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3rd September 2020

What is ADSL broadband?

Max Beckett
Max Beckett

Broadband expert

What does ADSL broadband do?

Also known as standard broadband, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) uses the same copper wires that connect your home telephone lines and transfers data from your provider to your home. Speeds can vary but you can expect to receive up to 17Mbps using this type of connection. 

BT owns the UK’s landline infrastructure so it is likely that you will be using its phone line for your connection. Every major broadband provider offers ADSL as standard. However, you can buy ADSL packages from non-BT providers through a process called local loop unbundling (LLU).

Although not as fast as fibre-optic broadband, ADSL is available in most places, provides a high-quality and reliable connection and it is a cheaper option than fibre broadband. It is also easy to sign up to. 

Check the best broadband deals in your area here.

How does ADSL work?

ADSL uses the old copper wire system of your existing phone line. The ADSL broadband has a micro-filter that splits out the frequencies used for your voice telephone calls and internet connection. It is this device that allows you to surf the web while still talking on the phone, unlike dial-up broadband.

Installing ADSL broadband

To get an ADSL connection you will need an ADSL modem router and micro-filters.

Your internet service provider will supply the micro-filters, and these will prevent crackling on the phone line while using the internet. All you have to do then is plug the ADSL router into the phone line and away you go.

The only time you can receive an ADSL connection without a BT phone line is through local loop unbundling (LLU).

Why ADSL broadband?

ADSL broadband is widely available. Not only is it cheaper than fibre but it means you can access basic broadband easily if there is a phone line in your home. 

It is worth researching different providers to find the best deals, as some may offer ADSL broadband packages which include limited downloads – something you may want to avoid if you want to watch online streaming services such as Netflix and post images on social media. 

Download speeds are not as fast as fibre-optic broadband, but if you want to browse the internet, send emails and stream small amounts of music and video then this will be a perfect fit for you. 

However, if you have a lot of people wanting to use broadband, with lots of people online at the same time, streaming or online gaming, then you will need to look at fibre-optic broadband for extra speed and a smoother all-round experience. 

How do I get an ADSL broadband deal?

Most of the major providers in the UK have ADSL packages available. The exact providers and packages available will vary depending on your location.

Should I get ADSL or cable broadband?

The answer to this depends on what you need from your broadband package. 

ADSL is available almost anywhere in the UK, whereas cable isn’t, so a lot depends on your location as a starting point.

How many users are there in your household? If it is just one or two people needing to access the internet then ADSL is probably right for you. It will be cheaper, and the lower download and upload speeds won’t cause you any issues. But, if you need to provide for multiple users who constantly stream or are online gamers, or you run your own business from home then you are more likely to need cable for the fastest speeds.

ADSL is still the most cost-effective way of receiving your broadband if it’s just broadband you need and nothing else.

How fast is ADSL broadband?

The speed of your ADSL broadband varies according to where you live, but you can expect speeds up to 17Mbps. As a rule, you can allow around 10Mbps for every person in the home who separately uses the internet.

ADSL is perfect for checking emails and online shopping sprees but won’t be enough if you want to download a lot of high-resolution movies or spend hours online gaming. 

ADSL2 is the next step up from standard ADSL and provides faster internet speeds.

Access the broadband speed test here for more information.

What is ADSL2 broadband?

ADSL2 is the next level of ADSL and most providers have made it available. Its connections use the same phone wiring and exchange infrastructure as ADSL but use a different type of software.  This means that ASDL can provide speeds up to two times that of regular ADSL.

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, go online shopping and use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. 

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

  • Stream TV, movies and music – It obviously depends on the size and number of the files you are streaming at any one time and if they are HD or 4K or UHD content. However, with a connection of around 11Mbps you will be able to stream to a good standard. Netflix for example 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 says 3.5Mbps for HD.

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

  • Downloading games and apps – The factor here is download speed. If you take the average file size of a video game, which is 40GB (they can vary up or down but newer games are becoming more advanced with bigger files), an 11Mbps connection means a game could take several hours, sometimes days to download. So, in order to achieve fast download times, you might need to look elsewhere than ADSL.

  • Connect devices – ADSL can handle around 4-6 devices including games consoles, phones, tablets and laptops, but the more you have connected the slower your connection will become. For example, if the whole household were playing online games it would struggle to cope, but everyone on email or social media would be fine.

  • Home working – Your ADSL should be able to comfortably handle working online, downloading and sending files and 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, along with the associated costs, then there are alternatives:

Fibre-optic broadband

This super-fast broadband uses fibre-optic cables and can offer speeds over 1000Mbps (or 1Gbps) so it is great for online gaming and multiple users who want to watch HD video and download big files. The most accessible form is fibre-to-the-cabinet, which achieves speeds of up to 70Mbps and is available to 96% of the UK.

Cable broadband

This is delivered using ‘coaxial cable’ and is only available from Virgin Media in the UK. It is very fast and can also deliver TV as well as the internet, but it is less widespread than fibre-optic broadband.

Mobile broadband

This wireless broadband which operates over 4G and 5G – like a mobile phone network. Wireless is ideal for areas where broadband struggles to reach, like remote rural villages or big tower blocks, but isn’t nearly as reliable as a wired connection and often has usage caps.