Essence of the DSL vs. cable Internet debate
While not exactly at the level of the Red Sox and Yankees or the Hatfield's and the McCoy's, the long standing debate regarding the better broadband Internet connection – DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or cable Internet – has raged for years.
Both DSL and cable Internet deliver high-speed Internet connections. The "need for speed" becomes ever more important as the volume of information available through the Internet grows on a daily basis. The size and complexity of the pages, files, and graphics available from the Internet require high level speed to receive this data quickly.
There is no place in the debate for even the fastest dial-up Internet connection, as the speed differential is too great to promote a meaningful comparison.
Security is another of the essential debate components. While Cable connections sometimes win the speed race, DSL may win the basic security debate. DSL utilizes a "dedicated" rather than "shared" connection, so DSL is generally considered more secure than cable Internet. Cable uses a "shared" connectivity, which means that your files could potentially be compromised by others who have access to that shared connection.
Differences between DSL and cable Internet
The means of access, as noted above, is a difference between DSL and Cable Internet service. Speed and security are the important issues when comparing DSL Internet service to Cable.
The speed that you enjoy at your home or office with a Cable Internet connection tends to be rather consistent. Your online transmissions, similar to your TV reception, are coming through the same basic cables that are used by everyone in the neighborhood, so consistency is often a positive feature. DSL Internet speed, however, can vary widely.
Inconsistency in DSL speed can be affected by your distance from your landline telephone company's central office. In theory, the closer that you are to this switching point, the faster your Internet service will be. As you get further away from the closest switching point, your speed tends to decline.
Whether or not you actuallynotice the increased or decreased speed – as it may be only in milliseconds – depends on how closely you are paying attention. Over time, however, you might notice that your upload/download speed is faster or slower than that of other family members, friends, or co-workers.
These different access methods may also affect security issues. Remember, your local Cable company has strung miles and miles of coaxial cable throughout your city to bring TV service to wide areas and large numbers of people. Signals are sent from their local office or other switching points carrying all TV networks in their system. Using your home tuner, you choose which networks to watch at various times.
Cable Internet service is sent along these same physical lines. Therefore, everyone in your area is also accessing the Internet through these cables. Your receipt and transmission of data is carried side-by-side with others using the Internet at the same time. While the system works quite well, this type of shared connection could potentially pose some security threats.
DSL Internet proponents will proudly tell you that this potential negative situation does not exist with their service. Your transmissions are carried on a dedicated line from your PC to the landline telephone central office, where heavy security will speed them on their way to the website you're visiting.
Because of this condition, there are those that believe that, while Cable Internet access is fine for individuals, a business may be taking a risk and should probably use DSL.
How does the new FiOS service affect the debate?
FiOS lines are extremely fast and interference free as compared to standard DSL and Cable service. Why? Instead of using electromagnetic pulses to transmit data along telephone or coaxial cable lines, FiOS transmits light pulses. As you might imagine, the speed of light is quite a bit faster than electromagnetic signals.
Light pulses also are not subject to interference from external sources, unlike electromagnetic transmissions. FiOS Internet service is designed to give you all the security benefits of DSL at download/upload speeds greater than Cable. Although it's still not available everywhere, if the service comes to your area, you should compare it to DSL and Cable.
DSL or cable?
Both DSL and cable Internet can be a good option – far superior to dial-up Internet service - for individuals and businesses alike. Neither choice is perfect, of course, but both, in general, deliver high-speed, reliable Internet service. Reliability and speed can vary from location to location, so ask around.
Find out if neighbors have had any connectivity or speed issues with their Internet service. Cost is typically comparable and both types sometimes offer "specials" that might better fit your budget.
See also: Broadband Internet comparison chart