Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why is DSL so much more complicated to setup than cable?

Due to cable problems I got DSL to try it out for awhile. I now
have both cable and DSL. I have a WRT54G Linksys router for the cable
and WRT54GL for the DSL and separate pcs for each ‘network’. Since the
routers are almost identical I expected similar setup but was quite
surprised at the differences between cable and DSL. Cable was pretty
straightforward as I remember. Mostly it was plug it in and it worked.
The DSL was much more complicated and the ISP complicated that to no
end by forcing me to sign up for a lot more than the plain internet
access I wanted. Why is cable and DSL so different? Both modems output
an Ethernet connection, why isn’t connecting to both of them as simple
as ‘plug in your router and go’?

Most of the time it is or can be that simple.

But not all ISPs are created equal.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

It’s not so much that the cable and DSL technologies are different,
but that the different ISPs may have some other differences in
technology, and have different marketing goals.

The one technical aspect that could be different is
authentication, but this can also differ from one DSL provider to the
next, or one cable provider to the next. In many cases you can in fact
simply plug in and go, however some ISPs require that the connection
somehow be authenticated. That means you some how sign in to enable the
connection. Typically, that requires either configuring the router or
the modem or installing additional software on your PC.

“Many ISPs will send you a CD full of software
that they indicate needs to be installed before plugging in your
connection. In my experience, nine times out of ten that’s simply not
the case.”

Now, the mere presence of a CD full of software to be installed on
your PC doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the case – you may not
need to install anything.

Many ISPs will send you a CD full of software that they indicate
needs to be installed before plugging in your connection. In my
experience, nine times out of ten that’s simply not the case. I’ve
almost always been able to just plug in and go.

Some ISPs rely on that “do I need it or don’t I?” confusion to get
you to install software that you simply don’t need.

The bottom line is that it’s really up to the ISP, not the cable
versus DSL connection type, as to how complicated the setup and install
will be. The authentication technology that they choose to use can have
an required impact, but their marketing push to get you to install
additional software that may or may not be necessary can also play a
role.

In my case, I almost always ignore the CD full of software until for
some reason something doesn’t work, and then I try to figure out the bare
minimum required to get the connection up and working. Sadly, as you
might expect, that too is ISP dependent.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

6 comments on “Why is DSL so much more complicated to setup than cable?”

  1. I have DSL from Mindspring (now Earthlink). They sent a CD like Leo said but I just plugged in the modem and used it. Never used anything on the CD. The only configuration I had to do was tell Windows my ID and password once.

    Reply
  2. I use DSL and I’ve used cable and both seem to run into the same shortfall: Unexpected DHCP requests.

    I was troubleshooting a connection issue with a friend’s cable account. To be absolutely sure the router wasn’t the issue, I unplugged the router and put my laptop directly on the internet.

    Only, I didn’t. Because my dhcp request timed out. I had to call the cable provider and talk to 22 different people (and be hung up on 6 or 7 times) before anyone figured out what I was talking about. (apparently knowing what you’re talking about when you call support hinders their operations).

    After finally getting connected, I asked them to please wait while I tested the connection. Sure enough they hung up on me. I completed my tests sans router and hooked the router back up and encountered the same issue.

    So after another round of “support” I got connected with the router and solved the issue.

    This has happened with my DSL service when I had to switch out routers due to failure or something else. Though, in my case mirroring the MAC address from the old router to the new one solved the problem for DSL connections.

    Seriously, it’s all way too complicated. I miss the simplicity of dial-up.

    Reply
  3. Regarding Ziggie’s comment: Many tech support people have the job they do because they are willing to work cheap. Their employers often do not train them beyond reading a script. If you know what you are doing and you understand the concepts involved, you will get frustrated talking concepts to someone reading a script who doesn’t understand the concepts involved. Recently I spoke to tech support at Comcast regarding an Internet connection. The person had never heard of ping or tracert. Poorly trained tech support seems to be the norm, rather than the exception.

    Reply
  4. Your ISP is responsible for your internet connection. You are paying them for this. Call your ISP and have them walk you through. If you are not satisfied, change carrier.

    Reply
  5. I need this answeres ASAP. Can I unplug My DSL Ethernet Cable, hook it in to my Laptop(NetBook), Plug the Cable Back in the DSL Box, and still get internet without calling some person or someone coming out?

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.