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What is an Internet Service Provider (ISP)? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 0:59 The Internet Highway
  • 1:56 Satellites
  • 2:41 Fiber Optics
  • 3:26 Copper Cables
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Raymond Blockmon

Raymond has earned a bachelor's degree in computer information systems and a master's degree in organizational leadership.

An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a company that provides Internet access by using copper, fiber, or even satellite communications to the customer. In this lesson, we will cover exactly what an ISP is, how the ISP connects customers, and what type of services the ISPs provide.

Definition

An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a company such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, or BrightHouse that provides Internet access to companies, families, and even mobile users. ISPs use fiber-optics, satellite, copper wire, and other forms to provide Internet access to its customers.

The type of Internet access varies depending on what the customer requires. For home use, cable or DSL (digital subscriber line) is the perfect, affordable choice. The price of home use can range anywhere from free to roughly $120 a month. The amount of bandwidth is usually what drives the price. Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be sent through an internet connection in a given amount of time. The speed for home use usually varies from 14 kilobits per second to 100 megabits per second. For large companies and organizations, their bandwidth requirements may be 1 to 10 gigabits per second, which is both insanely fast and expensive!

The Internet Highway

ISPs connect to one another by forming backbones, which is another way of saying a main highway of communications. Backbones usually consist of satellite, copper wire, or even fiber-optic media. Media is a term that means cables or lines, and it's the physical means of connecting your home to the internet.

Now, imagine these 'main highways' are like the major arteries that we have in our bodies. These major arteries push an extreme amount of blood (or data) to our smaller blood arteries (cities). Those smaller arteries then feed into blood vessels (neighborhoods) and then into tiny capillaries (our individual homes).

ISPs provide the same service, except that they use different types of media to do so. ISPs bridge distant locations between cities, states, and countries. Because of these high speed backbone systems, we are able receive an email within seconds, stream our favorite movie without interruption, and play online games with no lag whatsoever.

Satellites

Let's go over the different types of media that are used in order to give you a broader understanding of how ISPs work.

Customers who live in remote locations, such as farms, deserts, and mountainous areas, may require a satellite Internet service. This involves transmitting and receiving data from a satellite orbiting about 22,000 miles above the earth. Although satellite communication is not as fast as other mediums, it does provide flexibility with limited environmental impact, and there is not as much need for support from the local telecommunications company.

These satellite terminals can also be used when setting up natural disaster recovery centers. For example, FEMA used a satellite terminal during Hurricane Katrina, since the public telecommunication infrastructure was severely damaged.

Fiber Optics

Fiber optics, or fiber, is a transmission medium used to transmit light instead of electrical voltage, like copper. The great thing about fiber is that it transmits Internet traffic at the speed of light!

Fiber has great qualities, such as being very reliable and immune to electromagnetic interference, unlike copper. Fiber has the bandwidth capability from 10 gigabits per second all the way up to 31 terabits per second. Without boosting stations (which boost or amplify the signal as it travels, and commonly used with copper), fiber can transmit signals up to 150 miles without regeneration. Right now, there are fiber cables that run along the ocean floor, connecting countries across the globe through high speed Internet access. Pretty cool!

Copper Cables

ISPs will more likely supply home users with a copper medium, such as that used for DSL or cable broadband. This works by sending electrical pulses through a copper wire. Broadband is cheap and provides excellent Internet service to the home user. It uses existing media found commonly in homes, such as your cable and telephone outlets, to provide users with Internet access. Most ISPs will provide their customers with equipment such as modems and routers to complete the installation and receive Internet access.

Unlike fiber, copper is not immune to electromagnetism. Careful placement of the cables must be planned so that interference, such as that from refrigerators, microwaves, and high-powered motors, does not affect the signal. The signal often requires regeneration to prevent attenuation, the process where the signal loses its distinct signature as it travels further down the copper wires, to the point the signal is no longer recognizable. One benefit is that copper is cheap and can be fixed easily if there are any breaks in the line.

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