As the adoption and proliferation of digital technologies continue to grow, so is the demand for internet services. Currently, more than 50% of the world’s population, including households and businesses, are internet consumers.
What all these people and businesses are continuously looking for is internet connectivity that is effective, affordable, and also fast enough to stream movies, shop online, conduct business and connect with other people.
There are several types of internet services to choose from in terms of how the Internet connectivity is offered to your home (called “the last mile access”).
But when the time to look for an internet service provider comes, two popular types of connections will pop up. These are DSL and Cable Internet.
Both types of connections provide broadband “high-speed-internet” and are widely used. But obviously, there are similarities and differences that set them apart.
So, which one is a better Internet Connectivity Service?
Understanding the differences between Cable and DSL internet will help you make an informed decision. Today I have purposed to give you a detailed overview of everything you need to know about these two types of connections to guide your decision making.
But first, let us look at what each entail.
Table of Contents
- What is Cable Internet
- What is DSL internet
- DSL vs. Cable Comparison
- Pros of Cable Internet
- Cons of Cable Internet
- Pros of DSL Internet
- Cons of DSL Internet
- Does Cable Internet slow down with more users?
- Does DSL Internet slow down with more users?
- Verdict: Which is a better option – DSL or Cable.
What is Cable Internet
The Cable internet service uses an underground system of a complex chain of coaxial cables used originally only for TV transmission.
Typically, cable network utilizes the TV channel space to transmit digital data (i.e Internet data packets) in addition to the TV channels.
The Cable Internet Provider will bring a coaxial cable into your home which through a splitter will provide both Data and TV services.
The coaxial cable lines over which cable TV run has an outstanding bandwidth that makes cable internet extremely fast-speed, faster than DSL.
It is the most effective option for a household with multiple and high consumer devices, large file downloads, video calls, and video gaming.
Cable Internet uses a technology called DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications) which is a telecommunications standard that allows data to be transferred over the existing TV coaxial cables.
Several channels are bonded together to provide downstream and upstream data transfer over cable.
Currently we have DOCSIS version 3.0 and 3.1. The latter (DOCSIS 3.1) allows for Gigabit speed (1Gbps) Internet access to the home.
What is DSL internet
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a high-speed internet access that uses the existing landline telephone lines (pair of copper wires) as “last mile access” to the home to transmit digital data. Fiber optic cables can be used also for connecting the service provider backbone network devices to the rest of the Internet.
The provider will use a pair of copper telephone wires (twisted-pair) which will be connected to a splitter. From the splitter’s output, wires will go to your DSL modem/router and also to your home fixed telephone.
Like the Cable internet service, DSL also requires a home modem which has the purpose of translating the cable/wire signals into data packets (TCP/IP network packets) that can be “understood” by home devices (computers, smartphones etc).
DSL-based connection speed varies widely, ranging from hundreds of kilo-bits per second (Kbps) to millions of bits per second (Mbps).
However, a moderate DSL speed ranges between 10-25 Mbps and is efficient for light to medium internet consumers looking for affordable internet connectivity for emailing and some video streaming on less than two-three devices.
DSL technology has different types with some of them offering even higher speeds than 10-25 Mbps mentioned above. Here are the different types of DSL:
- ADSL (Asymmetric DSL): Download speed is bigger than upload speed (around 8Mbps for download speed).
- ADSL2+: Download speeds of up to 24-25 Mbps.
- VDSL (Very High Speed DSL): Download speeds of up to 52 Mbps
- VDSL2: Highest speed technology providing up to 100 Mbps
Some popular DSL internet providers include CenturyLink, EarthLink, and Frontier.
DSL vs. Cable Comparison
Both DSL and cable internet are similar in that they provide fast-speed internet connectivity and use a cable and DSL modem to access the internet.
However, the two also differ significantly in many aspects, including structure, speed and reliability, Bandwidth, and pricing.
As noted earlier, Cable Internet service runs through a system of existing coaxial cables in the household and office.
During installation, your cable internet service provider will also deliver all the required equipment, including a router and a cable modem.
The cable modem connects to the coaxial cable coming into the house and carries the signal of TV and Data. The cable modem translates this signal into data packets.
If the cable modem is a combo device (i.e it includes both a modem and router on the same device), the router is usually WiFi and allows the signal to be converted into data received by various devices within the home location.
Be sure to source a router and a modem that are compatible for better internet connectivity.
On the other hand, DSL broadcasts through your local copper phone lines. There is no interference with the telephone voice signal because DSL works on much higher frequencies than voice.
DSL connections are available in two main categories; symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric connections provide equal download and upload speeds, while asymmetric connections provide varying (high and low) upload speeds.
Like cable internet, your DSL internet provider will establish and deliver the equipment you will need based on factors like your internet plan. Equipment includes a DSL modem, a router, and a splitter.
Cable internet runs on a shared network. This means that cable customers share their internet with other people around the premises. A single cable internet entry can serve apartments and complexes with up to 500 households.
As a result, the connection speed can be impacted significantly, especially during peak internet usage times.
When using a cable internet service, you may notice that your internet connectivity is sometimes very fast and suddenly slows down depending on the number of people connected to the network.
