Is Dial Up & Broadband the Same?

by Chris Deziel

In the early days of personal computers, the only access the public had to the Internet was through a dial-up connection. It didn't take long for the telecommunications industry to develop faster methods, though, and by introducing Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology in the early 2000s, they made broadband data transmission a widespread reality. DSL makes video streaming and 24-hour Internet access a reality, and it comes into your home on your regular telephone line. The term broadband also refers to Internet that comes through cable along with your TV service, which does not use your phone lines.

Dial-Up Internet Connections

A telephone works by converting a voice signal to electrical current. The current flows along the telephones lines to the receiving telephone, which converts it back to a voice signal. When you use a dial-up connection, your modem does essentially the same job as a telephone, but the signals it converts are digital. To use dial-up, you must establish a voice connection with your Internet service provider (ISP) by dialing a telephone number, and you can only transmit data while you are connected. Moreover, the modem transmits in the same range of frequencies as a telephone.


Like a dial-up modem, a DSL modem converts data to electric current, but since it exclusively handles digital data and does not convert it to voice signals, it can use the band of frequencies out of the range of human hearing. Just as the range of frequencies the eye can detect is small compared to the entire light spectrum, the range of audible electrical frequencies is also small compared to the entire spectrum. By using inaudible frequencies, a DSL modem can transmit significantly more information than a dial-up modem, and at a faster rate.

DSL vs Dial-Up

Although they share the same telephone line, a DSL and a dial-up connection are significantly different. Because it is constrained to voice frequencies, a dial-up connection has a maximum transmission rate of 56 Kbps, although it is possible to accelerate a dial-up modem somewhat. DSL rates, on the other hand, are at least twice as fast, and can be as high as 20 Mbps. While you need to establish a connection to use dial-up, a DSL connection is always on. Moreover, you can use DSL at the same time as you are using your telephone. The same isn't true for dial-up.

DSL and Dial-Up Charges

Since you can use your regular telephone service for dial-up, you usually don't need to pay for a connection. DSL, on the other hand, is an extra service, and phone companies and ISPs levy a monthly charge in addition to your regular phone service. Once you have DSL, though, you have unlimited access to the Internet, whereas if you use a dial-up connection, you may incur time charges, depending on your service plan. Phone companies usually offer bundled plans that include voice service and DSL, and many also offer "naked DSL", which is DSL service without a voice phone.

About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.

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