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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
Up to 100 Mbps, although Xfinity has achieved 235 Mbps
Up to 1,000 Mbps, although Xfinity now offers 2,000+ Mbps
Month to month
One to two years
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.
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.
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 …
Choose cable internet if your business …
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.
Check out our picks for the best business internet service providers offering cable and DSL connectivity.
If you’re interested in cable internet for your business, consider these ISPs:
If you’re interested in DSL internet for your business, consider these ISPs:
Stella Morrison contributed to this article.