What Is DSL Internet? | Learn How It Works Compared With Other Network Options

You may or may not have heard of dial-up internet, which is an older form of internet service providers that uses your existing phone lines to connect you to the internet. You may have also heard of DSL spoken of in relation to dial-up, but what is DSL service? 

DSL is comparable to dial-up in that they both are both phone line internet services, but DSL is like dial-up’s younger sibling that is somehow better than them at everything and makes them feel bad about it. Before you proceed, check out what solid internet speeds are. Below, you will find all the information you need to know about how DSL connections work and whether it is the right internet service for you. As part of that, you’ll want to check out these internet providers reviews to see which ones are available in your area.

What Is DSL?


So, what does DSL mean for internet? Well, DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line, but that doesn’t exactly explain the question “what is DSL” or “what is DSL connection” now does it? What even is a Digital Subscriber Line? Internet DSL, like dial-up, provides internet through phone service, but unlike dial-up which would place a call to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to connect you, DSL operates on a higher frequency than phone calls and uses digital information rather than analog which means it won’t interrupt your telephone services.


The internet service provided by a DSL technology network can come in two varieties, Symmetrical and Asymmetrical. A symmetrical DSL service will have equal bandwidth or upload speeds and download speeds, whereas an asymmetrical DSL service has a lot more download and does not have faster upload speeds. The reason these two types of DSL exist is because most people download a lot more information than they upload, which makes an asymmetrical system far more practical. 


For home use, you are more likely to get more usage out of an asymmetric DSL connection because most home users rarely upload anything to the internet but are downloading very frequently. When you are streaming videos online, you are downloading data continuously, but most likely the only times you are uploading things to the internet is when you post a picture on social media or submit a file for work.


what is dsl

A symmetrical DSL internet system is more targeted toward a business than a home user because file sharing is much more prevalent in that kind of environment. Symmetrical systems also have a tendency to operate at much slower speeds than your average asymmetrical system which is another reason they are less than ideal for a home environment. You would have to pay more for less.

How Does DSL Works?

When you have a telephone communications line connected to your home, it usually takes the form of two copper wires through which data will pass. The thing is, those little copper wires can actually carry a lot more data than just phone conversations, so DSL uses that extra data capacity to transmit the data required for the internet using the telephone wires. This doesn’t have any effect on your ability to place a call over those DSL lines because it uses different frequencies than the phone line typically does for conversation.

Once you connect to the internet using this system, the data will transmit over the phone line and to your ISP. Unfortunately, this system comes with a few problems. Because of how this system functions, if you are far away from your ISP’s central office then your speeds will be much slower, and this problem gets exponentially worse the farther away you are. This means that, depending on where you live, you might have no choice but to have very slow internet speeds.

One of the great things about DSL internet providers are they are available almost everywhere, so if you live in a rural area that doesn’t have a cable or fiber internet option for high-speed internet, then you can usually get DSL service. Any place that has a telephone network, which is pretty much everywhere, can have DSL service as well.

read on about dsl and what it is

How Fast Is DSL Internet?


DSL is a slower internet option than either cable or fiber, but it can still get pretty fast. The average DSL internet speed is between 1 and 35 megabits per second (Mbps), but some ISPs offer much faster download speeds that go up to 100 Mbps. This doesn’t even begin to compare to the higher-tier speeds of cable and fiber optic which can go up to 1,000 Mbps but it is still fast enough for most uses.


One of the benefits of having a DSL connection is that it is specifically for you. If you were to use a cable connection you would have to share bandwidth with all of your neighbors and may get less speed than you are paying for because of it, but with DSL the only people you have to worry about live in your house. For further reading, check out our cable vs DSL review.


One of the downsides of using DSL for your internet service is that your speed is largely based on your proximity to your ISPs central office. If you are far away then your speeds will be lower, but if you are closer then they are likely to be faster. Unfortunately, there is no way to get around this problem except to change where you live, which is not an option that is available to many people.

How Fast Is DSL Internet?

DSL is a slower internet option than either cable or fiber, but it can still get pretty fast. The average DSL internet speed is between 1 and 35 megabits per second (Mbps), but some ISPs offer much faster speeds that go up to 100 Mbps. This doesn’t even begin to compare to the higher-tier speeds of cable and fiber which can go up to 1,000 Mbps but it is still fast enough for most uses. You can go through our fiber vs cable internet review here and DSL or fiber optic guide, as well.

