DSL vs. Cable: Which Is Right for You?
3 Mbps–115 Mbps
Prices locked for 1–2 yrs.
10 Mbps–1,000 Mbps
Prices go up after 6–12 mos.
When you’re looking for a new internet provider, there are two connection types that you’ll notice pop up frequently: DSL and cable. Both are widely available, but which internet service is better? We’ll give you the scoop on what you need to know before you decide if cable or DSL is right for you.
The bottom line
DSL broadband internet runs through landline phone wires. Moderate range DSL speeds of 10-25 Mbps are great if you’re looking for affordable internet for light to medium use, like checking email, streaming video on one or two devices, and occasional gaming. Some DSL providers like CenturyLink offer Price for Life guarantees on certain plans. You can get DSL internet from providers like AT&T, CenturyLink, and Frontier.
Cable internet runs through an underground coaxial cable network. It’s usually faster than DSL and a better option if you have a lot of streaming on multiple devices, video calls, large file uploads, or online gaming going on in your home. Popular cable internet providers include Xfinity (Comcast), Spectrum, Cox Communications, and Optimum.
If you’ve ever wondered what the real difference between DSL and cable internet is, read on to find out which is best for you.
What is DSL internet?
DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. It utilizes the standard copper phone lines that already run to your home, which is cool since most of us have a home or apartment that’s wired for a phone—even if we aren’t using landlines anymore.
DSL internet is widely available—even in rural areas—because nearly every part of the country has access to phone service. In fact, DSL is available to 84% of the US population.
A DSL modem will connect your standard phone line jack to the internet. Internet providers usually offer to rent out their own DSL modem and router, but you can buy your own to save some cash. The best DSL modem/router combo we’ve found is the Motorola MD1600, a sleek little number that has four Ethernet ports and supports the highest-possible DSL speeds.
You can learn more about how DSL works by checking out our DSL provider page.
Top 3 DSL Internet Service Providers
|1.||5–100 Mbps||$50/mo.†||4/5||View Plans for AT&T|
|2.||15–100 Mbps||$49–65/mo.‡||3/5||View Plans for CenturyLink|
|3.||6–115 Mbps||$27.99–$44.99/mo.§||3/5||View Plans for Frontier|
|View Plans for AT&T|
|View Plans for CenturyLink|
|View Plans for Frontier|
* User ratings averaged from reviews submitted to HighSpeedInternet.com. Data as of 2/14/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
† For the first 12 months with a 1-year agreement.
‡ New customers only. Rate requires paperless billing and excludes taxes. Additional fees apply.
§ Actual speeds may vary. Installation, equipment fees, taxes & other fees apply. Services subject to availability and all applicable terms and conditions.
We chose these as the top three DSL providers based on speed and availability within the largest part of the US. You may have DSL speeds faster or slower, or from other providers, based on your location.
Your DSL internet package will be priced according to speed. The fastest DSL max speed from any provider is 115 Mbps, which is far above what most people will need. Just for context, streaming HD video requires about 5 Mbps, and playing games on an Xbox requires between 2–10 Mbps.
DSL max speed will vary based on the provider and which plan you choose. Lightning-fast plans offer speeds up to 100 Mbps, with the slowest delivering speeds closer to 10 Mbps or less. Faster DSL plans will be better for HD video, gaming, or streaming on multiple devices.
Another thing to consider is that a DSL connection worsens as you get further away from the internet service provider. The twisted-pair cabling of a DSL network degrades in strength over long distances, so the closer you are to the ISP, the more reliable your connection will be.
Figuring out how much speed you need at your house can be like taking a shot in the dark. Some people guess too high and pay for a faster connection than they need, and others end up with too little bandwidth to support their devices. Take our internet speed quiz to get a quick estimate of your ideal connection speed.
DSL vs. dial-up
DSL internet service may run on the same wires that deliver landline phone service, but that’s where the similarity to dial-up internet ends. DSL is way faster than the aggravatingly slow connection of yesteryear.
Dial-up is still trudging along at around 45 Kbps, which means you’ll wait more than 10 seconds to bring up a single search on Amazon. Streaming video? Not a good idea with dial-up. Gaming . . . um, good luck.
DSL offers a wide variety of plans—ranging from 3 Mbps to 100 Mbps—but all of them race past dial-up. It doesn’t monopolize your phone connection, and it’s much, much faster than the dial-up services of the ‘90s. Plus, DSL is “always on,” so there’s no waiting to connect.
