DSL Vs. Broadband Vs. Wireless

By Jason Gillikin

High-speed Internet access is delivered to consumers through one of several distribution channels. As of 2010, the three most common are digital subscriber lines, cable modems and wireless broadband. Each of these access technologies has relative strengths and benefits.

DSL

Digital Subscriber Line is a high-speed Internet delivery channel that uses ordinary phone lines. DSL is usually offered by a phone company; the company enables the phone line, at a specific frequency, to send and receive Internet traffic. DSL requires a subscription and a physical modem. DSL is usually rated at 1.0 to 7.0 Mbps speed and costs between $20 and $40 per month.

Cable Modems

Cable modems operate much like DSL modems except the Internet signal is carried over coaxial cable and provided by a cable TV provider. Cable modems can offer marginally higher speeds than DSL, although cable connections at a neighborhood level share the same larger "pipe" so a large number of subscribers in the same area (for example, an apartment complex) can reduce the overall effective speed of the connection. Rates can vary depending on the cable company and any other services (such as TV or phone) service that the consumer purchases.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is a short-range, high-speed connection. Generally, Wi-Fi receivers--which are often embedded in laptops and mobile devices--can receive signals from as far away as 75 feet. Many companies offer complimentary Wi-Fi access to customers, allowing free connections. However, Wi-Fi is not an inherently secure connection mechanism, and software applications such as "packet sniffers" can sometimes intercept and read the signal between a wireless access point and a specific computer.

Wireless (Cellular Broadband)

Many cellular companies sell small modems that allow consumers to access high-speed Internet wirelessly over the cellular network. The benefit over Wi-Fi is that the consumer has a single, dedicated connection regardless of whether there is a Wi-Fi signal around (all that's needed is a reasonably strong cell signal). Cellular broadband is offered in the United States for $20 to $70 per month as of 2010 depending on the amount of use a subscriber is expected to need.

Technology Comparisons

Each broadband delivery method varies in cost, speed and reliability. In general, wired connections work best for desktop computers; they are always on and always available. Wi-Fi is a good choice for people on a budget--they just find a free hotspot and surf away. Subscriber wireless broadband is useful for mobile professionals who don't often stray from areas of cellular service. In general, a wired connection is more secure than a wireless signal, as there is no means of intercepting network traffic.