Fiber Optic vs DSL

Coiled generic Ethernet cable.

In today’s communications marketplace, online subscribers have an array of internet service options available to them. Coaxial cable is often the most accessible and least expensive connection method, but pales in comparison to newer technologies like fiber-optic internet when considering download speeds.

Wireless is another connectivity option that uses radio signals, with internet speeds mirroring those of fiber internet and a lower cost for set up due to its reliance on existing systems.

Where does Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) fit in when considering options for an internet connection? In this final article from our series, we examine how DSL connections work and take a detailed look at the various ways they meet or beat the standards set by other providers for customer service.

How Does DSL Work?

Like cable internet, DSL taps into an already existing communications structure—copper cables—to offer dedicated, high-speed internet access in one of two variations. Both are reliable and widely available.

  • Asymmetrical DSL (ADSL) is the most common type of DSL connection in use. It requires a special ADSLM modem, and is the slower of the two options.
  • Very-high-bit-rate DSL (VDSL) offers much higher upload speeds, particularly over short distances.

DSL internet connections can be set up either through a direct Ethernet cord or wirelessly via a signal-translating modem and router. This offers some flexibility for consumers who have multiple devices around the home or businesses that need internet access. An Ethernet cable, on the other hand, offers a consistent connection for a single device.

Since it uses separate frequencies, DSL users can access and utilize their telephone service and internet connection at the same time.

Is DSL Connection Fast?

DSL download speeds range from around 1 Mbps to 7 Mbps, which makes the technology best for browsing the web or sending and receiving emails. Although the top end of the spectrum will allow for streaming music and video, the use of multiple devices on the same system can slow down the speed of high-definition content.

Improvements to technology and upgraded infrastructure are leading some providers to offer higher DSL internet speeds, but they are nowhere near the speeds offered by fiber internet. Digital information traveling through optic technology can reach speeds up to 10 Gb, and fiber’s dedicated bandwidth outperforms DSL as well.

While bandwidth ranges for DSL are advertised from 128 Kbps to 3 Mbps, a variety of factors can significantly reduce those numbers. Since signals degrade over distance, DSL needs boosters every few miles to avoid a decrease in speed and performance. The maximum advertised bandwidth is not always within reach.

Meanwhile, fiber internet delivers on its promise of sending high-quality information quickly and across very long distances.

Is DSL a Reliable Choice for Internet Service?

DSL’s use of copper phone lines makes it susceptible to disruptions in service from things like power outages and deterioration of the cable in the ground, depending on age. As mentioned above, the distance from the ISP also has an impact on DSL’s reliability as an internet service.

Where DSL does perform well, especially against cable, is in terms of network slowdown during peak use hours. Remember that cable internet shares bandwidth within a service area, and that can greatly reduce speed when everyone is accessing the system at the same time. Provider-enforced caps on data use are another annoyance related to coaxial cable systems.

Since DSL is a direct line to the ISP there is no lapse in download or upload speeds regardless of how many people are online.

How Accessible is DSL?

The use of an existing infrastructure means DSL is very accessible, even in more rural parts of the country. Fiber optic cable is still building its last mile technology in a variety of areas, making it less available.

Is DSL Reasonably Priced?

A DSL connection is one of the most economical choices for delivering internet access to a home or business. It plugs into pre-existing phone jacks and requires a modem or router but needs no other equipment to get started. With no start-up costs, consumers are looking at monthly packages ranging around $40 for the highest download speeds.

Monthly fees for fiber optics vary widely based on providers and plans, and there are still installation expenses involved in many markets.

What’s Your Connection Choice?

There is no shortage of advertising out there about the fastest, most economical, most reliable form of internet access in your home or business:

  • DSL and cable have the advantage of being an existing technology with an expansive embedded base.
  • Wireless offers flexibility, plus reasonable speed and cost.
  • FiOS is appealing for its speed and quality but isn’t yet available everywhere.

Hopefully the knowledge you gained from this four-part series means you’re ready to review what services are available in your area and feel confident that you are making the best choice possible for your internet service.

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