DSL is one of the more reasonably priced types of Internet Service Providers while still offering reasonably fast speeds for downloads and streaming. DSL plans start between $20 and $45 per month.
DSL is a good option for internet use in the average household. Most people don’t need the highest speed internet, so higher-priced plans could cost you more for bandwidth you don’t need. Plans that offer speeds like 1,000 Mbps can cost you $90 or more per month. With DSL, the average plan costs around $45 per month.
A big perk of DSL internet plans is that you usually won’t get the rate hikes common with cable or fiber internet. Some DSL plans offer a set price for life on select plans (like CenturyLink), which is a big plus in our book.
Is DSL internet right for you?
DSL internet is probably your best option if any of the following apply to you:
- You use the internet for streaming music, movies, shopping online, and browsing.
- Your household has 3 or fewer internet users.
- You seldom play multiplayer online games.
- You want a set price for internet service that doesn’t go up after the promotional period.
What is cable internet?
Cable internet runs on the same copper coaxial cable lines that deliver cable TV to your house, so it’s available in most areas that support cable TV service. A cable internet modem usually delivers faster internet than DSL.
Cable is highly reliable and isn’t subject to outages due to storms, like satellite internet. However, because the network is connected by neighborhoods and areas, you can get slowed speeds during peak usage times when a lot of other cable internet users are online. This doesn’t happen with a DSL network, which keeps a consistent internet signal because the phone wires are connected directly to your home.
But even with these slowdowns, cable still beats out DSL for speed overall.
Since the infrastructure for delivering cable TV is in place for most of the country, cable internet is widely available. Cable internet is available to over 88% of the US population.
You can learn more about how cable internet works by checking out our cable internet provider page.
Top 3 Cable Internet Service Providers
|1.||15–1,000 Mbps||$20–$84.99/mo.˚||3/5||View Plans for Xfinity|
|2.||200 Mbps||$49.99/mo.•||3/5||View Plans for Spectrum|
|3.||10–1,000 Mbps||$29.99–$99.99/mo.¶||3/5||View Plans for Cox Communications|
|View Plans for Xfinity|
|View Plans for Spectrum|
|View Plans for Cox Communications|
* User ratings averaged from reviews submitted to HighSpeedInternet.com.
Data as of 2/14/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
˚ w/ no term agreement, 1-year agreement, or 2-year agreement depending on plan.
• for 12 months.
¶ for 12 months with 1-yr. svc agreement.
We chose these as the top three cable internet providers based on speed and availability within the largest part of the US. You may have speeds faster or slower than those listed above, or you may have additional options that compete with these speeds, based on your location.
On a side note, Xfinity also has a Gigabit Pro fiber plan that delivers 2,000 Mbps speeds for $299.95 per month. But that’s only available in select areas.
Cable internet speeds
When you sign up for cable internet, you’ll select your speed. Like DSL, the higher the speed, the more you pay. Pick the speed you think you’ll need. If you have a roommate who spends all summer gaming, or a big family with lots of streaming on multiple devices, then go with a higher speed plan.
The speed listed isn’t a guaranteed speed. Your actual internet connection speed will be equal to or lower than the speed package you purchase, which is usually listed as “speeds up to” since a provider cannot promise a given speed.
Slower internet packages save you money, while higher speed packages cost progressively more the faster they get. Fast connections are better for multiple devices, transferring files to the cloud, and online gaming.
Are you wondering how fast of an internet connection to get? Take our quiz to find out how much internet speed you need.
Cable gigabit modems
If you’re looking for the fastest-possible internet connection, cable can deliver—many cable providers nowadays offer gigabit internet plans, with 1,000 Mbps download speeds.
To hit those record speeds, you’ll need a cable modem configured for DOCSIS 3.1.
DOCSIS 3.1 is the latest data transfer standard adopted for cable internet networks. Basically it’s a system that allows cable companies to hit potential max speeds of up to 10 Gbps—a mind-bending 10,000 Mbps—while delivering internet to customers like you.
Nobody offers 10 Gbps speeds yet for a residential internet plan. But a DOCSIS 3.1 modem is a prerequisite for an internet user to comfortably hit 1,000 Mpbs download speeds on a current gigabit plan.
