What is the Difference Between Broadband, DSL & Wireless?

By Tom Ianello

High-speed Internet access can come in many forms.
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Broadband, DSL and wireless are terms that describe different types of high-speed Internet connections. Many Internet service providers offer each of these forms of high-speed Internet, but the availability of each type ultimately depends on the location of your home or business.


The word "broadband" describes an Internet signal of high bandwidth or capacity. No one type of high-speed Internet can be labeled as broadband because nearly all types of high-speed Internet connections can be referred to as broadband connections. Types of broadband Internet can include cable, satellite, DSL, fiber-optic or wireless.


DSL, which stands for Digital Subscriber Line, is a broadband Internet connection that uses the wires of a telephone network to deliver a high-speed Internet signal. DSL download speeds can range from 256 kbps to 24 Mbps, though the speed can vary depending on the quality of the telephone lines, distance from the ISP or type of DSL subscription. DSL installation can generally be done without drilling any extra holes or installing extra outlets; as long as your home already has telephone wires installed, all you need to do is plug in the DSL modem.


Wireless can mean many things when referring to types of Internet access. For example, a wireless network found in a home, coffee shop or airport originates from a wireless router, which receives its signal from a modem linked to an ISP. Wireless broadband, on the other hand, can provide high-speed Internet coverage to a much larger area and comes in many forms, like 3G, 4G, LTE, satellite and WiMAX. While 3G networks are technically considered a wireless connection, they are geared toward mobile platforms that don't have high bandwidth requirements, such as smartphones and tablet computers. 4G networks such as LTE, or Long Term Evolution, and WiMAX, or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, are becoming the standard for wireless broadband. LTE and WiMAX are based on similar technology that allows for entire cities and other urban areas to be blanketed with high-speed Internet coverage.


When choosing an Internet service, be sure to research your options. While you may be within the coverage area for wireless or DSL, there can still be environmental or location factors that will reduce the effectiveness of your connection. For example, a DSL connection deteriorates the further away from the ISP's location you are, so your Internet speeds might not be as fast as the advertised speed. A wireless connection can also suffer from interference from trees, local geography or even the construction materials used in your home. If your neighbors or friends use the Internet service you are interested in, it can't hurt to ask them how they feel about the quality of their service. You can also ask your potential ISP to come to your home and do a site test to determine whether or not wireless or DSL is a viable option.