Clogged Tubes - A world's Move to Broadband Most University students take for granted that there is going to be fast internet connections around them these days. We have grown up with the likes of YouTube, Google, Limewire, Kazaa, and the rest. In fact, there is a lot of technology driving your ability to download podcasts, watch your friends' antics online, and even get your course information online. However, no computers in the world would be able to get you information if it were not for a little something called Broadband.
What is Broadband?
Broadband is a telecommunications technology that runs both at a hardware level (physical wires etc.) as well as a data level. In its basic form, broadband is a network of high bandwidth cables spreading throughout the world. High bandwidth refers to the amount of information that one can send at one time over the internet signal. On campus, we have high bandwidth wireless and wired connections that allow large amounts of data to be moved at once - approximately 100 Megabits (100,000,000 bits) per second for the wired connections in the Quinn School of Management. Once that information leaves the University network, it is most likely passed off to the greater "internet" over a T3 or Fiber Optic connection. These two connections are VERY high bandwidth connections that allow the highest speeds and data transfer rates. From there, a series of smart switches, also known as routers, process the information and direct it to its intended destination e.g. YouTube video data being sent to your computer.
Who has Broadband?
Unfortunately, not everyone in this country is lucky enough to be on campus with such good connections. In fact, only about eighteen and a half percent of households in the Republic of Ireland have broadband connections and the country ranks thirty-fourth in the world for number of broadband internet users. What do these other seventy-one percent use to connect to the internet? Usually dial-up connections over ordinary phone lines or a technology known as DSL, which stands for designated service line. These connections are faster than ten years ago but still do not approach the speeds of modern broadband services available. Dialup connections rely on an old backbone of telephone wires that then connect to the modern "internet" through a node or entry point. The data then follows a similar path to the YouTube video in the first example.
How does Broadband work?
Broadband internet connections work in a highly efficient manner. When a client (end user, YOU) type in an internet connection, your browser sends data over the Ethernet or wireless connection to what is called a DNS Server which stands for Domain Name Service server. This computer sits attached to the internet and holds a translation table to change your www.google.com into its IP address (standing for Internet Protocol address), 126.96.36.199. Those series of numbers are then used to address your request for the page through the University proxy server (topic for another day) and on to the internet. Routers will look at the request and the IP address and then decided the fastest route to get to the destination using the least "hop," end-points for the cable at another router, with the highest speed cables. For example, if you were trying to get to the UN homepage, whose website is hosted in South Africa (for this example), the data might be sent first to Dublin, then the UK, then Spain, then to Egypt, then finally to South Africa where the server is located. All along the way, routers are picking the fastest connections and the whole process takes mere milliseconds.
How can I get Broadband?
The easiest way to get broadband for yourself is to go on the internet and search "Broadband Ireland." A number of results show options for selecting a service provider. These include RTE, BT Ireland, Smart Telecom, Clearwire, and Irish Broadband. Another route you might take is using what is known as mobile broadband. You have probably seen adverts for this service from Vodafone and O2 wireless. These services use a 3G cellular connections to access the internet over the wireless data networks. Unfortunately, for those of us studying here for just a semester, both of those providers require 12-month contracts. However, just last month 3 Mobile released a service known as 3pay Mobile Broadband that offers pay as you go 3G internet. It is a handy service that allows you to pay daily, weekly, or monthly using top-up vouchers.
There are many great benefits to having a broadband connection - everything from being able to see more of the world to being more productive on the internet. Some countries such as Northern Ireland and South Korea have been able to offer 100% broadband coverage to their citizens but they are the exception, not the rule. There are a number of options for internet service here in Ireland and everyone ought to go out and at least explore their options. Look for more information on internet regulation, network policies, and rumors of a Tiered Internet in upcoming issues.