Unlike cable internet, DSL is not a shared connection. It uses your phone lines, which are dedicated to your home or office. This is a major advantage of DSL over cable internet. DSL will offer dedicated and constant Internet speed to your home (i.e speed will not fluctuate).
DSL is available to consumers in the form of subscriptions or bundles (like cable subscriptions). The connection speed is determined by the internet package/subscription and the ISP provider you choose.
For example, Lightning-fast plans offer up to 100 Mbps speed, while the slowest providers offer a speed of up to 10Mbps or less.
However, the fastest available DSL speed that provider can offer (up to 100-115 Mbps) is much lower than what Cable Internet can offer.
A speed of between 15-25 Mbps which is the average DSL speed, will effectively serve a household with small to medium internet consumption. With DSL, whatever speed you subscribe to is what you get.
DSL download speed range vary from as low as 8Mbps to around 100 Mbps.
Like DSL, cable internet speed varies depending on the plan you choose. Packages offering a higher speed connection will cost more of course.
If, for instance, your cable internet is meant to serve a household with several members who are constantly streaming 4K movies, then a fast-speed choice of over 150-200 Mbps will be highly preferred. Fortunately, Cable Internet plans can easily offer such high-bandwidth speeds.
Also, with cable internet, the speed you select is not guaranteed, unlike DSL, which gives a constant internet speed.
With a cable internet connection, what you receive will either be equal and sometimes lower than what is indicated on the package depending on how congested the shared network is.
Cable Download speed ranges between 25Mbps to 1Gbps and an upload speed of between 5 to 50 Mbps.
There are no standard prices for each type of internet. The prices of each provider will vary depending on factors like the type of package, speed, your location, supply and demand of broadband services in your area, your provider etc.
However, both DSL and Cable service providers offer affordable and price-conscious plans for light internet users and premium options for more demanding consumers.
For example, in areas that have only accessed cable internet service for some time now, DSL costs were relatively higher because of lack of competition.
But following the introduction of cheaper cable internet service and Fiber optic service, the prices have since decreased significantly on both DSL and Cable.
When it comes to the initial installation fee, cable internet can vary from $50-$100, while DSL is a bit higher and can run up to $150 or higher.
After the initial installation, you will be paying for the service in monthly subscriptions depending on your package of choice.
DSL plans range between $20-$150, while Cable internet range between $30 to $200 per month. However, if your major concern is on the pricing, consider the DSL ceiling on speed.
When comparing speed to cost ratio, cable internet is considerably higher than DSL, which means that with Cable Internet you get much higher speed per dollar you spend.
Pros of Cable Internet
- Very fast and reliable internet connection compared to DSL and other providers
- Supports demanding applications such as 4K video streaming, gaming etc.
- Ideal for every family size with any internet consumption needs.
- Many plans and options available.
- Can use existing TV coaxial cable.
Cons of Cable Internet
- Usually more expensive than DSL.
- Performance and speed can fluctuate during peak hours.
- Rates usually increase after 6 to 12 months.
Pros of DSL Internet
- A wide variety of plans available effective for average internet consumers.
- Low initial connection fee for the user.
- Widely available because it uses existing phone lines.
- Generally cheaper than cable internet.
- Dedicated connection which means that speed is always constant.
Cons of DSL Internet
- Slower internet connectivity plans compared to cable.
- Quality of service decreases with distance of your home from DSLAM (ISP network node that offers the service to your home).
Does Cable Internet slow down with more users?
The short answer is Yes.
Cable internet is a shared connection. This means that performance, i.e., speed and latency, relies on the number of people connected to the internet at one particular time in your area: the more people online, the slower the speed and vice versa.
For example, in a building complex with one shared cable connection, the speed of the connection will be significantly slower in the evenings and during weekends when more people are home and online at the same time.
Similarly, the speed will be faster during the day when people are at work, and there are few people engaged to the internet.
Does DSL Internet slow down with more users?
The short answer is No.
DSL is not a shared network, and thus speed is not affected by the number of users online. As noted earlier, DSL broadcasts via phone lines, which are restricted to each individual home user or office.
Factors that can affect the DSL internet speed include the type and quality of your phone line, distance of the copper telephone wires coming to your home and sometimes weather conditions.
For example, users who access DSL internet through bonded copper wiring can get even higher and more reliable DSL speeds.
Verdict: Which is a better option – DSL or Cable.
When choosing between DSL and cable internet connection, the answer cannot be precise because users’ needs differ.
Both types of connections provide broadband internet connectivity that is fast and reliable. Before settling on either, analyze the factors and how they will be affected by your option. Some main factors you should consider include your internet needs/consumption, speed, and budget.
Assessing your internet consumption first will help you choose an internet connection that aligns with your needs. This will prevent you from choosing an internet provider that does not satisfy your needs or paying more for higher internet speeds that you don’t even need.
Luckily, both DSL and cable internet have a wide range of packages of varying speed and rates from which you can choose from.
For instance, if your internet is meant to serve a household of light or average internet usage, a medium package of DSL Internet connection (e.g around 20-30 Mbps) may be a good and more affordable option.
On the other hand, if you have a large family with huge internet consumption needs involving UHD/4K video streaming, frequent and concurrent online conferences, large file downloading etc, then Cable Internet will be a better option over DSL.
Again, if your prime focus is speed, cable internet is considered faster and a better option than DSL.