DSL vs. Cable

As I talked about in the blog “What are my options”, as a small business customer looking to spend less than $150 a month, your options are usually limited to Cable, DSL or Wireless. In this blog, I will contrast the differences and benefits of DSL and cable.

Cable Internet

Cable internet is an Asymmetrical (download speed is faster than upload speed) Broadband access that makes use of Coaxial Cable. This is the same coaxial cable that is used to provide your home TV service. Coaxial cable as a medium for television services was introduced in the 1950’s and most of the physical cabling in the ground is still in use today. Given that Cable's roots are in TV, consider that most businesses didn’t have a need for Cable TV service, thus the physical cabling in the ground was never extended to businesses, only homes.

In the late 2000s, cable companies like Comcast, Time Warner (Now Spectrum) and Charter have been working feverishly to extend the coaxial cable “plant" to businesses. Since then, the cable companies have spent billions of dollars extending HFC (Hybrid Fiber and Coax) networks to offices across the country. The result is a very fast and low-cost internet option for businesses. Today, most businesses can get speeds of up to 250Mbps at a very low price. Cable companies also offer phone and TV bundles that further reduce the monthly price. It’s important to note that, the cable companies efforts to make service available to businesses is ongoing, as of this writing, not all businesses have coaxial cable available to them.

Downside of Cable

Cable services are shared with your neighboring business. The coaxial cable in your office connect to a piece of equipment in your neighborhood that could also serve dozens of neighboring businesses, this means, the quality of your service is directly influenced by the behavior of your neighbors. Think of this in terms of a water pipe in your home, if you have a 1 pipe pushing 10 gallons/minute of water to your home, one person taking a shower will have plenty of water pressure, now add 10 people taking a shower at the same time, the water pressure will diminish significantly. Cable internet works the same way.

The Future of Cable

As of this writing, the Cable companies are rolling out what’s known as DOCSIS 3.0, which will pave the way for speeds up to 1Gbps speed. While today, most businesses don’t need anywhere near 1Gbps, our insatiable thirst for bandwidth continues to grow with new services and business applications. See this great video on 1Gbps services.


DSL (or Digital Subscriber Line) internet is an Asymmetrical (download speed is faster than upload speed) Broadband access that makes use of the telephone companies copper lines. DSL came onto the business scene in the late 90’s as a replacement to the now laughable slow dial-up. You may remember the ads, "DSL is 10x faster than dial-up". DSL shares the same copper lines that have provided telephone service to businesses for the last hundred years. DSL uses separate frequencies to provide Broadband over the top of phone lines without affecting the voice calls themselves. DSL's limitation is and has always been, distance from the central office link Telephone Exchange. A central office is the phone company's central Hub in your community, every business and residential phone line (Copper Line) terminate at this building. A central office can service hundreds or even thousands of businesses in your community. Today, in non-fiber markets, DSL speeds are generally slower than their cable competitors.

The Future of DSL

Telephone companies, like AT&T, are working to improve the limitation of DSL by using technology like fiber-to-the-node or fiber to the business, Over the last several years the telephone companies have solved DSL’s limitations by augmenting their copper networks with fiber optic cables. As an example, AT&T Fiber is built out to 51 markets and forecasted to grow to 67 by 2019. In AT&T Fiber markets, the telephone companies have become a very strong competitor to the cable company in terms of speed and price.

So which is better? The answer is - it depends on where you are and which “flavor” of services are available. In most cases the local cable company will offer a higher speed at a lower cost, however, if fiber is built out to your business, the local Telephone Company can offer a very competitive service as well.

More info here: Broadband types