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What are the Differences Between DSL and Cable Internet?

DSL and Cable Internet harness distinct technologies to connect you to the web. DSL transmits data over phone lines, offering consistent speeds, while Cable uses the same lines as your TV service, often providing faster rates but can slow during peak hours. Wondering which service best fits your online lifestyle? Let's examine the nuances that could sway your decision.
R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Today's online content begs for a high speed Internet connection. The first choice to be made is what type to get, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable? Knowing some of the differences between DSL and cable should help you decide which will best serve your needs.

The first difference between DSL and cable is that DSL is delivered over a standard telephone line, while cable requires cable television service. In both cases, the lines can handle other transmissions in addition to Internet service. For example, you can use your telephone to make and receive calls while online with DSL, because DSL utilizes separate frequencies from telephone communications. Similarly, you can watch television while online with cable Internet service.

Cable Internet is generally much faster than DSL.
Cable Internet is generally much faster than DSL.

Before going into the other differences between these two services, note that a DSL subscriber will have to be within a certain distance from a telephone hub to get good DSL service. Therefore, DSL is not available in all areas, though this is becoming less of a problem. Any DSL provider that services your area can tell by your telephone number whether you are eligible for DSL service.

Acoustic couplers -- which send and receive computer data through telephone lines -- preceded modern modem technology.
Acoustic couplers -- which send and receive computer data through telephone lines -- preceded modern modem technology.

DSL and cable packages vary in price according to speed. DSL entry plans feature speeds up to 768 kilobits per second (kbps), while more competitive plans range from 1.5 megabits per second (mbps) to 3.0 mbps. Cable plans typically range from 1.5 megabits per second (mbps) to 5.0 mbps.

An advantage of DSL service is that your speed remains the same, no matter how many people are using the service. With cable Internet service, the number of users in your local area can affect bandwidth availability and result in slow service. Your personal experience is dependent upon the number of active users at any given time.

There’s another significant difference between DSL and cable service. While major DSL providers have introductory prices as low as $14 US dollars (USD) plus change per month (for the slowest plan), cable Internet service tends to be three to four times more expensive because their plans are faster than these introductory DSL plans. The low introductory DSL price is for new subscribers in most cases and requires a one-year contract, but it’s a great deal when moving from dial-up. Even for mid-range plans, DSL tends to be cheaper than cable. For high-speed plans cable typically becomes cheaper, though offers vary regionally and DSL technology is evolving to compete at higher speeds.

Cable Internet service, however, can offer something DSL cannot. Cable services can save you money with digital packages that include cable television, Internet service and digital phone service in a single bill. For some people with large phone bills, the savings can offset the 'higher' cost of cable Internet service. The best option is to check into both types of services in your area and see what each has to offer.

Both DSL and cable Internet service require a broadband modem. In many cases, the service provides a preconfigured modem free of charge, to be returned at the cancellation of service. You are also welcome to supply your own broadband modem.

If consolidating your phone, cable television and Internet service doesn’t interest you, DSL service will likely be less expensive. Luckily, both DSL and cable provide a welcome relief from far slower dial-up service, so you'll win either way.

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Discussion Comments


I have had the exact opposite results. I have my business and my home on the same property and have both DSL and cable. The DSL is 6Mbps (26.95)for my house and the cable is 50Mbps (117.95) for my business. During the day, Monday through Friday, my cable is averaging 38Mbps but after 5:00 and on weekends it averages 8Mbps. On the other hand, when I check the DSL it is always in the 5.2-6Mbps range, no mater what the day or time.


I actually find myself in the opposition of your commentary, since when I had DSL, it actually runs slow as the traffic increases. I mean, my connection is pretty good in the mornings and it becomes bad in the afternoon. Now I changed to cable and the download speed keeps the same all the day through.


thank you so much. based on your very objective analysis, i now in an empowered position to decide between DSL and cable. great job!


thank you. by now i am clear as to what to get. thanks


Good information.


it's very good and helped me a lot. Thanks.


Thank you. Very helpful!


Thank you very much. Well explained. Smindra


Clear and to the point. Thanks.


This was really helpful, it cleared a lot of my doubts. Thanks.


Yeah, I really appreciate this article - exactly what I was looking for.


The differences are very well explained.

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    • Cable Internet is generally much faster than DSL.
      By: Victoria Andreas
      Cable Internet is generally much faster than DSL.
    • Acoustic couplers -- which send and receive computer data through telephone lines -- preceded modern modem technology.
      Acoustic couplers -- which send and receive computer data through telephone lines -- preceded modern modem technology.