DSL Types

Although the term DSL is used in advertising and popular discussions to refer to any form of DSL, many, many variations of DSL are used in different markets and for different situations. This section discusses the most common forms of DSL and provides a table that compares the various types of DSL service.

Although many types of DSL service exist, you can choose only from the service types offered by your DSL provider:

  • ADSL (Asymmetrical DSL). The type of DSL used most often, especially in residential installations. Asymmetrical means that downstream (download) speeds are much faster than upstream (upload) speeds. For most users, this is no problem because downloads of Web pages, graphics, and files are the major use of Internet connections.

Maximum downstream speeds are up to 1.6Mbps, with up to 640Kbps upstream. Most vendors who offer ADSL provide varying levels of service at lower speeds and prices, as well. Voice calls are routed over the same wire using a small amount of bandwidth, making a single-line service that does voice and data possible.

ADSL is more expensive to set up than some other forms of DSL because a splitter must be installed at the customer site, meaning that you must pay for a service call (also called a truck roll) as part of the initial setup charge.

  • CDSL (Consumer DSL). A slower (1Mbps upstream) form of DSL that was developed by modem chipset maker Rockwell. It doesn't require a service call because no splitter is required at the customer site.

  • G.Lite (Universal DSL, and also called DSL Lite or Splitterless DSL). Another version that splits the line at the telco end rather than at the consumer end. Downstream speeds range from 1.544Mbps to 6.0Mbps, and upstream speeds can be from 128Kbps to 384Kbps.

This is becoming one of the most popular forms of DSL because it enables consumers to use self-install kits. Note that the DSL vendor might cap the service at rates lower than those listed earlier in the chapter; check with the vendor for details.

  • SDSL (Symmetrical DSL). This type of DSL service provides the same speed for upstream as for downstream service. Generally, SDSL is offered to business rather than residential customers because it requires new cabling (rather than reusing existing phone lines). A long-term contract frequently is required.

With any type of DSL, an external device called a DSL modem is attached to the computer through either of the following:

  • A crossover cable running to a 10BASE-T or 10/100 Ethernet card or port in the computer

  • A USB cable running to a USB port in the computer

An RJ-11 (standard telephone) cable is attached between the DSL modem and the RJ-11 port that has been set up for DSL service. To prevent telephone signals from interfering with DSL frequencies, splitters or microfilters must be installed on a DSL line.

If you choose a technician-installed form of DSL, a device called a splitter is used at your location to prevent interference. Splitter-based DSL allows faster speeds than splitterless DSL installations, but the wait for a technician to show up and add the splitter can add days or weeks to your installation process.

If you self-install DSL, you will install small devices called microfilters to block interference from telephones, answering machines, and similar devices. These devices might fit behind the faceplate of the wall outlet used for DSL service or inline between the phone, answering machine, or fax machine and the wall outlet


DSL pricing varies widely, with different telephone companies offering different speeds of DSL and different rates. One thing that's true about the most commonly used flavors of DSL is that they are usually an asymmetrical service—with download speeds faster than upload speeds.

ADSL installations can typically be run over existing copper wires, whereas SDSL installations usually require that new high-quality copper wires be installed between the CO and the subscriber's location. For unlimited use, typical residential DSL pricing ranges anywhere from $50 to $80 a month depending on the download speed, which ranges from 256Kbps to 1.5Mbps. Business DSL pricing ranges from $50 to as high as $500 per month.

The wide variance is partly due to the upload speeds permitted. The lower-cost plans typically use a lower upload speed (some variation on ADSL or G.Lite); in contrast, the more expensive plans often use SDSL. Check carefully with your vendor because your traditional telephone company might not be the only DSL game in town. Some major cities might have as many as half a dozen vendors selling various flavors of DSL.

Security Issues

Unlike other types of broadband access, DSL is a direct one-to-one connection that isn't shared; you have no digital "neighbors" who could casually snoop on your activities. However, as with any broadband "always-on" connection, intrusion from the Internet to your computer is a very real possibility.

Technical Problems

Telecommunications has always had its share of difficulties, starting with the incredibly slow and trouble-plagued 300bps modems used on early PCs, but as speed increases, so do problems. DSL connections are often very difficult to get working correctly because DSL, as you've seen, combines the problems of adding high-speed data access to the telephone line with network configuration using TCP/IP.

A review of comments from DSL users in various forums, such as DSLReports.com and others, shows that the most common problems include the following:

  • Poor coordination between the DSL sales department of the telco or third-party provider and the installers. This can lead to broken or very late appointments for installation; if possible, contact the installer company to verify the appointment. If possible, opt for a self-install version of DSL to avoid problems with late or missing appointments.

  • Installers who install the hardware and software and then leave without verifying it works properly. Ask whether the installer carries a notebook computer that can test the line; don't let the installer leave until the line is working.

  • Poor technical support before and after installation. Record the IP address and other information used during the installation; read reviews and tips from sources listed earlier in the chapter to help you find better DSL providers and solutions you can apply yourself or ask your telco or provider to perform.

  • Lower speeds than anticipated. This can be due to a poor-quality connection to the telco from your home or business or problems at the central switch; ask the installer to test the line for you during initial installation and tell you the top DSL speed the line can reach.

Because of the problems with trying to retrofit an aging voice-oriented telephone network with high-speed Internet service, many pure DSL companies are having financial problems. Some once-prominent DSL ISPs went out of business in 2000–2001, leading to service cancellations in some cases. Before you sign a long-term contract for DSL service, you should determine what your options are if your telco, DSL line provider, or ISP drops DSL service.