by March 1, 2001 0 comments

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) gives you broadband access over your existing
copper telephone wires. A DSL connection to the Internet is a high-speed, ‘always
on’ (you don’t need to dial up your ISP each time you want to connect)
connection that lets you use your telephone lines for making and receiving calls
and for Internet access simultaneously. In this article, we’ll take a closer
look at different types of DSL and how DSL works.

DSL is also known as xDSL, with the ‘x’ standing for various kinds of DSL
technologies. These technologies differ in the connect speed and connection
(asymmetric or symmetric) they provide. A point to note in DSL technology,
whatever the flavor, is that there’s a trade-off between speed and distance.
That is, the more the distance between your premises and those of the service
provider, the lower the speed you’re likely to get. So, DSL works best if you’re
closer to the premises of your service provider.

DSL flavors

Some popular kinds of DSL are:
ADSL Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, as the name suggests, is an asymmetric
connection, that is, it provides higher speeds for downstream (from the Internet
to the user) data than for upstream (from the user to the Internet) data. This
kind of Net usage pattern is seen most in homes and among individual users,
where downstream data usually includes graphics, audio, and video, while there
isn’t much data to transfer upstream. Downstream speeds for ADSL range from
1.5—9 Mbps, while upstream speeds are up to 1.5 Mbps, for a distance of 18,000
feet from the service provider’s premises.

ADSL Lite (or G.lite) This is a lower speed version of ADSL and provides
downstream speeds of up to 1Mbps and upstream speeds of 512 kbps, at a distance
of 18,000 feet from the service provider’s premises. It is intended to
simplify DSL installation at the user’s end.

R-ADSL The Rate-Adaptive Digital Subscriber Line provides the same
transmission rates as ADSL, but an R-ADSL modem can dynamically adjust the speed
of the connection depending on the length and quality of the line.

HDSL The High Bit-Rate Digital Subscriber Line provides a symmetric
connection, that is, upstream speeds and downstream speeds are the same, and
range from 1.544 Mbps to 2.048 Mbps at a distance of 12,000—15,000 feet.
Symmetric connections are more useful in applications like videoconferencing,
where data sent upstream is as heavy as data sent downstream. HDSL-II, which
will provide the same transmission rates but over a single copper-pair wire, is
also round the block.

IDSL The ISDN Digital Subscriber Line provides up to 144 kbps transmission
speeds at a distance of 18,000 feet (can be extended), and uses the same
techniques to transfer data as ISDN lines. The advantage is that, unlike ISDN,
this is an ‘always on’ connection.

SDSL The Single-line Digital Subscriber Line provides symmetric transmissions
at rates similar to HDSL. The difference is that it uses a single copper-pair
wire to do so (while HDSL uses two or three), and operates at a maximum distance
of 10,000 feet from the service provider’s premises.

VDSL The Very High Bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line is the fastest of all
xDSL flavors and provides transmission rates of 13—52 Mbps downstream and 1.5—2.3
Mbps upstream over a single copper-pair wire, at a distance of 1,000—4,500
feet from the service provider’s premises.

Of these, ADSL and HDSL have found the widest implementation, the former
being more popular for home usage.

How DSL works

To illustrate how DSL works, we’ll use the example of an ADSL connection
from your home to your service provider’s central office (CO).

In DSL, voice and data get transferred simultaneously over your existing
twisted-pair copper telephone lines by using different frequency ranges on the
same line. Voice is transferred on lower frequency bands and data on higher

The technology to do this resides in the DSL transceiver or modem that’s
installed both at your end and at the end of your service provider. A DSL modem
on your end sends data over the telephone line to your service provider’s CO.
At the CO, a DSL Access Multiplexer (DSLAM) terminates and aggregates incoming
ADSL lines. It redirects the voice traffic to the public switched telephone
network (PSTN) and the data to a high-speed digital line that connects to the
Internet. Let’s look at the nitty-gritty of the process.

