ADSL broadband has slower download speeds than cable and fibre, but it could be a good option if you’re a light internet user, and it may be your only option in more rural areas. Read our guide to find out more and compare ADSL broadband deals.
What is ADSL broadband?
ADSL broadband – or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line – is the most basic and common type of broadband internet connection, the type that comes through your phone line. An ADSL connection is generally the slowest and cheapest of the three main types of fixed-line broadband available to buy for your home.
The three main types of broadband are:
- ADSL - delivered directly to your home down the standard copper wires that carry your phone line.
- Cable - delivered by fibre and coaxial cables.
- Fibre - which relies on clusters of fibre cables.
Fibre and cable aren’t yet available everywhere, especially in remote areas, so ADSL can sometimes be the only option in these locations. There are two types of ADSL technology – ADSL1 and ADSL+ (also called ADSL2 or ADSL2+). ADSL+ is the second version and is slightly faster than ADSL1. ADSL is a form of DSL (digital subscriber line) – a term for a service that transmits data over telephone lines to establish an internet connection.
ADSL is currently the most commonly available type of broadband because it operates on Openreach’s extensive existing landline infrastructure, but full fibre broadband is now available to over 8 million homes in the UK and counting. ADSL speeds have increased recently but according to Ofcom, 96% of all homes can now access a superfast broadband connection that exceeds even the fastest ADSL speeds.
Openreach, the company that runs the UK’s digital network, has announced that as it expands its ultrafast full fibre broadband network, it will start to retire the copper network that ADSL relies on, so ADSL may be resigned to the history books in the not too distant future.
How does ADSL broadband work?
ADSL broadband is delivered to your home through the standard copper telephone wire network that’s run by Openreach. To separate your internet and phone line connection, a microfilter is plugged into your phone connection, allowing you to browse the web, even if someone’s on the phone.
Speeds can vary depending on how far your home is from the telephone exchange, as speed is lost over greater distances. It can also be affected by the weather, and it’s vulnerable to faults in the old copper network. Although there are two types of ADSL broadband in the UK, over 95% of ADSL lines are the second-generation type, ADSL+.
In 2021, ADSL speeds varied considerably depending on where you lived. The average speed in urban areas was 14.7Mbps, more than double the speed of rural areas, where it was 6.2Mbps. The peak speed you can get with ADSL broadband is 24Mbps.
What can you do with ADSL broadband?
Depending on how you use the internet in your home, ADSL speeds may be enough, but remember to factor in everyone in your household’s needs. Here are some common internet tasks that ADSL is fast enough to handle:
- Use streaming sites like Netflix - with typical speeds of approximately 10.7Mbps in 2021, ADSL broadband offers speeds that can stream video content such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer. Netflix recommends a speed of 3Mbps for SD quality and up to 5Mbps for HD.
- Browse the internet - ADSL speeds can normally easily handle browsing webpages, checking and updating your social media, and shopping online.
- Stream music - as with streaming movies and TV, ADSL speeds should be plenty for streaming music on services such as Spotify and Apple Music. At most, you’ll need 320Kbit/s to stream music at the highest quality on Spotify Premium.
- Download apps - it depends on the size of what you’re downloading but in general, ADSL should be fine for downloading most apps. Games may take a long time to download though, so you might want to upgrade if that’s your thing.
- Work from home - ADSL is fine for checking your emails, sending and downloading attachments or working on online documents in the cloud. It should also be fine for zoom meetings and skype calls, as long as there’s not several of you working from home at the same time. To have a group video call with 1080p HD video you’ll need download speeds of 3.8Mbps and upload speeds of 3.0Mbps.
What can’t you do with ADSL broadband?
ADSL broadband has its limitations, so if you have lots of devices connected or lots of family members online at the same time, ADSL speeds may not be enough for you. Here’s a few things ADSL broadband can’t help you with:
- Stream multiple things at the same time - even if you get maximum ADSL speeds, remember that what you get needs to be enough for every internet user on your network. If you want to watch BBC iPlayer downstairs while your partner listens to Spotify and the kids watch Netflix upstairs, ADSL speeds may not be enough.
- Streaming 4K Ultra HD videos - 4K streaming is likely to be out of reach for ADSL, with the recommended 15Mbps required for stable quality on Netflix well above the average ADSL speeds.
