Speed Difference Between Wireless & Direct DSL Connection

DSL speeds tend to be slow but steady.
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Wireless broadband and Digital Subscriber Line technology are two of the main ways to get broadband, along with fiber optic networks and cable TV networks. As a general rule, DSL is slower than other fixed-line connections, while wireless broadband speeds can be slower or faster depending on your specific setup. Wireless may offer more ability to increase your available bandwidth by paying for more expensive equipment and service packages.

1 Definitions

Wireless broadband connections should not be confused with a local Wi-Fi network. With the former, you connect wirelessly to a service provider; the service provider then relays data to and from the Internet. With the latter, you have a fixed broadband connection to your home through some form of cable, then use a wireless router to relay the data to and from your devices around your home. DSL refers specifically to people receiving broadband through a telephone line, rather than through the wiring of a cable TV service or through a dedicated fiber optic network.

2 Wireless Broadband Types

You can choose between two main types of wireless broadband (as opposed to fixed line services such as DSL). One involves using special equipment to have a radio link between your home/business and a service provider, meaning you only get the connection in one location. The other is to send and receive data over cell phone networks, a system known as mobile broadband. This option may be better if you need to use your computer away from your home/business, though it may not be as reliable as the radio option, particularly in rural areas.

3 DSL Speeds

DSL speeds tend to be much slower than other fixed line services such as cable. As of December 2013, the Speedtest site reports an average download speed of 3.93 megabits per second for AT&T DSL and 6.01 megabits per second for Verizon DSL; by way of contrast, the fiber optic cable services from the same providers average 11.36 megabits per second and 36.67 megabits per second respectively. The Federal Communications Commission produces regular reports detailing how average speeds compare to advertised speeds. Its February 2013 report noted that during peak hours, DSL services averaged 85 percent of the advertised speed, a lower ratio than with other types of Internet access.

4 Wireless Speeds

Wireless broadband speeds vary dramatically depending on the service provider and the customer's location. The FCC reports that customers who receive wireless broadband to a fixed location will often get a speed of around one megabit per second. Mobile broadband speeds can range from slower than DSL with older 3G systems to speeds closer to fiber optic with newer 4G systems, but the actual speed you'll get depends on local cell phone coverage, the distance to the cell phone towers, and how many other people are using mobile broadband in the same area.

5 Other Considerations

Speed is not the only issue when choosing a broadband service. Wireless broadband may be more likely to have low latency, which measures the time it takes between your computer issuing a command to send data and the data actually being transmitted. This can be a particular problem with online gaming and video or audio chat services such as Skype. Some broadband services have a cap on how much data you can use over a certain time period, though this is more common with mobile broadband.

A professional writer since 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, John Lister ran the press department for the Plain English Campaign until 2005. He then worked as a freelance writer with credits including national newspapers, magazines and online work. He specializes in technology and communications.