ADSL Broadband Explained

ADSL Broadband is the most common (and often the cheapest) kind of internet connection. With an Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, data travels down the same copper cables used for your phone line. If you already use a landline, and want broadband on a budget, an ADSL connection may be the best fit for you. But is it worth sticking with your ADSL broadband in an era that’s becoming increasingly dominated by fibre optic connections? Here, we’ll look at everything you need to know about ADSL broadband, including its speed, limitations, costs, and how it stacks up against other kinds of broadband deals.
Last update: October 2021

What is ADSL Broadband?

ADSL broadband is an internet connection that’s provided over the copper cables that make up traditional household telephone lines. Most of the UK's ADSL cabling infrastructure is owned by Openreach (which was, until recently, owned by BT).
As such, acquiring an ADSL connection requires you to rent your phone line from Openreach. Even if you don’t use, own or want a landline telephone.
Because Openreach is no longer owned by BT, ADSL packages can be sold by other providers like Plusnet or TalkTalk. This is referred to local loop unbundling (LLU). Third-party providers put their own software in the telephone exchanges, renting the phone line and exchange space from Openreach.

What does ADSL stand for?

ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. It’s an affordable and reliable form of broadband. However, as we’ll see later, it is not without its limitations.

When did ADSL start in the UK?

ADSL has been in the UK for over 20 years now. Telewest (now Virgin Media) launched the first home ADSL line in March of 2000.

Does ADSL use a phone line?

Yes, ADSL uses the same copper phone lines as a standard landline telephone. This makes it much more accessible to many households than fibre broadband, and makes it easier to switch providers as no new connections need to be made. However, this is also the source of ASDL’s limitations.

Which providers offer ADSL broadband?

Because it uses your household's existing wiring infrastructure, ADSL is very widely available throughout the UK. As such, you’ll find that most ISPs offer affordable and flexible ADSL deals. These include:

  • BT
  • Plusnet
  • Post Office
  • Shell Energy
  • TalkTalk

And many more. In fact, virtually all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will provide ADSL broadband. The only exception would be Fibre To The Premises specialists like Hyperoptic or Peoples Fibre.

Why should I get ADSL broadband?

There are a number of reasons why you may want to consider ADSL broadband:

  • It’s affordable
  • It’s widely available
  • It’s generally reliable
  • You can use the internet and your landline telephone at the same time
  • It’s suitable for most people’s online habits (email, browsing, social media, HD streaming)
  • You have a wide range of suppliers and plans
  • You can switch ISPs seamlessly as often as you want as no new connections or hardware are required

How long before ADSL is turned off?

Although ADSL is still the most common form of broadband, the infrastructure of copper wires on which it relies it is slowly getting phased out. Openreach is committed to migrating all users of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) used by ADSL to Internet Protocol (IP) by December 2025. This will render copper ADSL lines obsolete, and fibre connections more proliferate.
ADSL component on white wall

ADSL vs other types of Broadband

Now we know a little more about ADSL. But how does it measure up to other types of broadband? Let’s take a closer look.

Is ADSL the same as Broadband?

Although ADSL has its limitations, it’s much faster than an old-fashioned dial-up internet connection, capable of speeds of 10-13 Mbps. Even though your connection goes through copper wires, it’s still broadband.

What types of broadband are available?

Although ADSL is still the most commonly-used way of connecting to the internet, there are more options than ever available for those who need to get online. These include:

Fibre broadband

Fibre broadband can provide the fastest and most reliable connections to the internet. However, not all fibre broadband connections are created equal. There are two kinds of fibre connection. These are Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) and Fibre To The Premises (FTTP). The latter is less commonly available but can provide much faster and more consistent connections as the connection is not shared with others in the cabinet. Speeds can reach up to 1Gbps. The former is cheaper and more readily available. However, speeds are not quite as fast or consistent, especially at peak times.