DOCSIS 3.1 modems are more expensive than modems fitting the previous standard. And you won’t need one if you have a plan that’s lower than 1,000 Mbps. But investing in one will prepare you for the day when cable internet providers offer even faster options. As all great pioneers say, onward and upward we go.
Cable vs. fiber
Another type of internet you may have heard about is fiber. Fiber-optic internet is incredibly fast. Fiber offers speeds up to 2 Gbps (or 2,000 Mbps), which is the fastest internet available anywhere in the US.
What does 2 Gbps internet feel like? You might not notice much difference in your internet performance between 15 Mbps and 2 Gbps if you are browsing through social media or streaming video on Netflix, but if you’re trying to download games like Fortnite, it can turn a two-hour ordeal into a zippy two-minute install. Super fast internet speeds also make a big difference on Skype calls.
Why isn’t fiber available in my area?
This new technology requires new infrastructure to be installed, which comes at a hefty price. Fiber internet is currently only available to 27% of the US population, and is more expensive than cable internet. Many tech companies are interested in bringing fiber internet into their area, and some city municipalities are helping foot the bill for building fiber-optic networks in their area.
You can take a look at fiber internet providers and find out if it’s offered in your area.
Xfinity, Cox, and a few other cable providers offer superfast connection speeds that are comparable to fiber internet. Cable is available in most of the US and is perfect for HD streaming, gaming, and all types of home internet use.
Cable internet pricing
While more expensive than DSL, cable internet is more affordable than fiber and is widely available. It offers blazing fast speeds that perform well even in large households with heavy internet use.
Many cable internet providers offer bundle pricing, which makes cable internet more appealing than DSL to many people. You can bundle cable TV, internet, and home phone services for a discount.
Most cable packages offer a low introductory rate, so you’ll get a price break in the first six to 12 months. The rates hike up after the promotional period ends. As long as you’re aware of this, you will probably be totally happy with cable internet.
Is cable internet right for you?
Cable internet is the best option for you if one or more of the following apply:
- You have multiple devices streaming simultaneously in your home.
- You frequently back up large files to the cloud.
- There’s a lot of online gaming going on at your house.
- You have budgeted for a higher-priced internet service that will go up after the introductory price.
Cable internet is a high-performance choice for all kinds of internet users. The higher speed plans will give you ample bandwidth for gaming, multiple device streaming, and everything in between.
Compare DSL and cable internet
|Price||Contract||Download speeds||Installation fee|
|DSL internet||$20–$70/mo.||0–2 years||.5 Mbps–100 Mbps||$50.00–$75.00||View DSL internet plans|
|Cable internet||$20–$125/mo.*||0–2 years|
10 Mbps–1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps)
|$9.99–$75.00||View cable internet plans|
|Download speeds||.5 Mbps–100 Mbps|
|View DSL internet plans|
10 Mbps–1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps)
|View cable internet plans|
*Prices subject to change after introductory period ends.
Data effective 2/10/2020. Not all offers available in all areas.
If you’re not a tech wizard, and you’re afraid that switching internet will be a big hassle, don’t worry! Whether you choose cable internet or DSL, the company you select will send a technician to professionally install and bring any necessary equipment. The technician will do the complete setup and make sure everything is working well before they leave.
If you do want to do self-installation, some providers offer a self-install discount.
Check out our handy self-installation guides for step-by-step instructions on getting your internet going.
Are there DSL or cable internet providers in my area?
If you’re wondering which options are available in your area, no worries! We’ve got you covered. We’ve compiled a list of the best internet providers by ZIP code. Check out your options below.
Pros and cons
- Affordable prices
- Minimal rate increases after intro period
- Great for basic tasks like checking email and streaming on one or two devices
- Slower speeds than cable
- Quality degrades with greater distance from internet provider
- Fast, reliable connection
- Ideal for HD video streaming and gaming
- Low latency on multiple devices
- Higher prices than DSL
- Slower connection during peak hours
- Bigger rate increases after intro period
The final verdict
DSL internet is an excellent choice for folks who enjoy streaming music and videos, shopping online, posting on social media, and browsing the internet. It’s affordably priced and offers increasingly faster speeds as technology advances. Some DSL providers even offer a locked-in price for life.
