Is DSL Good for Streaming?

By Elizabeth Smith

DSL connections are usually slower than cable connections.
i Chad Baker/Photodisc/Getty Images

Digital subscriber line technology delivers an Internet signal over standard telephone lines. It is a convenient solution for remote areas that do not have cable access. When it comes to streaming video or audio content, a DSL connection's suitability for the task can vary dramatically based on environmental and equipment factors.

Impediments to DSL

The quality of DSL service depends on a range of factors, from the distance to the provider's base location to the quality of your telephone lines. According to CNET, you must be within three miles of your phone company's central office to receive DSL coverage; if you are on the outer edge of that radius, you may experience slower speeds. Congested phone lines can affect speed from minute to minute, creating unpredictability in service quality. The type of DSL coverage you have also plays a part in DSL speed. Most residential services provide asymmetric DSL, or ADSL, which means that the upstream and downstream speeds are different.

Common DSL Speeds

If you are connecting to the Internet using a standard ADSL connection, CNET advises you to expect download speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second and upload speeds of up to 256 kilobits per second. On a faster symmetric DSL (SDSL)  connection, you may achieve speeds of up to 768 kilobits per second in both directions. You can check your network's actual speed by visiting an online speed test website (see Resources); these sites will return both upstream and downstream speeds. For the purpose of streaming data, the downstream speed is more important.

Video Streaming Requirements

Using a DSL connection, you may be able to stream video, but the clarity of the video will depend on your network speed. Hulu, a popular video streaming website, recommends that you use connections with a minimum download speed of 1.5 Mbps. Netflix requires that you have a minimum speed of .5 Mbps but also recommends 1.5 Mbps. If you are streaming HD video, Netflix recommends a download speed of 5.0 Mbps. Under those guidelines, a DSL connection would be fast enough to stream video with reasonable quality, assuming that you are getting optimal performance from your phone line and equipment. However, if you want a high-quality streaming experience, a faster cable connection is a better choice.

Audio Streaming Requirements

If you are using your Internet connection to stream music, podcasts, or other audio content, DSL service is usually adequate. The popular streaming music provider Pandora, for example, requires download speeds of 150 Kbps for the standard player. If you are using the HD audio on Pandora One, you'll need at least 300 Kbps. Pandora also recommends that you use a stable connection to avoid choppy playback.