The DSL modem on your end divides the available bandwidth of a telephone line
using either frequency division multiplexing (FDM) or echo cancellation. In FDM,
one frequency band is assigned for upstream data and another one for downstream
data. The downstream path is then divided into high-speed and low-speed
channels, and the upstream path into low-speed channels. In echo cancellation,
the upstream path overlaps the downstream path and the two are separated by a
method called local echo cancellation. For both these methods to work, you need
to install low-pass filters or splitters, called POTS (Plain Old Telephony
Service) splitters, with your DSL modem. These separate low frequency voice
signals from high frequency data signals, so that one doesn’t interfere with
the other, and you get simultaneous access to telephone and Internet services.
Such a splitter would be installed at the CO too. Since human voice can be
transmitted below a frequency of 4 kHz, most low-pass filters block access above
4 kHz.

Transmitting data with DSL

Transmitting digital data over an analog (telephone) line is a complex
process, and various problems can arise. In copper lines, distortion is higher
on higher frequencies, and since digital data requires higher frequencies,
transmitting it is a challenge. There are also problems like thermal noise,
crosstalk (interference between nearby cables), and attenuation (signal loss
because signal power diminishes as it travels across a medium, especially for
long distances). DSL modems use a process called modulation to address some of
these problems. Modulation also enables the transfer of large amounts of digital
data, which is what makes DSL a high-bandwidth solution.

Simply speaking, modulation is a method by which a data signal is transferred
from one point to another over long distance. The data signal is first put on
top of what’s called the carrier signal, which is stronger either in amplitude
or frequency. The resulting encoded signal is then sent and recovered at the
receiving end by a process called demodulation. In DSL, the message signal from
a sending modem modifies a high-frequency carrier signal to form a modulated
wave. At the CO, the receiving modem demodulates this signal to recover the

DSL uses either Carrierless Amplitude Phase (CAP) or Discrete MultiTone (DMT)
to modify the carrier signal. Both of these use the same modulation technique–Quadrature
Amplitude Modulation (QAM)–but implement it in different ways. Let’s take a
look at how they’re implemented.

In QAM, two independent message signals are used to modulate two carrier
signals that have the same frequencies, but different amplitude and phase
states. This enables bandwidth conservation by allowing two digital carrier
signals to get transmitted on the same bandwidth. QAM receivers can make out
whether to use lower or higher numbers of amplitude and phase states to overcome
noise and interference during transmission.

CAP uses a slightly complicated procedure, in which the carrier signal is
suppressed before transmission.

So the message signal is first modulated by a carrier signal and stored in
memory. Then, pieces of this modulated signal are reassembled and passed through
a band-shaping filter before being transmitted. The band-shaping filter actually
imposes a carrier on this assembled signal, converting it into a modulated wave.
The advantage with CAP is that it has lower peak-to-average signal power ratio
relative to DMT. So its end equipment requires lesser power than DMT. CAP also
tests the quality of the access line before transmitting and implements the most
efficient version of QAM so as to minimize signal loss during transmission.

DMT divides the available carrier frequencies into 256 discrete sub-channels
or tones, and checks for the carrying capacity of each sub-channel before
transmission. Data is then divided into bits and distributed to sub-channels
depending on their ability to carry the transmission. Because higher-frequency
signals on copper lines suffer more loss due to noise than lower-frequency ones,
more data is sent on lower frequencies than on higher ones.

Between CAP and DMT, CAP is less expensive, but is not an industry standard.
DMT is an industry standard supported by American National Standards Institute
(ANSI), European Telecom Standards Institute (ETSI), and International
Telecommunications Union (ITU). A variant of DMT, called DWMT or Discrete
Wavelet MultiTone, is under development. This isolates the sub-channels even
further. Once fully developed, it may become the de facto ADSL protocol for
long-distance transmission, especially where high interference is prevalent.
Other versions of DMT, like Synchronized DMT and Zipper are being proposed for
use with VDSL.

DSL is being implemented in various parts of the world and is becoming a
popular choice for providing content like multimedia communications,
video-on-demand, Internet and intranet access, and remote LAN access on your PC.
However, there are issues like interoperability of various xDSL technologies,
interference between different services in the same binder group (a collection
of twisted pair wires that share a common ‘sheath’) which can result in
degradation of nearby signals that need to be resolved before xDSL technologies
can be widely deployed.

Pragya Madan

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