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Business DSL vs. Cable Internet

Updated Nov 08, 2023

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The quality, speed and cost of internet connections vary from supplier to supplier. Many of these differences come down to the kind of access and services the provider offers. 

Two of the most popular ways to get online are business DSL and cable. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but which internet type is better for your business?

What is business DSL internet?

DSL, which stands for “digital subscriber line,” utilizes the same landlines used for phone calls. Wherever there are landlines, there can also be DSL internet. As a cost-effective and widely accessible means of internet access, many companies still choose DSL. 

However, DSL connection speeds can be very slow, especially for business purposes. Although DSL was a vast improvement over the original dial-up internet, it’s now slower than other connection types. DSL has download speeds ranging from 3 Mbps to 100 Mbps, so it will support only relatively basic business internet requirements. This means that DSL is probably not the right choice for businesses that rely on data and software.

Did You Know?Did you know

Although the technology has gotten better, how far your business was from the telecommunication company’s central exchange was a big issue when DSL first launched. The farther away you were, the slower the speed was. Although this issue still exists, new technologies, like DSLAM boxes, have improved internet speeds.

What is cable internet?

Cable internet uses coaxial cables, not phone lines, to get the internet to a user’s location. This means it is also widely accessible. If you can connect your office to the cable network, you can also connect it to cable internet.

That’s good news for businesses that need faster connections than DSL. While cable internet tends to cost more, it typically beats DSL in dollars per Mbps, especially on the higher end of the spectrum.

Cable is also more cost-effective and accessible than fiber-optic internet. While fiber-optic might have the edge in speed, cable internet might be a more realistic and affordable option for many small business owners.

Cable vs. DSL speed

Cable internet is faster than DSL, but how much faster? And what does “Mbps” mean? Here’s a breakdown of how internet speed works, and how cable and DSL differ.

Megabits per second, or Mbps, describes download or upload speeds. When you see this term advertised with an internet plan (usually touting how fast it is), it usually refers to download speed. For example, you might encounter a DSL internet plan that offers a download speed of 10 Mbps.

To better understand what numeric values like 10 Mbps stand for, it’s important to gauge what can be done at those speeds. For an internet connection providing 10 Mbps download speeds, a user of a single device should have no trouble streaming video, listening to music, using social media or playing games. For businesses, this means running lightweight cloud software and browsing the web.

However, the number of devices connected to the network (and what those devices are doing) matters; 10 Mbps might be sufficient for one or two devices, but as your business grows and you add employees with workstations and their own mobile devices, that 10 Mbps might not be enough.

Considering DSL is capable of 100 Mbps, it is probably suitable for many small businesses whose employees browse the web and use basic software, even if a couple of employees use more than one device.

However, businesses that rely on cloud-based data capture and contextualization, such as those heavily dependent on Amazon Web Services, would likely need higher internet speeds. For these purposes, a business might need more than 1,000 Mbps, which DSL cannot provide. Cable internet can reach those speeds, and it can do it for a lower cost than fiber-optic internet can.

FYIDid you know

As a rule, DSL download speeds are much faster than DSL upload speeds. This can cause problems for companies that use cloud apps and send large files. Generally, cable internet offers faster upload speeds than DSL does.

Cable vs. DSL pricing

If cable internet is so much faster than DSL, why is DSL still around? A big reason is price: DSL is simply more cost-effective than cable internet. Because it can achieve useful speeds like 100 Mbps, many small businesses find it suitable for their purposes.

Let’s look at how DSL and cable internet differ on four important criteria:

Criteria

DSL internet

Cable internet

Monthly cost

$33.95-$69.95

$50-$80

Speed capability

Up to 100 Mbps, although Xfinity has achieved 235 Mbps

Up to 1,000 Mbps, although Xfinity now offers 2,000+ Mbps

Contracts

Month to month

One to two years

Suitable for

Smaller businesses

Businesses more dependent on internet access

DSL generally costs anywhere from $33.95 to $69.95 per month, depending on the location of the business and the provider. That price is usually stable, unlike other types of internet access (including cable internet). However, if you plan to expand to more than a few devices, DSL internet might not be your long-term answer.

Cable internet can cost anywhere from $50 per month, with pricing dependent on the speeds the internet service provider (ISP) offers. On the faster end, where cable internet reaches download speeds of 1,000 Mbps and beyond, businesses might pay $75 or more per month.

Cable internet often comes with a service agreement, generally with a one- or two-year commitment. Sometimes, these service agreements include promotional pricing for a certain period of time, like three or six months, which results in a rate hike when the promotion ends. This is less common with DSL internet, so businesses should be aware that the rate they pay initially might not remain the same with their cable ISP.

TipBottom line

If you’re in an area served by multiple cable providers, look out for promotional discounts. In addition, they often offer bundles that include phone lines with your package.

Cable internet or DSL: Which one should I choose?

Determining whether your company would benefit most from cable internet or DSL internet involves examining your business’s needs. Consider the following examples to determine which type of internet might suit your business best.

Choose DSL internet if your business …

  • Has no near-term plans to expand.
  • Does not rely heavily on the internet.
  • Needs the internet only for web browsing and basic software uses.
  • Wants predictable, low-cost pricing.

Choose cable internet if your business …

  • Plans to add more employees and/or devices.
  • Relies on a lot of cloud-based software, cloud hosting and data analytics. [Related article: 10 Tips for Choosing the Right Web Hosting Company]
  • Requires faster internet speeds but doesn’t have access to fiber-optic internet.
  • Can absorb the cost of long-term contracts and rate increases.

Consider how fast your internet speeds need to be to avoid paying too much for bandwidth you won’t use — or, worse, realizing too late that you don’t have enough bandwidth to meet your needs. 

The best business internet providers

Check out our picks for the best business internet service providers offering cable and DSL connectivity.

Cable internet providers

If you’re interested in cable internet for your business, consider these ISPs:

  • Cox: In our review of Cox, we covered the company’s business cable internet plans that offer speeds of up to 940 Mbps.
  • Spectrum: Spectrum’s cable internet service achieved speeds of up to 235 Mbps in recent benchmark tests. Our Spectrum review showed that the company’s service plans include a free modem, have no data caps and lack a long-term-contract requirement.
  • Xfinity: Xfinity has a variety of plans ranging from 50 Mbps to 1,200 Mbps. The service includes a modem, or customers can rent an xFi Gateway modem and router for an additional $15 per month for added network security.

DSL internet providers

If you’re interested in DSL internet for your business, consider these ISPs:

  • Verizon: We share details of this nationwide DSL network and its inclusive installation service in our Verizon High-Speed Internet review.
  • CenturyLink: CenturyLink offers a DSL internet plan that offers up to 100 Mbps and 24-hour customer support.
  • EarthLink: EarthLink offers virtually every type of internet connection, including DSL. With its variety of connection types, the company provides speeds starting at 15 Mbps.
  • Frontier: Although Frontier has its own fiber-optic network, it also offers DSL internet. However, the company has begun restricting its DSL service to residents and businesses in certain rural and suburban areas in Ohio, California, West Virginia, Connecticut, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

Stella Morrison contributed to this article. 

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie
Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Mark Fairlie has written extensively on business finance, business development, M&A, accounting, tax, cybersecurity, sales and marketing, SEO, investments, and more for clients across the world for the past five years. Prior to that, Mark owned one of the largest independent managed B2B email and telephone outsourcing companies in the UK prior to selling up in 2015.
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