UPDATE Mar 2020 – still current.
I am often asked if I can help with problems that people have connecting to the Internet so here’s a quick description of the types of connection that are used in the UK. Basically there are 3 types of connection and you will have at least one of them:-
1. Probably the most common is an ADSL connection. This uses the phone (land) line to get an Internet connection. Almost all phone lines in the UK are the property of BT (British Telecom, now Openreach) but your ISP can be BT or one of the many alternative providers – who take over the BT / Openreach line and then give you Internet access for a monthly fee, examples are Talk-Talk, EE (now BT), Virgin Media and Sky. These alternative providers come under the description of LLU (Local Loop Unbundled) and often they have their own kit in the local BT exchange and this enables them to sometimes offer a better Internet connection. However, Openreach are carrying out massive improvements, installing new Fibre optic cables and literally bringing the “exchange” to every street corner – much the same as the cable companies so better/faster connections are in the pipeline. These improvements are called FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) and if you are lucky FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) both offer broadband connection speeds several fold more than ADSL.
To use the phone line for a Broadband Internet connection, the line has to be enabled for digital /data use and you are provided with at least an ADSL modem and filters to install on your phone points. More commonly these days, you will be provided with an ADSL “Gateway” which is a combined ADSL Modem and 4 port Switch and it can also include a WiFi Access Point. Generally speaking you can use any suitable ADSL Gateway of your choice but if you have any problems your ISP will only support the one make and model that they specify.
2. Not as common as ADSL but “Cable“ is the next choice. The only cable operator in the UK is now Virgin Media. Cable services don’t use the phone line, they use a system of fibre optic and co-ax cables to give a Broadband Internet service. TV and telephone services also use this same cable. The Internet connection is made possible by use of a “Cable Modem” which is actually a “Router” and is supplied by Virgin Media (VM) – you can’t use any other type – only the one supplied by VM. The current “Cable Routers” include a 2 or 4 port switch and have a built-in WiFi Access Point so it is easy to share your Internet connection with 2 (or 4 ) PCs using Ethernet cables and you can connect several PCs /laptops /Tablets using WiFi (Wireless).
3. Becoming popular is the “mobile” connection. This makes use of the mobile phone (data) network and typically uses 4G /LTA. It is probably used more for things like the iPhone, Android and other Smartphones and it makes use of an “always on” broadband for mobile networks. There are devices that can be fitted with a mobile phone SIM card to enable an ordinary PC or Laptop to make use of this type of connection and where you get a good reception, it’s good enough for general web surfing and email but probably not suitable for things like downloading large files and watching video over the Web.
There are other connection types but these are not usually used in the domestic situation.