Cable broadband

ISPs like Sky and Virgin Media may offer a connection via coaxial cable using their own networks. This uses a combination of fibre and copper cables to create a secure and consistent connection that’s capable of superfast speeds.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband connects you to the internet via a mobile carrier’s network. These usually use either 3G or 4G internet, although 5G mobile broadband is in the early stages of rollout. This can be a good option for those in rural areas that don’t have the cabling infrastructure for fibre. However, you’ll need to find the right balance between speed and download limits.

Does dial-up still exist in the UK?

Most of the UK currently uses a broadband internet connection. However, while dial-up (or narrowband) connections have been discontinued by most suppliers since 2013, there are still some specialist suppliers like Nippy Internet that still offer dial-up connections.

What to look out for when comparing ADSL broadband

Comparing ADSL broadband deals can be tricky, since there are so many to choose from. Fortunately, the team at Broadband Plans will be more than happy to help you explore all your options and find the perfect broadband deal for your household. However, we also believe that you should make an informed decision. Which is why we’re happy to share some of the things you should look out for when comparing ADSL broadband deals:

Costs

ADSL connections are generally cheap, and setup costs are usually little or nothing. However, some ADSL deals are cheaper than others.

Contract length

Another good thing about ADSL is that contract lengths are generally shorter and more flexible than their fibre counterparts. However, you should be wary of spending more than 12 months in a contract with an ISP when you have an ADSL connection. Keep switching regularly to get the best value for money.

Speed

One of the only disadvantages of an ADSL connection is that it can bottleneck your connection speeds. Data can only travel so fast along a copper cable compared to an optic fibre. It’s reasonable to expect peak speeds of around 10 Mbps. Be wary of any ADSL provider claiming to offer faster speeds. Unless they use ADSL 2. More on that later.

Download limits

Most ADSL broadband deals will offer unlimited downloads. However, some of the cheapest deals may impose a cap on how much you can download. This may be a barrier for you if you download a lot of films, TV programs, music or video games.

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Is ADSL cheaper than other broadband options?

ADSL is, generally speaking, the cheapest form of broadband. And because it connects through your existing phone lines, there’s no need for any professional installation or associated charges. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always cheaper to get an ADSL connection. However, it’s likely to be the most readily available way to get online.

Is Fibre cheaper than ADSL?

Potentially, yes. Especially if you can get a Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) deal which is a little cheaper than getting fibre directly to the premises. If you’re one of the 96% of households that’s potentially able to connect to fibre broadband, the team at Broadband Plans can help you find a cheaper fibre deal that offers a faster connection than ADSL without costing more.

Do you need an ADSL line for Fibre?

That depends what type of fibre connection you have. If you get a direct Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) connection, you won’t need to rent a phone line from Openreach. However, if you’re getting Fibre To The Cabinet, you’ll still need an ADSL line, meaning that you’ll need to factor line rental into your bill.

Is ADSL cheaper than mobile?

That depends on the mobile deal. Mobile broadband deals are available for as little as £8.99 per month. However, these come with caveats. The most affordable deals will usually place a limit on your downloads (which may not be the case with ADSL broadband deals). What’s more, depending on where you live, your lack of network coverage could make your connection slower and less reliable.

Is ADSL faster than other broadband options?

ADSL broadband speeds are generally slower than a fibre connection. Nonetheless, they are still more than fast enough for most household usage. For instance, you can still stream films and TV programs in High Definition. You can download music. You can chat via video conferencing platforms. However, larger files such as video games may take longer to download, while online gaming may not deliver seamlessly smooth performance. You’re also unlikely to be able to stream in 4K Ultra High Definition.

How to do an ADSL speed test?

There are lots of websites and third-party software that will allow you to test the speed of your ADSL connection. We recommend using Ofcom’s broadband speed checker. Click here to get started. This will allow you to test your download and upload speed in seconds.

Can I get ADSL 2?

