Is DSL Really that Slow

If you're considering your Internet connection options, don't be quick to overlook DSL. TV commercials that paint DSL service as slow aren't telling you the whole story.

DSL Is Slower, Right?
The first thing to understand about speed ratings for Internet connections is that they're largely mythical. DSL advertises speeds of up to 3 Mbps (megabytes per second) for downloading and 128 Kbps (kilobytes per second) for uploads. Cable advertises speeds of up to 6 Mbps for uploads and 728 Kbps for downloads, although most cable providers cap downloads at 128 Kbps.

Notice the words "up to" when you read the marketing copy. The speed measurements are theoretically possible but highly unlikely in the real world. If everyone else on your network stops using the Internet you might get those speeds. Practically, your speeds will usually be lower than what's advertised, somtimes significantly so.

Speed Limits on the Web
What causes speeds to be less than advertised? For DSL, it's a question of distance. When you access the Web, you're going through a data center at your DSL provider. DSL runs through phone lines, which are made of very inefficient copper wire. The further your location is from the DSL data center, the longer it takes for uploads and downloads, because it takes the electrical signals more time to get to you.

Cable doesn't suffer from the same distance problems because it uses coaxial cables and fiber optic trunks that are much more efficient. However, cable speed slows down greatly when there are a large number of users on the same network. During peak times in late afternoon and early evening, your cable Internet connection could run at much lower speeds than it will late at night or early in the morning.

Is DSL Right for You?
DSL is often significantly cheaper than a cable Internet connection, but it can be significantly slower. To find out if DSL is the best choice for you, talk to your neighbors and find out what type of Internet connection they have. If they're using DSL and they're happy with the speed, then you know you're close enough to the data center for it to be effective.

If you live in a particularly remote area, DSL probably isn't the best choice. If DSL and cable offer the same speeds in your area, which is fairly common, you can choose a service based on price.

Your Web habits could also influence your decision. If you use the Web only for e-mail and browsing text and images, you don't need a ton of download speed. If, however, you like to stream videos and download large files, the added bandwidth of cable makes a big difference in performance.

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