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What is DSL?

Of the many internet connection options that you have, DSL, or digital subscriber line, is one of the oldest of the Internet technologies. It’s the predecessor to dialup, and is superior in almost every way. It’s the original high speed internet.

Like dialup, DSL uses the phone line to transfer data. However, unlike dialup, DSL operates at a much higher frequency, so the data doesn’t interfere with the voice data, meaning that you can use the phone and internet at the same time. In most cases you’ll use a filter too, supplied by the ISP, to separate the voice from internet data to prevent one bleeding into the next.

DSL is fast, too – much, much faster than dial up. DSL speeds begin at 128 Kbps, which is over twice that of dialup, and are as high as 8 Mbps, which is over 1100x faster than dialup. This is competitive with entry to small level cable internet service, too, both in terms of speed and price.

How DSL Works

How DSL works is pretty simple –

Your DSL service provider will give you a special modem that only works for DSL connections, and in many cases only their specific connection (in other words it’s not compatible with other ISPs). You plug your computer into the modem, and the modem plugs into a splitter to separate the voice from internet data as I mentioned above.

The lines will run from your wall to outside to the ISP hub. The lines that are used to send data back and forth are, in most cases, ADSL lines. This means Asynchronous DSL, which in English means that one side of the line (download) is bigger than the other side (upload). The end result is fast downloads and slow to moderate speed uploads (that’s what most people care about anyway).

One important thing to note is that the farther away your connection is from the ISP hub, the worse the quality and speed of your connection will be. There is a cap of 18,000 feed (3+ miles) that service providers won’t exceed. So that means if you’re on the far end of the connection, you’ll have poorer service than those that are closer, and if you’re out of range you won’t be able to have DSL access at all.

Equipment You Need for DSL Internet

You don’t need a lot of equipment for DSL internet. Most of it will be supplied by your ISP anyway.

DSL Modem – This is a special modem for DSL internet only. The internet provider usually supplies this, and sometimes the router too. Keep in mind that one modem might not work with other ISPs, so if you change services you’ll probably need to switch. Also worth noting is that the modem from the ISP is usually leased, so it might be worth looking into buying your own.

Line Splitter – The line splitter plugs into your phone line, and has two connections – one for your phone and the other for the DSL. This separates the data from one connection to the next, which helps to speed things up.

You don’t have to have an existing phone service, but you will need to have the phone jack and wiring. If you don’t have phone service you’ll be given a dry loop or naked DSL line, which is essentially phone access without the dial tone.

Internet service providers will usually send out a self install kit which will include the modem, splitter and install disk. You can install everything yourself (pretty easy), or pay someone to come out and install it for you for a fee – usually $50 to $200.

Pros and Cons to DSL Internet – Dialup vs. DSL vs. Cable

There are both pros and cons to DSL internet, especially when compared to dialup and cable internet connections.

DSL Pros

  • DSL is much faster than dialup, and for not much more money. For the price it’s competitive with entry level cable internet.
  • DSL is cheap — $15 to $30 will get you 1.5 to 8 Mbps.
  • You don’t have to share your internet connection with your neighbors like you do cable. So you don’t have to worry so much about “peak usage periods” and your internet slowing down.

DSL Cons

  • The quality of your DSL service heavily depends on the distance from you and the internet service provider’s hub. The farther away you are, the poorer and/or slower the internet connection. The maximum limit that ISPs have the cables run is about 18,000 feet, or a little over 3 miles. Many ISPs don’t even push the maximum due to the lack of quality at the very end.
  • DSL service isn’t available everywhere, which goes in hand in hand with the distance problem. You probably won’t find a DSL provider stationed out in the boonies, so if that’s where you live you probably won’t be able to get DSL service out there.