Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
The technology used to connect to the internet - DSL, Cable or something else - actually plays less of a role in setup complexity than you might think.
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.
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.
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.
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