The internet may be easy to use but the technology and the terminology behind it can be complicated to understand. 

Many people make the common mistake of thinking the internet, broadband and Wi-Fi are all the same thing – but they’re not.

For example, how many times have you moaned "My internet is playing up!", when you really mean your broadband speed has gone slow or your Wi-Fi won’t connect.

Deciphering those internet issues 

The 'internet' isn’t a suitable catch-all term. Put simply, it is actually a vast global network of computers and machines that are constantly talking to each other so you can find the information you want, communicate or complete tasks online. 

That information you are searching for, or the means for doing a task, will be saved on one of those systems and the pieces of electronic data that make up the information or task flow from here to your computer once a request is received. 

Similarly, when you send someone an email or a file, that will travel from your computer as data across this sprawling network before finally arriving at theirs. 

Right, so what on earth is broadband?

Now if you think of the internet as billions of separate destinations within the network, a broadband connection is your first stage of the journey to reach them. 

All of the information and data has to travel to and from your home or business somehow and broadband is like your own personal tunnel for it to move through. 

Your broadband ‘tunnel’ can be constructed of two different types of technology, one is made from copper wire and the other is from fibre-optic cable. 

You can learn more about what those two terms mean by clicking here.

How does broadband work then?

Whether it is using copper or fibre, broadband runs to your front door thanks to very complicated technology from the fibre cabinet; this is often green, seen on a street corner and contains loads and loads of wires. Running back from here are millions of miles of cabling connecting their way to different parts of the internet, even running under the sea. Yes really, they have special boats to lay them.

From your front door, you are connected to broadband via wires that run to your router, usually a boring-looking black or white box with flashing lights.

One way to get online from here and connect to the internet is through an Ethernet cable plugged into the router and to your computer. This creates a hard-wired connection and usually provides the most stable connection you can have – as well as the fastest. 

Ethernet cables do have their limitations though, not least they keep you attached nearby to wherever in the home or office your router is placed.

One size doesn't fit all 

The speed and capacity of your own broadband tunnel may be different to your neighbour’s. Not everyone has the same size. Some may be wider to carry larger amounts of information at the same time. This capacity is known as bandwidth. 

Alongside this, your tunnel may have a higher speed limit to travel along it, determining how you quickly you can download information or movies to your computer or upload files, photos and requests to the internet.

The more bandwidth you have, the more people who can more easily use the broadband at the same time with ultrafast broadband offering the highest speeds and capacities. If there is not enough, certain people will find their tasks slowed down to accommodate others, so downloads may take longer or movies being streamed might pause for a few seconds (that’s known as buffering). 

That all makes sense. So what is Wi-Fi?

Remember the Ethernet cable that connects from your router to your computer, well smartphones and tablets don’t have ports for these and most modern laptops don’t need them either to use the internet. Instead they use Wi-Fi technology. 

This allows your broadband to work without any wires, sending and receiving data wirelessly that invisibly flies through the air back and forth between any of your Wi-Fi-enabled devices and your router. 

When it reaches the router, it flows back down the wires to your front door and out to the fibre cabinet and then through the cables and across the internet network. When you receive something, the same happens, but just in reverse.

So what happens when it goes down?

If your broadband isn’t working, effectively your tunnel has become blocked and you will be unable to send and receive information to and from the internet. Your computer will still work but it won’t be online. 

This could be due to one of many issues. 

Firstly your broadband connection could be stopped centrally at your supplier's end or there could be a technical problem blocking it between the fibre cabinet and your front door. There could also be an issue with the internal wiring between the door and the Wi-Fi router.

If that's all OK, it is likely a problem with your Wi-Fi signal or router. Sometimes this goes slow because too many devices are connected to the router and there is not enough bandwidth to handle all the multiple requests at the same time. 

At other times, the wireless signal may be struggling to get through thick concrete or metal walls. It might even suffer interference from other electronic equipment nearby. The Wi-Fi router's lights usually provide a good guide to what's wrong.

How can this be fixed?

Broadband issues normally need an experienced technician to come out and fix them, either within your home or business or at the fibre cabinet.  

Wi-Fi issues are most often sorted out yourself by turning the router off and on again or by changing some of the settings with help from an expert on the phone. 

Hopefully after reading this guide, the next time you can’t connect to your favourite website, send an email or watch a movie online, you'll understand more clearly if it's due to your broadband or Wi-Fi and what you can do to fix it. 

Just remember, it won’t be because of your ‘internet’.

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