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Broadband is often called high-speed Internet, because it usually has a high rate of data transmission relative to dial-up access over a modem. In general, any connection to the customer of 256 Kbit/s (0.256 Mbit/s) or more is considered broadband Internet, but the low-end speed bar is continuously rising.
There are many different technologies that enable broadband connection speeds. The most mainstream of these include fiber, cable, DSL, mobile broadband, WiMax, and satellite (see descriptions below). The competition among these technologies to offer broadband internet service exists primarily in providing "last mile"  service, because the major long distance wires that comprise the Internet backbone around the world are primarily made out of optical fiber. Some of these "last mile" technologies are poised to grow in adoption while others won't be able to compete in the long run primarily due to speed barriers. The ultimate goal for broadband providers today is to be able to offer voice, data, and video over one network which is known as a "triple play." Some companies are well positioned to do this, while others are not. Here's a look at these differing broadband technologies and the companies that will either win or lose the broadband services race.
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Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable are examples of the two large cable providers who are enjoying higher subscriber rates in America than DSL. Given that cable throughput has a lot of room to grow, the success of cable broadband is likely.
Cisco Systems (CSCO), Motorola (MOT), Siemens AG (SI), and Alcatel (ALU) some of the biggest telecommunications equipment players. They offer equipment for fiber, cable, DSL, etc., and thus will benefit as long as broadband subscription rates continue to grow.
Corning (GLW), the largest provider of optical fiber, and Amphenol (APH) and CommScope (CTV), who both sell cable wire, should continue to see sales grow as their customers both build and upgrade their networks.
Intel (INTC), Sprint Nextel (S), Motorola (MOT), and Clearwire (CLWR) are all WiMax partners and offer different pieces of the WiMax puzzle: WiMax chips, mobile WiMax network, WiMax equipment and handsets, and fixed wireless, respectively. Other companies along this value chain that choose WiMax are gambling on an early technology, but one that experts think will have a place in the broadband industry.
Hughes Communications (HUGH) and Gilat Satellite Networks (GILT) are two large satellite broadband service providers and equipment vendors. While they sometimes offer the only broadband service available in rural areas, the clear substitute WiMax, with its higher bandwidth capabilities and lower latency times, looks like a formidable competitor.
EarthLink (ELNK) is a consumer oriented ISP that offers broadband access, but doesn't have the network capabilities to offer video. It covers that base by partnering with EchoStar Communications (DISH), a leading satellite broadcaster. ISPs like Earthlink that can't reap all of the profits from a triple play--voice/data/video--will have a tough time competing with the major players that can.
Embarq (EQ), CenturyTel (CTL), and Consolidated Communications Holdings (CNSL) are all smaller carriers currently serving mainly mid-size to rural markets. While still offering broadband service in many of their markets, their margins are reduced because of a smaller subscriber base and high costs of maintaining a broadband network. It will be harder for carriers of this size to afford to upgrade to video-capable networks, and thus they may lose subscribers to cable competition.
Optical fiber, if not already, is quickly becoming the Internet backbone as large network operators like Level 3 Communications (LVLT), Verizon Communications (VZ), and AT&T either offer or are upgrading to all-fiber networks. . More than 12 million miles of fiber were deployed in 2006, up 9.1% from 2005, with nearly 10 million miles being deployed by the telephone companies.  Fiber is currently viewed as the optimal material available to deliver data at high speeds over long distances, but it is more expensive than other technologies. Although it is expensive, fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP), or last-mile  fiber connectivity is quickly gaining traction, and the largest deployment to-date in the U.S. is Verizon's FiOS network which offers super 35 Mbps data rates. According to Parks Associates, the number of US households subscribing to FTTx (fiber connections) will increase from 3 million in 2007 to 18 million by the end of 2011.  Fiber is also generally provided to enterprise customers that lease dedicated T1, T3, ((types of dedicated high-capacity lines) and SONET (a dedicated high-speed solution for multi-site businesses) services.
Cable is primarily a consumer broadband solution that theoretically provides up to 30 Mbps, but fastest average speeds are around 6 Mbps in America. Cable is leading the subscriber race in America, but trailing in Europe, where cable infrastructure is more spotty.
DSL is the main consumer broadband offering from carriers, because it can provide high data speeds over a dedicated telephone line. SDSL and ADSL, reaching speeds up to 6 Mbps, are the less expensive versions of the technology and by far the most common in the States. VDSL, slowly gaining steam in America and already predominant in Japan and South Korea, can reach speeds between 30 and 50 Mbps.
There are a number of competing technologies within the mobile broadband space that all can provide throughput in the low single digit Mbps. 3G technologies EV-DO, Edge, and HSDPA are the current mobile broadband options for CDMA2000 and W-CDMA networks.
WiMax, although only deployed heavily in Russia, is currently a fixed-wireless and mobile broadband technology that can theoretically deliver broadband speeds of up to 70 Mbps, but in reality delivers similar speeds (low single digit Mbps) as other mobile broadband technologies. WiMax is definitely a contender for "last mile" connectivity in rural and emerging markets where laying fiber, cable, or DSL is not cost effective.
Last year I was talking with Bell to reoncnect the phone at the cottage.Bell was asking if I wanted Voice Mail, 3-Way Calling, Call Display, Call Answer, Call Return, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Visual Call Display, High-Speed Internet. My answer was no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and what? High-Speed Internet available on a cottage phone, that is in the middle of the Northern Ontario bush, with no street address and water-only access? It normally takes Bell all summer just to find the cottage to connect a simple phone.One week later, I was sitting on the dock at the cottage with my laptop, accessing the Internet through my wireless high-speed connection, and doing work for my clients. The best part of the story, the cottage Internet connection was quicker and more reliable than my connection in Whitby Careful for what you wish for, you might just get it.