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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.

"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.

Article C3385 - May 17, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

May 18, 2008 7:25 AM

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.

May 19, 2008 7:13 AM

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.

May 20, 2008 5:28 PM

lol...first time I've ever seen anyone say they missed dialup...

Michael Horowitz
May 21, 2008 9:26 PM

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.

Terri Popiel
May 22, 2008 5:28 AM

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.

September 24, 2010 7:38 PM

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?

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