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DSL and Broadband

Understanding the difference between DSL and Broadband

If you've ever been curious about the difference between D.S.L and Broad/band connections, we're here to tell you.

Before jumping into specifics, it's important to understand that internet communications, whether from D.S.L, Broad/band, T1, fiber-optic or the good old 56k dial up, all come from analog signals originating from your service provider. These signals travel through wires and eventually get converted to digital signals – zeroes and ones – at your house through a device called a modem.

How DSL works:

If you remember back to the old days of AOL in the 1990's, you may remember picking up the phone while someone else was online and hearing that annoying screech. The reason is because in those days, internet communication was generally sent through the phone line and shared the same frequency channel used for voice and regular phone calls. Eventually, internet providers engineered a way to reserve this voice channel for taking calls while transmitting internet data at higher frequency channels using the same wire. This allowed both signals to exist simultaneously and while increasing internet speeds. This was the birth of D.S.L.

How broadband works:

Broad/band works very similarly to the method described above with the main difference being that information is sent through a different line – the coaxial lines used for cable TV. For cable companies, reserving frequencies specifically for internet data was a no-brainer: whereas D.S.L providers essentially had to invent new higher frequency channels, television stations were already modulated at different frequencies, making the leap to broad/band internet that much simpler.

Differences between D.S.L and Broad/band:

  • D.S.L uses phone lines while broad/band uses coaxial cables
  • Broad/band has technically higher bandwidth, but shared network usage slows this down
  • Uploads are slower in AD.S.L
  • Bandwidth in D.S.L degrades based on distance from the switching station.

Beyond these similarities, broad/band and D.S.L also have a few crucial differences. For one, limitations in the signal frequencies that telephone lines are able to transmit currently cap D.S.L speeds at around 24mbps. Meanwhile, broad/band connections can have theoretical limits greatly exceeding 200mbps. Asynchronous Data Subscriber Lines (AD.S.L), the most common form of D.S.L connection, makes up for this bandwidth gap by devoting more data channels to downloading rather than uploading. However, this slows down upload speeds. Lastly, even though broad/band has theoretically higher transmission speeds, their networks operate on shared bandwidth connections. This means that geographically proximate users share the same bandwidth, and downloads may be slower during times of high congestion. D.S.L connections are not shared meaning that the speed the service provider offers is more likely what you get.

While the debate over whether D.S.L or Broad/band is better continues to rage on, you can take comfort in knowing that you now understand the key differences.

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