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What is the Difference Between DSL and ADSL?

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is a broad term for technology that delivers internet over phone lines. ADSL (Asymmetric DSL) is a type of DSL with different upload and download speeds, favoring faster downloads. It's ideal for typical internet usage like streaming and browsing. Wondering how this impacts your online experience? Let's examine the nuances that could influence your choice of service.
Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a generic term categorizing services provided over copper wire. DSL subscribers may receive high speed Internet service and other services bundled with the DSL package. When a service provider or ISP offers Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), the customer will receive service that is not guaranteed to be the same speed in both directions.

For example, many ISPs advertise their Internet service with a download and an upload speed, 1Mbps download and 256Kbps upload (or something similar). These advertised speeds are rarely the same in both directions. This would be the way that ADSL works, the upload and download speeds offered by the ISP to subscribers is different and stated that way.

An ADSL modem.
An ADSL modem.

DSL is more generic, implying any type of Digital Subscriber Line service, from ADSL where the upload and download speeds are different, to symmetric digital subscriber line (SDSL) in which the upload and download speeds are the same. Service providers are introducing new methods of ADSL style technologies, including tiered pricing which allows the ISP to charge higher fees for more bandwidth for either downloading, uploading, or both. ADSL is a specific type of service sold to allow subscribers to connect to high speed data networks. The majority of the DSL service sold for residential access is ADSL.

ADSL has download speeds that are considerably faster than upload speeds.
ADSL has download speeds that are considerably faster than upload speeds.

DSL, no matter the flavor, has some vast benefits over the dial-up technology used over the phone lines before it. The biggest, or most seen benefit of DSL, is the ability to use the phone to make or receive calls while connected to the Internet. With traditional dial-up service, this was not possible without the use of a second phone line. DSL accomplishes this by incorporating a filter on the phone jacks in a location that will have telephones connected to them. The signals on the wire under 4Khz are considered voice signals and anything above 4Khz is considered a data signal, the filter helps to ensure that these signals never cross.

One downside to DSL is the proximity issue. The closer a subscriber lives to the phone company’s central office (CO), the faster the DSL (ADSL or other) connection will be. Subscribers who live further away from the CO, but still within the reach of DSL service, (as determined by the phone company) will have a slower connection to the Internet. People living outside the predetermined boundary for DSL service will not be eligible for DSL and other means of high speed access will be needed.

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Discussion Comments


where does it say which one i need with cable broadband?


to be honest if you can configure them they are the same wirelessly. i'm running my netgear DG834G as a dsl! running on wireless lol with a 20 meg connection and great upload.


i live close to my local ISP, which provides internet access to my region. it's great for BitTorrent file sharing


DSL is by far better than dial-up in all accounts. This does not mean that you should run out to your subscriber and get the fastest DSL connection plan they offer. For most residence the basic plan is sufficient enough for checking email, surfing the internet, and chatting. Now, if you're thinking of streaming live videos, movies, downloading or uploading music, file sharing, and conducting business across the network, you might want to consider your ISPs other plans. It's always easier to upgrade your plan if you find yourself always waiting for buffering to finish while watching movies or playing video games over the internet.

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    • An ADSL modem.
      By: Petr Malyshev
      An ADSL modem.
    • ADSL has download speeds that are considerably faster than upload speeds.
      By: alexskopje
      ADSL has download speeds that are considerably faster than upload speeds.