But if your household looks more like the bustling atmosphere of Modern Family and less like Ryan Gosling’s austere bachelor pad in Drive, or if you have some avid gamers in the house, cable internet might be the better choice for you. Faster plans are good at supporting devices streaming simultaneously and multiplayer online gaming. It can be pricier than DSL, but it offers lightning-fast speeds.
Find my local internet providers.
FAQ about DSL and cable internet
Which is faster: DSL or cable internet?
Cable internet can reach speeds of 2,000 Mbps, while DSL speeds top out around 100 Mbps. But that doesn’t mean that all cable plans are faster than DSL. If speed is what you’re after, read the details of the plan and pay a little more for faster service.
What is cable internet?
Cable internet runs through your home’s cable wiring on copper coaxial cables. Of course, this means that if you don’t have access to cable TV in your area, you can’t get cable internet either. You can get superfast internet through cable providers with a lot of bandwidth, so it’s the recommended choice if you have a family who loves to stream Arrested Development or roommates who play Apex Legends.
What is the difference between DSL and cable internet?
DSL and cable internet are different in how they deliver internet to your home. DSL internet runs through standard phone lines that are wired into your home. Cable goes through the cable lines. There is more bandwidth with cable, so cable is usually faster. You can get bundle discounts for cable TV and DSL TV with most internet providers.
Is cable more reliable than DSL?
Many people assume cable is more reliable than DSL because it’s faster. Actually, both cable and DSL are some of the most reliable internet connections available.
Is cable internet available in remote areas?
Cable is available in 88% of the US. If you live in a highly remote location, you may not be able to get cable internet. DSL is available in to slightly more of the population, and satellite is available to most remote locations.
Is cable or DSL better for gaming?
If someone in your household is into multiplayer online gaming, you might appreciate that cable internet has less lag time. DSL just won’t cut it. The latest Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report shows that DSL latency (lag time) is higher on average than lag time for cable internet providers. The delay might be frustrating if you play online games where ping rate is important because you might get shot at before you have a chance to respond.
Is DSL considered high-speed internet?
Yes, DSL in many cases meets the criteria to be considered high-speed internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines high-speed, broadband internet as delivering 25 Mbps download speeds or more. Speeds on your DSL network will vary depending on your provider and plan, as some DSL plans can go as low as .5 Mbps. But DSL internet service providers (ISPs) offer many plans at 25 Mbps and above. Generally DSL can reach max speeds of around 100 Mbps.
Is DSL faster than dial up?
DSL internet is more than a hundred times faster than dial-up. Dial-up speeds are around 56 Kbps, while even the slowest DSL connections are around 10–20 Mbps (or 10,000–20,000 Kbps). Some DSL speeds reach up to 100 Mbps.
Is DSL the same as a phone cable?
Yes, it is. DSL runs through the same copper wiring as your telephone landline. However, DSL is not to be confused with dial-up. DSL service is “always on” and lets you surf the web while using your landline phone, while dial-up requires you to not use the phone line while using your modem. Dial-up is also much, much slower than DSL internet.
What type of cable is used for DSL?
DSL runs on the twisted-pair copper wiring of a landline phone network. Since it runs directly into your home, DSL internet doesn’t get bogged down by neighborhood-wide slowdowns during “peak hours” like internet that runs on a coaxial cable network. But DSL’s wiring does lose signal strength as it gets further away from the internet provider, so the closer you are is better for you.
Interested in AT&T, Xfinity, or Spectrum?
If you’ve narrowed your search for an internet provider down to just a few options, save time by viewing our side-by-side Internet Service Provider comparisons.
Author - Kristin Cooke
After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Utah, Kristin learned to geek speak while working as a technical recruiter, interviewing software developers and tech companies in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past 20 years, she has created award-winning content for technology, health, and finance companies, eventually bringing her talent to HighSpeedInternet.com where she writes unbiased reviews of internet providers and tech products. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, PC Magazine, Forbes, Business Insider, Space.com, and Fox News.
Editor - Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes has edited for HighSpeedInternet.com for three years, working with smart writers to revise everything from internet reviews to reports on your state’s favorite Netflix show. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span (buffering kills). With a degree in English and editing and five years working with online content, it’s safe to say she likes words on the internet. She is most likely to be seen wearing Birkenstocks and hanging out with a bouncy goldendoodle named Dobby, who is a literal fur angel sent to Earth.