Fiber vs. Cable vs. DSL – What you Need to Know

The average consumer has no idea of the differences between cable, DSL and fiber optic internet access. This is quite understandable because most users are only concerned about the end result. The truth is that while all can provide you with high-speed capabilities, these services are very distinct and their differences could be the determining factor in which type of internet access you choose. This article will closely examine this hotly contested battle to help you better determine which is right for your needs.

DSL:

A Digital Subscriber Line or DSL connection, uses the existing copper wire of your phone line to deliver high speed internet access. While not as fast as cable, this type of connection is incredibly faster than dial-up and suits the needs of most home users just fine. On top of being suitably fast, this type of connection also tends to be notably less expensive than cable, which is the main reason it has became such a popular option so quickly. One critical factor that will impact your decision on DSL is the distance between your home or office residence and the provider’s central office. The further you are from the main line, the weaker the signal, and the slower the connection. With that being said, DSL is not as widely available as cable so you will need to inquire with your local phone company regarding availability.

Cable:

Though often confused with fiber, cable utilizes the coaxial cable that connects to your television set. In contrast to DSL, the quality of a cable connection does not depend on distance so your speed is guaranteed regardless. However, unlike DSL, which runs on a dedicated line, cable connections are typically shared amongst your neighbors, making it a slightly less secure option. As far as speed goes, cable access range from about 3 to 10 Mbps, which is essentially 3 to 4 times faster than DSL. Keeping in mind that this speed is reflected in the price, you should expect to pay a lot more for cable service.

Fiber:

Provided by companies such as AT&T, Qwest and Verizon, fiber optic offers many advantages over conventional copper cable lines. It is able to transmit data much faster over greater distances and because the cable is smaller in diameter and weighs less, it makes an ideal alternative for a wide variety of cabling solutions. Since the conductor is glass and cannot generate electricity, fiber is immune to all sorts of interference. This means that it can come in direct contact with high-voltage electrical equipment, power lines and lightning, all while still putting out a superior performance. Because fiber optic cables cost less to maintain, the price for service tends to be much less than cable and very competitive with DSL. The major downside to fiber is that service is only available in a few markets, so there is no guarantee that you will be able to find it.

Summary

Choosing between cable, DSL and fiber all depends on your needs. If you only need to use the internet casually or want to save money, DSL is probably the best option. This allows you to use the net at quality speeds without breaking the bank for it. Fiber would make the best choice for obtaining the fastest possible speed. The hardest part may be finding service in your area. If you want a tried and true solution with a super-fast connection, cable would be the way to go. It is much easier to find but also the most expensive option by far. There really is no wrong choice as all three can provide you with high-speed access that ensures an optimal internet experience.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Ingersoll January 14, 2012 at 10:04 am

What about fibre optics vs cable for tv and phone? Will I be able to get the same channels at comparable or lower price from Bell Aliant that I currently get from Cable?

Judy Ratliff March 28, 2012 at 11:42 am

Since you don’t need a modem using fiber optics, how does the fiber optics cable connect to your computer or router? Does it connect to some box mounted on the side of your house, then via a cable with a RJ-45 ethernet connection, connect to your computer?

Kristi June 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm

What this didn’t list was Wireless Fiber option. An inexpensive option when fiber or cable is not in your area. Average T1 line can cost you about $300 – $700 where a wireless fiber connection will cost you about $179 a month. This service is also known as fixed wireless.

Dave December 27, 2012 at 10:47 pm

This article isn’t very accurate. First of all, DSL is generally more expensive than cable. Cable also offers much higher download speeds than listed (I’m currently on a 28Mb/s download speed plan, but am actually getting 45Mb/s on the worst of days). Furthermore, cable ISPs typically offer their services using fiber optic cables, so categorizing “Fiber” as a separate service really doesn’t make much sense.

Andrew January 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Cheaper then cable? Not here in Canada. Bell Aliant in New Brunswick Canada charges much more then cable.

Adam January 31, 2013 at 12:37 pm

what dave says is correct. i pay for 30mb/s and get 60 usually with my cable provider. also fiber optic here is only offering 10mb/s and is quite a bit higher than what the regular cable is . the only advantage i see is that where our cable internet is 30mb/s down and 4mb/s up . the fiber is 10/10. so it would be better for streaming video and stuff like that . but not for downloading large files. dsl is a dying service. and i would only have it if i couldnt get anything else.

Tim May 7, 2013 at 5:40 pm

As others have said this article is very misleading. My cable connection is 60/15 and my cable company offers all the way up to 150mbps connection for home let alone business which is FAR higher then the 10mbps speed this article claims.

Jon November 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Tim – Your Cable internet is probably using Fiber Optics. A lot of Cable actually uses it now. There’s now way plain cable will be that fast.

Marshall April 24, 2014 at 11:23 am

Agreed, this article is severely lacking on details and has several glaring errors. So too are many comments above that are incorrect.

I have never had DSL, but I’ve had friends who had the service and a major complaint is high ping times and latency. Every power user that I know that has tried DSL has ditched it a few months later.

I had cable internet from Cocks Communications for over 15 years. Generally the service is very good and speeds have increased over the years – along with prices unfortunately. However, it is a broadband shared network at the local distribution in your neighborhood so you wind up sharing a smaller chunk of bandwidth with your neighbors. Cable providers promote “boosting” capability which is a gimmick joke, as it is highly limited to file sizes and time. Security is a non-issue so don’t know why that was mentioned at all. Cable providers do use fiber. Anyone who has been on cable internet access has experienced the dreaded “everyone just got home” hit to bandwidth. When folks get home they get on their computers and telephones that run on VOIP and suck the available bandwidth dry for everyone attached to that trunk. There is a huge difference between “fiber to the home” and fiber for big pipe bandwidth distro to the local CO that is then distributed over Coax to your neighborhood by cable providers. So be very careful touting your cable provider using fiber. Nonsense. All providers use fiber. How FAR does it go? to a distro box in your neighborhood or just to the local CO two miles from your house?

http://www.multichannel.com/news/cable-operators/cox-should-disclose-powerboost-limitation-ad-group/329294

I have fiber to the home. The fiber literally ends at a switch attached to the side of my house where it is converted to ethernet. That is the best current long term solution to growing bandwidth requirements of internet users. Google is a big player in this, but there are other local providers like Zona Comm that are growing market share with fiber to the home.

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