Narrowband is a term used to describe an Internet connection speed that is most commonly associated with a dial-up connection. Using phone lines and transmitting over voice-grade frequencies, the highest effective speed a connection can provide is approximately 56k, which is 56,000 bits per second.
While many Internet users today may remember much slower speeds in the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s, the maximum speeds achieved through a narrowband connection pale in comparison to what is available today. Even the slowest broadband speeds are usually five times faster than this.
In some locations around the world, especially in developing nations, narrowband is still the standard. However, many Western European nations are ahead of the United States in terms of the percentage of Internet users connecting using broadband.
In the United States, narrowband was the undisputed most popular choice for Internet connections until 2006. That year, J.D. Power and Associates reported that broadband had finally become the leader in terms of access. The gap has been growing in the years since, despite the fact that dial-up connections are significantly cheaper than broadband.
Interestingly enough, a number of narrowband users are quite happy with their service and may even prefer it over broadband. The Associated Press reported in July 2008 that only a small percentage of those who had slower connections say they use it because they have no access to broadband. The rest simply do not know why they choose that type of connection, or are unhappy with the cost of broadband. Narrowband is usually only half the cost of broadband, depending on the broadband connection speed.
Though it is common to associate only dial-up Internet access with the term narrowband, it is generally regarded that any connection with a transmission rate of 1.544 Megabits per second can be included in this category. This is much faster than a typical dialup connection.
In some cases, even a slower cable service connection could be considered a narrowband speed. However, this contradicts with the traditional definition, which is defined as the frequencies that carry voice-grade communication.