One of the benefits of having a DSL connection is that it is specifically for you. If you were to use a cable connection you would have to share bandwidth with all of your neighbors and may get less speed than you are paying for because of it, but with DSL the only people you have to worry about live in your house.

One of the downsides of using DSL for your internet service is that your speed is largely based on your proximity to your ISPs central office. If you are far away then your speeds will be lower, but if you are closer then they are likely to be faster. Unfortunately, there is no way to get around this problem except to change where you live, which is not an option that is available to many people.

Equipment You Need for DSL Internet


The first thing you will need is a phone line. Even if you don’t have a landline in your home and don’t have any intention of using one, you will still need a phone line connected to your home because that is how DSL connects you to the internet.


You will then need to connect your computer to a DSL modem. If you have had a cable connection before then this will be familiar. This connects your computer to the phone line and is what makes it possible to connect your computer to the internet.

Then you will need a router, which connects to your modem and provides your wireless internet service. Essentially, you are given one internet connection when you purchase internet from an ISP and that is through your modem which can only be connected to via a wired connection. 


If you want Wi-Fi service, you need to connect a wireless router to the modem which will broadcast that connection and allow anything with Wi-Fi capability to connect to it. Sometimes these are built into the modem itself, which makes it easier, but if not you can set it up yourself easily.


If you do decide to have a landline then you will need one more piece of equipment, a splitter or line filter. This is what separates your high speed internet service from your phone service and makes it so you can use both at the same time. It essentially turns one phone jack into two and filters the frequencies available through one of the inputs to only allow phone data.

Pros and Cons to DSL Internet

Is DSL good? There are many pros to going with DSL for your internet service, but there are quite a few cons as well. Some of the pros include not having to share bandwidth with your neighbors, having to spend less money on your internet connection, not needing extra equipment for your internet connection like a satellite internet dish, and its wide availability.

Some of the cons include having generally slower speeds than other broadband internet options and having your speed based on your location in comparison to your ISP. Depending on where you are and what you can afford you might have a difficult time doing things like playing online games or streaming movies, but DSL should serve just fine for all other uses like browsing the internet and interacting with social media.

dsl vs cable for gaming

DSL vs Cable for Gaming


Gaming can be a difficult subject when it comes to internet services because knowing exactly how fast your internet speed needs to be depends on a variety of factors. If you play a lot of online games that require a quick reaction time then you will need much faster internet service, but if you play games that are turn-based then a fast internet is less necessary.


Generally speaking, I would say anything above 25 Mbps is a decent speed for gaming and you should have minimal connection issues or lag, but you still may experience those problems on occasion. As a general rule, faster is better when it comes to gaming so, to be safe, you should get the fastest speed you can afford if you are going to be gaming a lot.

FAQs

1. What is a disadvantage of DSL?

A significant disadvantage of DSL is that its effectiveness is location-dependent. The greater the distance between you and the DSL provider, the less efficient the service will be. If you are more than 18,000 feet from the provider, you may lose service entirely.

2. Is DSL more reliable than cable?

Cable internet is a type of internet that is delivered via a coaxial cable network similar to those used by cable television providers. It is typically faster and more dependable than DSL internet, with a download speed of up to 1,000 megabits per second.

3. Which is better ADSL or DSL?

While DSL is the generic term for Digital Subscriber Line Services, ADSL is one of its variants. Because ADSL allows for faster downloads than uploads, it is referred to as 'asymmetric. Generally, when using the internet, you will download more data than you will upload.

4. Is DSL good for streaming?

Yes. While moderate-speed DSL internet is ideal for browsing and streaming movies and music, if you plan to stream multiple devices concurrently, consider upgrading to a faster package.

5. What is the difference between dial up and DSL?

What is the distinction between DSL and dial-up Internet access? Dial up internet connections are essentially an analog signal transmitted over standard phone lines and translated by computers on both ends. DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is a data transmission service that utilizes standard twisted pair phone cable to transmit digital data using existing telephone lines.

About Lawrence Jung

Lawrence graduated cum laude from Boston University with a B.S. in Journalism. He then started working with The New York Times for 3 years as an editor. Upon their acquisition of online review website the Wire Cutter he became exposed to the digital world of review-style articles and digital content. He was a writer for many tech review products where he developed his expertise in the electronic and PC peripheral space. He quickly got promoted to managing a writing team where he was responsible for training and managing a team of over a dozen writers. After being there for another 3.5 years, Lawrence left in late 2019 to help Dusan create VSS Monitoring, where he could help design and contribute to the site’s content and website’s architecture to develop what he wants to become THE top tech resource online.

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