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Dial-up, DSL, Wireless, and Cable: What's the difference?

Companies offer many different types of internet service. With all the new services out there, you may be wondering what the difference between all these services is. This article is a basic overview and comparison of some of the most popular service types.


Dial-up services use your phone line and a modem. Your modem makes a phone call to the internet service provider's modems to connect, so you cannot talk on the phone while the internet is connected. Dial-up is one of the slowest types of service available, however it is one of the most readily available because it was designed to use basic services like the phone system that are already in place. Dial-up also requires you to connect every time you want to use it.



  • Inexpensive
  • You can get service almost anywhere.
  • Simple to use.
  • Relatively secure.
  • You only need a computer with a modem to use it.


  • Slow speeds
  • Speed depends on the quality of the phone line you're connected to.
  • When you're connected you're taking up the phone line
  • You need to connect up every time you want to use the internet.


DSL services also use your phone line, but you can still get and place phone calls. DSL is much faster than dial-up, and you do not need to connect every time you want to use the internet; it is an always on service. DSL is relatively secure as well. You can have static or dynamic IP addresses. Static IP addresses are good for game and web servers because you keep the same address, whereas with dynamic IP addresses your address will change periodically.


  • Fast
  • Simple to use
  • Relatively secure
  • A variety of speeds are available so you can choose the right speed for your needs.
  • You get the speed you pay for. It s a guaranteed speed


  • You need to be within a certain distance of the telephone company's central office to get the service.
  • More expensive than dial-up
  • You need special equipment set up with a DSL connection.

Wireless services use radio signals from the ISPs tower to connect you to the internet. The signal goes to an antenna on your roof or on the side of your building via shielded cable to the radio. The radio is a small box that then connects to a computer or router. Wireless is an always on service. NOTE: if you are using a laptop or desktop that is wireless enabled, this is not the same type of wireless. This is a totally different system called WiFi, which you put in your home or business to enable you to roam around your location and still have a connection.


  • Does not use phone lines
  • Speeds of up to 50mbps
  • Reaches areas that DSL or cable cannot
  • Quickly installed
  • Affordable


  • The dish must have line of sight to our access point. Trees and other obstructions can be problematic.
  • Interference from other devices operating on the same frequency (routers, phones, etc) can cause connection problems.

Cable services go through your cable TV lines. You plug the cable TV cable into a Cable modem to get access. Cable is an always on service. This is not designed for business users. Cable TV uses dynamic IP addresses (the IP addresses change at an interval the provider chooses).


  • Fast
  • Always on
  • You can get it anywhere you have a cable hookup and your cable provider offers the service


  • Usually cable services only allow a single computer to be connected to the circuit.
  • Less secure than DSL
  • Your speed is affected by other users that are using the same cable circuit.
  • Your speed is a target speed instead of a guaranteed speed

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