for Global Evolution, depending on the supplier. EDGE is considered a 3G (third generation) radio technology and is part ofthe International Telecommunications Union’s3G definition.
HSPA – High Speed Packet Access is a amalgamation of two mobile telephony protocols, High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA), that extends and improves the performance of existing WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) protocols. A further standard, Evolved HSPA (also known as HSPA+), was released late in 2008 with subsequent adoption worldwide beginning in 2010.
Latency – delay in setting up a connection, measured in ms – milliseconds, thousands of a second.
IP – Internet Protocol, part of the wider TCP/IP, meaning Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. The combination is the technical procedure that is followed to enable a connection to be established and used during a session on the Internet.
DOCSIS – Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification.
Dial-up modems are limited to a bitrate of less than 56 kbit/s (kilobits per second) and require the dedicated use of a telephone line.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee has concluded, for the Irish market, that speeds of anything less than 512kbs is not broadband but is in fact in a class known as ‘mid-band’.
The FCC (Federal Communication Commission) defines “Basic Broadband” as data transmission speeds of at least 4 megabits per second (Mbps), or 4,000,000 bits per second, downstream (from the Internet to the user’s computer) and 1 Mbit/s upstream (from the user’s computer to the Internet)