ADSL2 is a faster version of ADSL that can offer speeds up to twice as fast as standard ADSL. There’s even ADSL2+ which uses twice the bandwidth of ADSL. ADSL2 uses the same copper wiring as standard ADSL but can offer better speed and reliability. Best of all, 98% of households can get this faster version of ADSL. As long as you are fairly close to the nearest exchange (less than 4km) there’s a good chance that you can benefit from ADSL2.

Is ADSL faster than WiFi?

If you have an ADSL connection, you’ll likely be given a wireless router that will enable you to get WiFi throughout your home. However, you’ll enjoy a faster and more reliable connection if you can connect your device via ethernet cable rather than wirelessly.

What is the maximum ADSL speed?

An ADSL connection is capable of achieving top speeds of 8-10Mbps. However, with ADSL2 or ADSL2+ you can achieve speeds of up to 24Mbps with the same copper cabling infrastructure.

The pros and cons of ADSL

Like any form of broadband, ADSL has its advantages and disadvantages. For some, it may be the only way to get a reliable and relatively fast connection in your area. For others it will be one option among many. With that in mind, it’s important to know the pros and cons of ADSL in order to make an informed decision.

Advantages of ADSL

The advantages of ADSL include:

  • It’s widely available throughout the country
  • There’s no need for a new connection as it uses your existing phone line
  • It’s usually the cheapest option for getting online with no installation costs
  • Virtually every ISP has a good ADSL deal to choose from
  • If you live close to the exchange, you can get an ADSL2 connection with download speeds of up to 24Mbps.

Disadvantages of ADSL

An ADSL connection should be more than adequate for many households. Especially those where only one person at a time needs to get online. However, it has some limitations that you should factor in if you are to make a well-informed decision:

  • Speeds are limited to 8-10Mbps, especially if you’re far from the exchange
  • Connections may be less reliable than their fibre counterparts
  • Because you’re sharing your connection with others in your area, you could experience slower speeds during peak times
  • You won’t have the ability to stream in 4K UHD (which requires consistent speeds of 25-50Mbps)
  • The further you live from the exchange, the slower and less reliable your connection will be.

Why should I get ADSL broadband?

ADSL can give you an affordable and relatively reliable connection. Despite limitations which may make it unsuitable for heavy use, it is more than adequate for most households. Especially if you’re able to get faster ADSL2.

Let the team at Broadband Plans find you the best broadband deal!

At Broadband Plans, we’re obsessed with helping you find the best broadband deal for your household. We can scour the market to find you the best deals from the most reliable suppliers, and help you find the perfect balance between performance and affordability.
We’ll even manage your switch for you, to get you better broadband faster and hassle-free.
Want to know more?
Give us a call on 0330 054 0020.

Curious to learn more about broadband, check out these related articles!

  1. Fibre Broadband
  2. Satellite Broadband
  3. Broadband Cable
  4. Full Fibre Broadband
  5. No Contract Broadband
  6. 5G Home Broadband

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FAQ

Can you still get ADSL?

Yes. In fact, ADSL is still the most common form of broadband, available to over 98% of UK households.

How is ADSL connected?

ADSL connects you to the internet via your existing phone line. So there’s no need for disruptive installations.

Does ADSL need a modem?

Most ISPs will provide you with a router to help you get connected. This will manage your wireless and wired connections. However, some providers may also require you to have a modem as well as a router.

Is ADSL getting phased out?

Openreach, which owns most of the UK’s cabling infrastructure, is slowly but surely trying to phase out copper ADSL lines in favour of fibre optic lines. It aims to complete this switch by 2025.

How good is ADSL broadband?

ADSL offers a fairly reliable connection, and speeds of 8-10Mbps (up to 24Mbps with ADSL2). Combined with low prices and good availability, it’s easy to see why many households still use ADSL broadband.

Updated on 1 Jul, 2021

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baylee

Journalist & Copywriter specialised in Broadband