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What You Need to Know About DSL vs Cable Internet

Rural life has many benefits, but sometimes finding a trusted rural internet provider can be challenging.

At WaveDirect, we want you to know that you have more than a few internet service options. We will also do a full comparison between DSL connections vs coaxial Cable internet.

To get DSL in a rural area, the greatest coverage is usually only within 1km from the edge of town. Other than that your choices are pretty much limited to 3G, 4G or LTE from a mobile wireless carrier. If no other options are available then satellite internet is also a choice.

Your standard cable internet connection isn't found often in rural areas because of the costs involved. Running new telephone lines for DSL or adding cable infrastructure can be expensive for any ISP.

Both DSL and Mobile networks have their issues, but are there other alternatives?

Fixed Wireless internet (WISP) is a better option for many rural residents. Not only does it make internet access more available but most WISPs provide faster speeds than DSL. Rural high-speed internet can have comparable data speeds and can even be faster than DSL.

Before we get to how fixed wireless works and what a WISP (wireless internet service provider) is...

Let's talk about the pros and cons of Cable vs DSL internet.

DSL vs Cable Internet


DSL stands for "Digital Subscriber Line". The internet signal runs along your existing phone lines into your home. The data transmission works like this... When someone calls you on a regular landline, the signal is a very low frequency using up only a small amount of the shared bandwidth.

That means there's a lot of “extra space" that can be used for another signal. This is where DSL internet comes in and both signals will still be well under max data usage for the line.

An internet data signal is sent at a much higher frequency "piggybacking" on top of your standard phone line for your DSL service.

When both signals get to your house, a splitter separates the signal sending the phone portion one way and the data portion the other way to your computer. It's actually much more complicated than that, but a very clever way to use existing phone lines to get the internet to your house.

Since even rural areas have landlines, DSL is usually the only option. The downside of DSL is that it can be a little slower than cable or fiber. While in urban areas DSL vs Cable internet isn't much of an issue as far as quality is concerned, it becomes a huge issue where rural areas are concerned and who can offer service.

A DSL signal becomes weaker and slower the longer it has to travel especially with symmetric DSL. Your standard landline isn't affected as much by distance because carrying a voice signal requires little energy.

However, sending a robust internet data signal through a phone line is an entirely different matter. What if you want to change internet providers for a stronger signal and a faster download speed?

You're out of luck with DSL.

There are different carriers to go with, but there's only so much they can do to boost the signal or offer higher bandwidth. It simply isn't possible no matter what company you are, as many a speed test has proven.

Cable Internet:

Cable internet is another story altogether, with larger data caps or being completely unlimited.This is a much better option for several reasons. For one thing, signal loss is nearly eradicated because the cable is sheathed in copper, greatly reducing signal loss. This is great for both Mbps downstream and your upload speeds.

This is why most cities made the effort to wire up every street and building with cable long ago: it makes for a faster internet experience. People with cable can enjoy things like Alexa home automation or set up networked devices for their new smart home. WiFi security cameras for instance.

Since cable internet signals can be relayed many times without much loss, most people in urban areas rarely notice and lag time in cable internet speed. Downloading and uploading can also be boosted through a better provider of their choosing and upgrade packages to higher bandwidth.

Unfortunately, that's not the case with rural areas. Cable internet is very expensive to install in areas far from major cities. Places within rural Southwestern Ontario are a perfect example. It makes sense to spend money on infrastructure in urban areas since there are so many customers to serve but makes no sense in rural areas due to the distance between homes.

Internet Alternatives for Rural Areas

Satellite Internet:

Are there some good alternatives to DSL vs Cable internet. Satellite internet providers offer rural access to remote residents. However, satellite internet can bring its own host of issues and problems to deal with.

For one thing, your satellite dish must be unobstructed from the satellite signal which means trees and wooded areas can be a problem. If you don't live near many trees or mountains, you can be in the clear to get set up.

But if you do have trees, mountains, or other natural barriers, getting a reliable internet signal can be difficult or even impossible. Storms and other weather can be a major issue with satellite internet as well.

There's also a problem if you have a lot of neighbors in the area. A standard satellite signal broadcasts down to a ground station, which then gets relayed back to the person requesting the information. This means you may have to share that signal with all your rural neighbors, or any other home that uses the service by that same satellite.

There's also a lag time between the time the signal broadcasts from the satellite to the time it hits the dish on your roof. If you were running a high-speed fiber line you would be ok, but with the speed needed to stream HD content, satellites become a real hindrance for entertainment purposes.

Mobile Internet:

The next alternative is to use existing mobile or cellular networks in your area if at all possible. Cellular data can broadcast much farther since most companies have installed main cell towers and secondary relay sites across the country to get the best coverage.

Even in rural areas, most people can get cellular mobile services. Sometimes cell networks can get congested trying to access data, text, and voice all through the same access point at the same time. If everyone is trying to squeeze through that same signal and there is not enough bandwidth your internet will be slow. Your internet bars can decrease as peak demand increases on the mobile network.

Plus, mobile network fees can be outrageous for data usage. Having your home internet running through a mobile network adds up fast, and therefore, it isn't a very practical option from a financial standpoint.

Fixed Wireless Internet:

Not to be confused with mobile internet, fixed wireless internet operates on a different principle which can solve the internet issue for rural residents that need a reliable connection with high bandwidth speeds.

Think of wireless broadband like a cross between fiber internet and a wireless mobile internet network. The network is set up by getting a high-speed fiber line from a nearby city connected to a tower. The tower then wirelessly broadcasts that signal out to other homes that need internet in rural areas via the receiver on top of their roofs.

The signal is a high-frequency radio signal that retains its strength when relaying from tower to your home location. These distances are often short and very direct, even the technology used to connect from one access point to multiple homes has advanced drastically.

And unlike mobile internet, you aren't competing with other data through existing cellular tower networks. Fixed Wireless internet towers are designed for one purpose and one purpose only... to deliver fast, broadband internet directly to your rural home.

The costs are often less expensive than traditional cable or DSL options as well. When more traditional internet methods aren't satisfactory, opting for wireless broadband internet is the best solution for your rural home.

No longer do you have to settle for DSL or cable internet, and no longer do you have to choose between slow satellite internet or expensive mobile data. You may have extra options in rural areas that you aren't even aware of.

You now have a good choice for reliable, fast, and inexpensive internet with fixed wireless.

Your Best Option

Living in rural areas of Southwestern Ontario presents its own challenges and benefits, but broadband internet doesn't have to be one of them.

If DSL or satellite options aren't cutting it for you, wireless broadband internet may be the best option for you.