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Business DSL vs. Cable Internet

Stella Morrison
Stella Morrison

What's the difference between business DSL and cable internet, and which one is the right choice for your business?

For most business owners, internet access is a necessity, and when you're shopping around for internet service, there's a lot to consider and research. There are big differences between internet service providers, or ISPs. For example, business DSL and cable internet are common choices, but each option has its advantages and disadvantages. Which one is right for your business?

What is business DSL internet?

DSL stands for digital subscriber line, and it is supported by the same telephone lines that support landlines. It is almost universally available today; if there are phone lines, there is DSL. In fact, 84% of the U.S. population has access to DSL internet, if they choose. As a cost-effective and widely accessible means of internet access, DSL remains a common choice throughout the U.S.

But DSL connection speeds tend to be very slow, especially for business purposes. Although DSL was a clear improvement to dial-up internet, it is limited in the modern era. DSL, with download speeds ranging from 3 Mbps to more than 100 Mbps, is only going to support relatively basic business internet requirements. For businesses that rely on data and software, DSL is probably not going to measure up.

What is cable internet?

Cable internet relies on coaxial cables instead of phone lines to provide an internet connection. This means it is also widely accessible. If a location can be wired for cable, it can support cable internet.

That's good news for businesses that need more speed than what DSL internet connections can provide. While cable internet tends to cost more, it typically beats DSL when it comes to 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

So, 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. 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 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 all doing) matters. 10 Mbps might be sufficient for one or two devices, but as your business grows and you add employees with workstations and mobile devices of their own, that 10 Mbps might not be enough.

Since DSL is capable of exceeding 100 Mbps, it is probably suitable for many small businesses whose employees browse the web and use basic software, even if there are a couple of employees using one or two devices each.

However, for businesses relying on cloud-based data capture and contextualization, such as those heavily reliant on Amazon Web Services, for example, they would likely need more internet speed. For these purposes, a business might need internet speeds exceeding 1,000 Mbps. For that, they need more than DSL. Cable internet can reach those speeds, and it can do it for a lower cost than fiber optic internet.

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. Since it can achieve useful speeds like 100 Mbps, many small businesses find it suitable for their purposes.

DSL generally costs anywhere from $25 to $70 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 on expanding the number of devices connected to and active on the network beyond more than a few, DSL internet might not be your long-term fix.

Cable internet can cost anywhere from $20 to $120 per month, with pricing dependent on the speeds the cable ISP offers. On the faster end of the spectrum, where cable internet reaches download speeds of 1,000 Mbps, businesses can pay closer to $90 per month.

Cable internet often comes with a service agreement, too, generally with a one- or two-year commitment. Sometimes, these service agreements include promotional pricing for a certain period of time ‒ 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 internet provider.

Cable internet or DSL: Which one should I choose?

Determining whether your business would benefit most from a cable internet or DSL internet package involves examining your own needs. Consider the following examples to determine which might suit your business best.

Choose DSL internet if you are a business

  • With no near-term plans to expand
  • That is nonreliant on technology or the internet
  • Only needs internet for web browsing and basic software uses
  • Wants predictable, low-cost pricing

Choose cable internet if you are a business

  • That plans to add more employees and/or devices to your workplace
  • That relies on a lot of cloud-based software, cloud hosting and data analytics
  • Which requires faster internet speeds, but doesn't have access to fiber optic internet
  • Can absorb the cost of long-term contracts and rate increases

Whether one of these circumstances describes your business or you have one of your own, consider how much internet speed your business needs 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.

Cable internet providers

If you're interested in DSL internet for your business, consider these internet service providers:

  • Cox: Cox has high-speed business internet plans, including cable internet plans. Business internet plans with Cox reach up to 940 Mbps. There is also an option to sign a one-year contract, which can save you $10 per month on your internet plan.
  • Spectrum: Spectrum offers high-speed cable internet packages that exceed 100 Mbps and include antivirus software. The plan includes a free modem. There are no data caps or long-term contracts to sign.
  • Xfinity: Xfinity has a variety of plans ranging in speed from 50 Mbps to 1,200 Mbps. The service includes a modem, or customers can purchase an xFi Gateway modem and router for an additional $14 per month for added network security.

DSL internet providers

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

  • Verizon: Verizon offers a nationwide network that is reliable with 99% uptime. Although Verizon offers a fiber optic network, it has packages for DSL internet as well.
  • CenturyLink: CenturyLink offers a DSL internet plan that offers up to 100 Mbps. The company offers a "price for life" promotion, in which new signups can lock in their rate forever without the possibility of rate hikes or signing a long-term contract
  • EarthLink: EarthLink offers virtually every type of internet connection, including DSL internet. With its variety of connection types, the company offers speeds ranging from 25 Mbps to 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps). Unfortunately, EarthLink does not post pricing on its website. You will have to call the company to ask for more information.
  • Frontier: Although Frontier has its own fiber optic network, it offers DSL internet. Frontier's plans start at $37.99 per month for 9 Mbps. Additional plans include $44.99 per month for up to 25 Mbps and $54.99 per month for up to 115 Mbps. Frontier guarantees rates for one year, with no annual commitment required. There are also no data limits or overage fees with Frontier. 
Image Credit: amenic181 / Getty Images
Stella Morrison
Stella Morrison
business.com Contributing Writer
Stella Morrison is an award-winning writer who focuses on marketing for small businesses, including useful tools and best practices that help business owners introduce their products and services to new audiences. She is also a digital marketing professional who has worked with leading brands in the tech industry.