Although it has only been around 8-10 years, DSL is known as the old workhorse of high speed internet access. It was faster to the market than cable and provided many people with their first taste of sweet relief from the annoying slowness and awkwardness of dial-up.

Over the years, DSL has developed a reputation as a more primitive technology than cable broadband, but that really isn’t accurate and is probably due more to clever marketing by cable companies than anything else. The truth is that DSL is a different technology, and just like cable, has many pro’s and con’s. You can read about the 5 biggest DSL myths here.

Most DSL connections are actually ADSL (Asymetrical Digital Subscriber Line) connections, but no one really says the “A” part anymore. “Asymetrical” simply means that the upload speeds (information going from your computer to the internet) are slower than the download speeds (information coming from the internet to your computer), usually by a factor of at least one half (most cable modem broadband is also asymetrical).

How DSL Works

DSL signals are transmitted between 2 devices: a device called a DSLAM and a DSL modem. A DSLAM is a large piece of transmission equipment owned either by the phone company or a DSL provider, and it basically takes many internet signals from different homes with DSL service and combines them into one signal that it then broadcasts over a phone company’s high speed data network. That network connects eventually to the ultra-high bandwith fiber optic cables that form the backbone of the internet.

In most cases, the same regular phone lines that are used to carry voice signals for telephones are also used to carry the DSL internet data signals from the DSLAM to your DSL modem at home. This is possible because voice and data are sent at different, distinct frequencies and are thus easy to decipher and separate by both the DSLAM and your DSL modem at your home.

Phone lines are made from twisted copper and are unshielded, which is why they are susceptible to losing signal strength over greater distances, which can make your connection slower. However, this problem is far less significant then it was when DSL was first rolled out. Since 2002, many remote DSLAMs have been deployed by DSL and phone companies, which increases the chances that one is close to your home or office.

The Keys to DSL

1) Know Your Distance – Ask your provider how far away you are from their nearest DSLAM. They should be very familiar with what you are talking about, but if they aren’t, ask to speak with someone more technical. If you are located less than a mile from a DSLAM, then you should see no reduction in signal strength, and in theory, speeds that are close to what are advertised by the DSL company.

Some DSL sending/processing methods allow for the data signal to travel over even greater distances without loss, like VDSL, ADSL2 and ADSL2+. That discussion is a little beyond the basics of DSL, so if you’re looking for a more in depth discussion of the various types of higher speed DSL signals that are coming out now, check out this page.

2) Leave It To The Pros – Make sure to get the phone or DSL company to install your DSL connection for you if you have a land line telephone. Do-it-yourself installations, while convenient, can lead to signal interference because they rely on a method of filtering out the voice telephone signal that is less effective than what the professional installers employ. Even if you don’t have land line telephone service, it still might be worth considering.

3) Make a Deal – DSL connections are generally offered by phone companies like Verizon, that are well-known for offering discounts on bundled services, like cell phone, land line phone and DSL service. Make sure you take avantage of these deals by bundling your services.