How is Cable Internet Different from DSL and Fiber?

A Detailed Fiber vs Cable vs DSL Internet Comparison Guide

Three broadband technologies now exist as a result of advancement in the telecommunication industry. These technologies are DSL, Cable, and Fiber-optics. The telecommunication companies use one of these technologies to deliver internet and TV services to your location. What kind of technology is available in your area of residence depends entirely on the infrastructure of the broadband network surrounding your region. Fiber-optics technology is typically a network of cables that are buried underground whereas, the coaxial cables or DSL lines are both usually found on the utility poles around your neighborhood.

What is Cable, DSL, and Fiber Internet Technology?

Since all three of these technologies rely on a network of physical cables and infrastructure to work, it is important to understand the difference between these technologies before you decide which one is available and best for you.

#1. Cable Internet

Cable internet is the broadband technology that delivers the internet and TV service using a coaxial wire/cable, just like the one I get with my Spectrum Internet plans These cables may look similar to the phone lines because they are made of copper yet, they are quite different as the outer material of these wires is different. This combination of material in these cables strengthens the signal capacity of the internet by amplifying its range and travel distance.

#2. DSL

DSL stands for the Digital Subscriber Line. It used to be the most popular broadband technology in the world. Even though it is quite an old system, it is still widely used around the world because of its reliability.

DSL uses the telephone lines that contain copper wires to provide people with internet and TV services, however, the speed is not as fast as that of the cable internet.


Think of the DSL-copper-lined phone wire as a four-lane highway road. Our voice travels through only one lane during a telephonic conversation and the rest of the lanes are used to transmit digital information.

This technology was developed approximately 30 years ago. This network is widespread throughout the world and that is why countless people rely on this infrastructure to get above-average internet speed and TV services.


#3. Fiber-optics

Fiber-optics is the best broadband technology currently available to the world. It delivers the best internet speeds, has the most reliable download/upload speeds, and does not use copper-lined wires.

Instead, it utilizes light signals to transmit information between two points as opposed to the traditionally used electrical signal.

A fiber-optic wire has thin glass strands that are bundled in a cable which allows the data to travel at extremely fast speeds. This internet technology is claimed to transmit data at the speed of light.

That is possible because its cables can carry a signal at its full strength across incredibly long distances without requiring any signal boosters.

How Do They Differ in Speeds?

The difference in speeds of all three of these technologies is remarkable. As discussed already, the fiber-optic cable is the fastest with cable in the mid-range and DSL at the bottom. The following table depicts a clear comparison of the speeds of all three broadband techs.

Broadband TechnologyAverage Speed Range
Fiber-optics250–1000 Mbps
Cable Internet25–500 Mbps
DSL5–30 Mbps

The cable net uses coaxial cables which are closer to the fiber-optic technology. That is why a vast majority of people in urban cities rely on the cable network to get internet and TV services.

The Difference of Cost and Availability

The cost of these technologies is set according to the speeds they can deliver. The details of these differences are as follows.

Fiber-optics

Since the fiber-optics technology can deliver the fastest speeds, it is the most expensive one too. It requires quite a lot of infrastructural changes to equip any residential area with fiber-optic lines. This is also a reason for its hefty price tag as it is not readily available to every household.

Cable Internet

On the other hand, cable internet is the most popular choice among people all over the US because it provides high-speed internet and TV services at affordable rates. Just like I enjoy my Spectrum TV and internet services in an economical price range. Since cable internet technology uses coaxial cables, it does not require a lot of infrastructural changes to make it more accessible for people.

DSL Network

As DSL uses pre-existing telephone lines, the internet service providers do not need to invest any money in infrastructural changes to provide their services to the people. That is why DSL is the cheapest internet service with decent internet speeds.

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