• >
  • Guides>
  • What is ADSL broadband?

3rd September 2020

What is ADSL broadband?

What does ADSL broadband do?

Also known as standard broadband, an Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (or ADSL) transfers internet data along the same copper wires used for domestic telephone calls. Speeds vary, but you can expect to receive anywhere from 6Mbps to 17Mbps per second. A megabit is a million individual bits of digital data, and each bit is a binary zero or one instruction, collectively underpinning everything electronic devices do.

The UK’s landline infrastructure is managed by BT spinoff Openreach, and internet service providers (ISPs) talk about the necessity of a working phone line for an ADSL connection. Every major ISP offers ADSL as standard.

Although slower than fibre broadband, ADSL is readily available and provides a high-quality and reliable connection. It’s a cheaper option than fibre broadband and is easy to sign up to.

What is ADSL broadband connection technology?

ADSL uses the copper wiring system of the existing phone line into your home. A microfilter plugs into a phone socket, splitting out the frequencies used for your voice telephone calls and digital internet data. It’s this compact device which enables you to surf the web while still talking on the phone.

What is ADSL broadband internet typically like?

To get an ADSL connection, you’ll need an ADSL modem router and microfilters. Your chosen ISP will supply the microfilters, which prevent crackling on the phone line while using the internet. Simply plug a broadband router into the phone line, and away you go.

The only time you can receive an ADSL connection without an Openreach phone line is through local loop unbundling (LLU). Alongside Openreach connectivity, this ensures ADSL broadband is widely available. Not only is it cheaper than fibre, but it also means you can easily access basic broadband if there’s a working phone line in your home. 

It’s worth researching different ISPs to find the best deals, as some may offer ADSL broadband packages with download limits. It’s easy to consume a monthly data allowance, especially in today’s age of multimedia content and dynamic webpages, so only choose a data-limited package if your internet usage is occasional rather than daily.

What is ADSL broadband internet service suitable for?

Upload and download speeds lag far behind fibre broadband connections, but ADSL is fine for web browsing, standard definition streaming and sending emails.

It begins to falter with multiple devices attempting to get online for streaming, gaming, or simply being connected. ADSL is also notoriously slow for uploading content – sharing files with colleagues, storing documents in the cloud or backing up data to remote servers.

How do I get an ADSL broadband deal?

Most UK ISPs offer ADSL packages, in recognition of the fact many households lack a faster connection. Providers and packages will vary depending on your location, so don’t assume a national advertising campaign will be applicable in your postcode, especially if you live in a rural region.

Should I get ADSL or cable broadband?

The answer to this depends on what you need from a broadband package. ADSL is available almost anywhere in the UK, whereas cable is far more limited, so a lot depends on your location. 

Other factors include the number of internet users in your household, the intensity of their online activities and the volume of smart devices connected at any given moment. One or two people would probably be suited to ADSL, since it’s cheaper, and the lower download and upload speeds shouldn’t cause significant issues. If you need to cater for multiple users who constantly stream or are online gamers, or if you work from home, you’re more likely to need cable for its superior speed.

What is an ADSL broadband connection capable of achieving in terms of performance? 

The speed of ADSL broadband varies according to where you live, but maximum speeds of up to 17Mbps are achievable. This is fine for checking emails and online shopping sprees, but it won’t be enough for streaming HD or 4K movies, or spending hours immersed in online gaming. 

What you can and can’t do with standard ADSL broadband

On the internet – A standard broadband connection of around 11Mbps is more than enough to browse the internet, use social media sites and buy goods online. 

Online banking – You will be able to use online banking sites to manage direct debits, ISAs and credit cards without interruption. 

Stream TV, movies and music – It obviously depends on the size and number of files being streamed at any one time, and whether they are HD, 4K or UHD content. However, with a connection of around 11Mbps, it should be possible to stream to a good standard. Netflix recommends a 5Mbps connection to stream anything up to HD quality. NOW TV recommends you have at least 2.5Mbps to watch its content, while Amazon Prime Instant Video requires 3.5Mbps for HD. However, the Amazon service may fail to connect if insufficient bandwidth is available.

Online games – Depending on the type of games you play, and the time you dedicate to them, there will be more pressure put on upload rather than download speeds. Saying that, most broadband connections come with a 1Mbps upload speed, which is fast enough for games like FIFA.

Downloading games and apps – The key factor here is download speed. A typical video game might occupy 40GB of space, and an 11Mbps connection could take hours or even days to download a file this large. In order to achieve fast download times, you might need to look for fibre broadband rather than ADSL.

Quantity of devices – ADSL can support a handful of devices at once including games consoles, phones, tablets and laptops. The more devices connected to this network, the slower data transfers will become. For example, if four household members were all playing online games simultaneously, it would struggle to cope. A household of people using email or social media at the same time should be fine.

Home working – Your ADSL should be able to comfortably handle working online, downloading and emailing files while using services such as Zoom and Skype. 

Alternatives to ADSL broadband 

If you don't want to get a phone line installed in your home for any reason, there are alternatives:

1. Fibre optic broadband

This ultrafast service uses fibre optic cables. The most accessible form is Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC), which achieves speeds of up to 70Mbps and is available to 96 per cent of the UK. Fibre to the Premises is the full-fat version, offering speeds over 1,000Mbps (or 1Gbps). That makes it suitable for any existing online activities, including online gaming and 4K video streaming.

2. Cable broadband

This is delivered using coaxial cable and is only available from Virgin Media. It’s very fast, and the coax leads can supply TV content as well as the internet, but it’s less widespread than fibre broadband.

3. Mobile broadband

Wireless broadband operates over 4G and 5G mobile networks, just like on a smartphone. It’s ideal for areas where ground-based broadband infrastructure isn’t present, but it’s not as reliable as a wired connection and often involves usage caps.