Deconstructing DSL

October 17, 2012 in Home, Internet


Internet service has become a near-necessity for Americans. Most of us use the Internet everyday and never really think about how it works or how it is delivered to our Internet devices. Being in the industry, we often get asked what makes cable Internet service so different from DSL. The easy answer can be summed up in two simple words – speed and reliability.

Speed and reliability are the two most important Internet service factors. Chances are, you want the best of both worlds. So, where can you find it? Cable or DSL? There’s a lot of technology to talk about in this topic, but we’ll try to keep our technical lingo at a minimum as we share the details.

So, let’s talk speed first. Speed is arguably the most important factor in Internet service. The speed of your service establishes what you can and cannot do online. Additionally, the speed of your connection either helps you enjoy your online experience or…well if you’ve ever sat watching the loading icon for more than a few seconds, you know how (un)enjoyable that can be.

In case you need it, here’s a basic lesson on Internet speeds. Speeds are measured in bits-per-second. You’ll often see this written in Kbps or Mbps. 1 Mbps is approximately 1000 times faster than 1 Kbps. So a 3 Mbps service is roughly four times the speed of a 768 Kbps service.

The standard DSL speed is only 1.5 Mbps. In fact, there are currently ads for DSL Internet service offering speeds as slow as 768 Kbps (read the fine print when you see super-low Internet prices). That may seem fast, but don’t be fooled – 1.5 Mbps will pretty much only allow for basic web surfing. And when we say basic, think about watching that loading icon again and again – every time you load a new page. Oh, and you can forget about any type of video streaming which requires a bare minimum of 5 Mbps for service. So, if you like to watch shows or movies on Hulu or Netflix, be careful about signing up for DSL service.

Okay, so how much speed do you really need? Well that depends on what you are doing. Speeds of up to 6 Mbps (up to 4 times faster than the standard 1.5 Mbps DSL) will give you all the power you need for email and web surfing including audio and SD/HD video streaming. At the end of the day, 6 Mbps will pretty much get you wherever you want to go.

So you may be asking yourself why would I ever need a higher speed service? Internet service of up to 12 or 24 Mbps will give you the same great options, but it will deliver the content to you up to 2 or 4 times faster, respectively. This means you spend less time downloading, and more time enjoying! Faster speeds also make it easier for the whole family to enjoy the Internet at the same time. With speeds up to 12 or 24 Mbps, every family member can stream their own favorite show or movie at the same time without getting bogged down. Pretty cool, huh?

Speed is definitely a major factor to consider when choosing an Internet service or provider. Make sure you are getting a level of service that will meet your needs without holding you back from all the Internet has to offer.

Now that you are up-to-speed so to speak, let’s talk about reliability.

Reliability (or signal strength) is equally as important as speed, because of course speed means nothing if you don’t have a connection!

When it comes to signal reliability, the way a signal is provided can significantly increase – or decrease – its reliability.

For example, DSL signal strength is variable, meaning not every DSL customer can expect the same level of reliability. Since DSL is carried over a copper phone line, if you are close to the provider’s service location (or central office) you’ll probably get a decent signal most of the time. But if you are located further away from the central office you may not even be receiving the speeds you are paying for. Think of it like sound; when you are close to the source you can hear it well, but as you move farther away, you hear less and less.

On the other hand, cable Internet is carried over advanced fiber optic cables. Due to the sophisticated nature of fiber optics, a signal travels along down the line with nearly zero signal loss so everyone experiences equal signal strength, no matter how far they are from the provider’s location. So, it’s really all about better technology. Fiber is a more superior and capable technology when compared to DSL service. It is by nature more reliable so everyone can receive the fastest Internet speeds.

Well, there are the facts! If you have additional questions or would like more information about cable Internet service, the Northland team is happy to assist you. Just stop by one of our local offices and ask to experience cable Internet for yourself.