Choosing the right broadband format is often the difference between staring at buffering icons or playing a YouTube video on one monitor while playing an online game on another without issues. After we collectively hung up on dial-up,, there have been just a few connection types to consider—cable or DSL chief among them. Find out which of these suits your needs best.
What Is DSL Internet?
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) uses established telephone infrastructure to transmit signals. When it comes to broadband internet, the majority of people—about 60%—have DSL. Because it uses old telephone copper wiring, DSL’s traffic is not shared with other users.
DSL also has a subtype called asymmetric DSL (ADSL), which is the most common form of broadband internet. It’s called asymmetric because the download speed is up to 10 times faster than the upload speed. This makes perfect sense when you consider that the vast majority of people are consumers of content, not creators. Therefore, they need a higher download speed to consume (downstream) instead of create (upstream) content. Unlike ADSL, regular DSL has relatively equal download and upload speeds. However, for both, your internet speed also depends on how far you are from the nearest ISP node.
Who Is DSL Good For?
(A)DSL has become so widely popular for a reason. It is the cheapest and most accessible form of broadband internet. Where there is a copper phone line, there is an opportunity to set up DSL internet. In Canada, the cost of the cheapest DSL internet with limited traffic and flat rate internet with unlimited traffic is CAD$60 and CAD$80, respectively.
If we take Netflix as a measuring stick, with its minimum recommended broadband internet at 1.5 Mbps, DSL offers three times as much under the minimum package. Nowadays, the average is even higher than that, at 20 Mbps, which allows you to watch online movies at full HD (1920 × 1080) resolution without any buffering issues. If you wanted to enjoy 4K content on your brand-new TV, you would have to have a consistent minimum speed of 25 Mbps.
In short, DLS internet is a solid option for smaller households—up to three persons.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The biggest advantage DSL has over cable internet is that you are the only user on the telephone line you are subscribed to. This means that if every user in the neighbourhood jumped to watch a 4K video at the same time, your internet speed would not suffer. The same cannot be said of cable internet, which shares bandwidth with your local area.
However, on average, DSL has much lower download and upload speeds than cable internet. Depending on your region, the difference can go up to 10 times in favour of cable.
What Is Cable Internet?
Cable internet uses specialized infrastructure via underground coaxial cables. These cables are usually placed by the largest cable company in the region, and the smaller cable companies pay the larger company a fee to access the infrastructure. As a dedicated system, cable internet offers much higher speeds than DSL, up to a theoretical maximum of 1,000 Mbps.
In comparison, DSL rarely reaches a maximum higher than 100 Mbps. However, the trick is to live in an area in which cable internet has already been laid out. This is no problem for urban zones, but rural ones are still in need of such advanced infrastructure. The cost of cable is relatively the same as DSL—between CAD$60 and $100, depending on which TV/mobile bundle you choose.
Who Is Cable Internet Good For?
Considering that it offers up to 10 times faster speeds than DSL, it is an ideal solution for large households in which multiple people are heavy internet users. For example, if you have two parents on their computers watching 4K movies, a son playing online games, and a daughter watching non-stop TikTok videos, each person would have a smooth internet experience with 50 Mbps speed.
This speed multiplied by four would be 200 Mbps for the whole household through a local Wi-Fi network provided by the cable company. While cable speeds can reach up to 1000 Mbps, this is not the case with upload speeds, which, on average, top at just 50 Mbps. This would be enough for medium-sized video conferences but not for video streaming on multiple platforms. It also bears keeping in mind that, in practice, cable internet is rarely available above 500 Mbps.
In that case, fibre internet would be an ideal solution, as it offers the maximum of what is possible to provide with a commercial-grade internet solution. Of course, this also makes fibre the most expensive and rarest option. When it comes to Canadian internet service providers for all three options—DSL, cable, and fibre—Rogers, Shaw, Telus, and Videotron are the most favourably rated ISPs across various internet surveys.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Because you connect to cable via nodes in your neighbourhood, the connection is not direct to your home as it is with DSL internet. This means that the cable suffers from slower speeds during peak usage periods. As a result, you may or may not notice any issues, depending on which speed package you opt for and how many people are connected to the same cable node.
Differences between the DSL Modem and Cable Internet
To recap, all the differences mentioned so far are as follows:
- DSL has a maximum download speed of 100 Mbps (usually 50 Mbps), which is largely dependent on your distance from the nearest ISP station.
- Cable has 5–10 times the maximum download speed of DSL at 500–1000 Mbps.
- Cable’s bandwidth during the day depends on the load from other users. In contrast, DSL speed is consistent because it uses old telephone wiring that is directly connected to your home.
- Cable often comes bundled with TV/mobile packages, offering the best bang for your monthly buck.
- Cable is better for larger households and heavy internet users, while DSL is good for smaller households with moderate internet usage.
If you are looking for the best internet solution possible, fibre internet is the most optimal one if you can find it in your area. It uses optical cables, which are superior to both copper (DSL) and coaxial (cable), and it offers consistent speeds of 1000 Mbps for download and 250 Mbps for upload. Fibre is also within the same monthly price range at an average of CAD$81 per month.
Which Technology Is Best for You?
Because DSL and cable use two distinct types of connections, it would be wise to test them both out first. For example, one or the other might offer promotional installation or a free three-to-six-month trial with no contractual obligations. Considering the importance of additional factors that exist beyond the figures on paper—distance and node load—that would be the optimal course of action.
Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with DSL if you have up to three people in a household. For low latency and high internet speed at a number higher than that, a slightly more expensive cable internet would be a better option. In other words, if you have more than three devices streaming at the same time, go with cable. If you have fewer than 3, go with DSL.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Have DSL and Cable Internet in the Same House?
Yes, if you have the technical requirements for both, but usually only from two different internet service providers. This way, if your source of income depends on a reliable internet connection, you can’t go wrong with two types of connections for redundancy!
Is Cable More Reliable Than DSL?
If by reliable you mean faster, then cable is more reliable. They do, however, offer the same reliability in terms of connection interruption, as both cables are usually laid underground.
Is DSL Faster Than Cable Internet?
No. Cable is, on average, 5–10 faster than DSL. However, DSL has a consistent speed, independent of the number of users in your neighbourhood tapping into the internet at the same time.
Do I Need a DSL Filter?
Because DSL uses old copper wiring tech, DSL filters have been developed to clean up the signal so that there is no interference between the devices connecting to the same line. Therefore, if you were still using a home telephone service, you would need a DSL filter installed on every device connected to the line to avoid interference.
If you only use a smartphone in your home for all your calling needs, then you don’t need a DSL filter.