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What does DSL stand for?

Find out what DSL is and how it works.

An Ethernet cord is commonly used in DSL installation. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
An Ethernet cord is commonly used in DSL installation.

In the past decade, high-bandwidth services such as YouTube, online gaming and VOIP have exploded, leaving folks with plodding old dial-up service stuck in the 20th century. Broadband Internet service has become de rigeur, and DSL has emerged as one of the leaders in broadband technology. Learn more about DSL and broadband technology in this article. 

How DSL Works

DSL, which stands for "digital subscriber line," is one of the two primary broadband technologies in common use today. One of its primary advantages over its main competitor, the cable modem, is that it works with something that's already in most people's homes: a telephone line. Because land-line telephones use analog signals, they use just a small percentage of the available space on the line. Since DSL is digital, it can access the empty space on the same line -- which explains why you can use a telephone and DSL at the same time on the same line.

DSL Speed

One of the great benefits of broadband technology is the increased speed. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), broadband is a minimum of 200kbps in at least one direction. However, most DSL broadband services provide far higher speeds than the FCC's minimum. There are a variety of DSL broadband options, including ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line), SDSL (Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line), HDSL (High-Speed Digital Subscriber Line) and VDSL (Very High-Speed Digital Subscriber Line). 

Most residential DSL lines are ADSL, which means that information travels more quickly in one direction than in another. However, different phone companies have different packages -- contact your phone company for your DSL options. 

Though DSL is much faster than dial-up, traditionally it is still slower than cable because of its reliance on the phone network. At the very maximum DSL signals can travel just over three miles, and the speed of the signal depends on your proximity to the phone company's equipment. That means that depending on your distance to the phone company's DSL equipment, your downloading speed can range from the typical 1.5 Mbps down to a virtual crawl. (This is also why some people in rural areas have difficulty getting DSL service -- the phone company's equipment is not within the prescribed distance.) 

In recent years, advances in DSL technology and the installation of DSL signal boosters by DSL providers has made DSL broadband more accessible and faster. Call your local phone company or check out CNET's DSL lookup tool to find out whether DSL is available in your area.

DSL Costs

Once you've determined whether you have access to DSL, you'll want to consider price. DSL, like cable broadband, can be rather costly, often ranging anywhere from $30 to $60 dollars per month for residential service, plus an installation fee. Many phone companies, however, offer seasonal deals or free installation -- waiting for one of these deals can mean considerable savings. Keep in mind that many of these special rates are only introductory, which means the price could skyrocket after the introductory period ends.

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