Broadband technology allows users to access the Internet at much faster speeds than are currently possible with a 56k modem. A common analogy for broadband is to compare a garden hose to a fireman's hose: the fireman's hose is wider and pushes water at much greater velocity, therefore delivering more water at a much faster rate. Broadband is concerned with delivering information in a similar manner.
The term 'broadband' is a general term describing many different types of technologies. ISDN has been is use by businesses and private users for a number of years, and is more than twice as fast as a normal 56k modem connection. Broadband connections go way beyond ISDN in terms of performance, with even a relatively slow form of broadband, ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line), producing speeds of up to 512k per second, 10 times faster than a typical modem.
With such fast connections available to the general Net user, it becomes practical for the first time to download video, audio and Flash-heavy content without having to wait an eternity. For the business user, e-commerce opportunities arise in the form of selling content to users such as the latest Hollywood movie, or the latest album in MP3 format.
Applications such as real-time video conferencing will take a major leap forward in terms of usability and accessibility, with desktop web cams enabling real-time video and audio conversations to anywhere in the world, without the poor image quality and download lag of existing models.
Web designers would no longer be restrained by the amount of multimedia content that they could place on their sites, with the removal of such technical limitations the emphasis would be placed firmly on creative content.
The real stumbling block for broadband is the delay in ADSL networks being set up. The technology exists but many companies are reluctant to invest so heavily in a new technology that may not produce any financial returns.
Currently there is no 'killer application' where broadband is concerned; most existing web sites are designed with 56k users in mind. Net users are not inclined to pay expensive ADSL premiums because the content is not available to warrant such a connection, while the content to fully exploit broadband connections is not being produced by web designers because most people don't have a broadband connection to access such a site! In this deadlocked situation, it is the Internet's progress as a whole that suffers.
Most users cite slow download speeds as the main headache in using the Net, and it is this issue that needs to be resolved in order to maintain the log-term future of the Internet for business and culture.
Broadband in Ireland is regulated by the ODTR (Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulations). In 1999 the ODTR granted licenses to just four companies to provide broadband services in Ireland. It is not very encouraging that just two years later one of the companies, Formus Broadband (a subsidiary of the American Formus Communications), went out of business. It seems that broadband is not the money-spinner that it was hoped to be two years previously.
Recently Eircom announced it's plans for a consumer level ADSL service. Eircom has priced it's service at an unbelievable IR£95 (€120) per month, approximately double the amount charged on average to our British neighbours (£40 sterling per month on average). Furthermore, an initial set-up cost of over IR£200 (€254) is imposed, while you will still be charged separately for your normal voice service too.
Broadband rollout may have arrived at the worst possible time, were business confidence in the Internet has been damaged by negative media coverage of a downturn in the I.T. sector worldwide. The current service offered by Eircom for Irish customers is prohibitively priced, and you would have to question Eircom's seriousness about their commitment to ADSL. For the moment I would recommend anyone living in Ireland to stick with their modems until these prices come down.
Broadband technology provides the best way forward for the Internet. Business costs will be pushed down by the ability to supply customers with software and entertainment services directly to their PC's without having to incur the additional costs of packaging and shipment. For the Net user the Internet experience will finally be up to the hype and provide an effective form of entertainment to rival that of the previous centuries great invention, the TV. Lets hope this century sees the fulfillment of all of the Internet's broadband promise.
Updated 2020 : note that the above post is out-of-date, given this post was originally published in 2001, but is left here for archival purposes.