- Download large files - technically you might be able to download games and other big files over ADSL broadband, but it could take you a considerable amount of time. To save yourself the frustration, you may want to look for a faster connection.
What are the alternatives to ADSL broadband?
If you just want to browse the web on your computer, then a slower ADSL connection might do. But if you have lots of devices, you stream media or are into online gaming, you’ll probably want to explore other options for faster speeds:
- Cable - Cable broadband uses a combination of fibre optic and coaxial cables to deliver fast broadband speeds to your home. Cable has an advantage over ADSL, as it doesn’t lose speed over further distances, allowing some cable speeds to be 10 times faster than ADSL.
- Fibre - Fibre optic broadband allows the greatest potential speeds, but this depends on the type of fibre service you’re receiving:
- Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) – the fibre optic cables only run to the street cabinet, before transferring the data to your home through traditional copper telephone wires
- Fibre to the premises (FTTP) – the fibre optic cables run directly to the home, allowing for the fastest potential speeds available, up to 1 Gigabit, or 1,000Mbps.
FTTC is the most common type of fibre broadband in the UK, as FTTP – or full fibre – requires significant work to install across the country. Remember to check for data limits on these packages to find one that suits your usage needs.Start a new quote
What else should I consider when getting ADSL broadband?
Broadband speed is an important consideration for ADSL, cable and fibre. But there are a few more things to check when you compare broadband deals:
- Price - you should look carefully at what you actually get for your money. Some packages have data limits, which means you’ll pay more on top of your monthly subscription if you download too much. Others have traffic management, which means you’ll get slower speeds at peak times.
- Freebies - some providers throw in offers, like free security software, shopping vouchers or streaming dongle.
- The type of package you want - should you bundle your phone and broadband, and possibly your TV, into one package? Or would you prefer one of the many broadband-only deals that are out there?
- Length of contract - check how long you’ll be committed to the package. Broadband providers continually bring out new deals to attract new customers, so a long-term contract could prevent you from switching and saving money.
How do I compare ADSL broadband deals?
Although they’re more likely to be advertising their superfast broadband deals, many of the UK’s main providers do offer ADSL broadband packages. You might see it referred to as standard broadband.
To help you in your search to find the right broadband deal for you – whether you choose an ADSL, cable or fibre connection – simply use our comparison service to help you compare broadband offers based on your postcode and needs.Compare now
Frequently asked questions
How fast is ADSL broadband, fibre and cable?
According to Ofcom, the average broadband speed across the UK was 50.4Mbps between November 2019 and March 2021.
Here’s how the three main broadband types compare on download speeds:
|Broadband||Broadband speeds (max speed)|
|Full Fibre (FTTP)||145.4Mbit/s|
What is ADSL+?
ADSL+, also known as ADSL2, is the second generation of ADSL. It offers twice the bandwidth along the same traditional copper phonelines that a standard ADSL connection uses. This means that you can get speeds of up to 24Mbps.
One thing to remember is that this ADSL+ tech is only at its best over shorter distances. Remember when we talked about how your internet speed drops over the length of the phoneline? ADSL+ operates at a much higher frequency to achieve the faster speeds. This means that the drop off in speed is more noticeable over longer distances, so you’ll only notice the true benefits if you live closer to the street cabinet.
Do I need a microfilter for ADSL?
A microfilter is something that’s plugged into your phone connection during ADSL broadband installation. It allows you to browse the internet and still use the phone line at the same time. With ADSL broadband, your internet and phoneline share the same copper wires and the microfilter helps split these connections.
Is ADSL available in my area?
ADSL is the most accessible form of broadband, available to virtually all UK homes and businesses, thanks to Openreach’s extensive network of phone lines. This means that you’ll only miss out if you live in the middle of nowhere. Many major broadband providers will offer an ADSL connection where available, but some of the more specialist broadband providers who offer fibre to the premises (FTTP) connections may not offer standard ADSL broadband.
Is ADSL cheaper than other types of broadband?
ADSL is typically cheaper, but the broadband deals available to you will depend on your postcode. The price of your broadband depends on a few factors, including the speed of the broadband you choose, any services included and the provider.
You may be able to find cheaper deals by combining your TV, broadband and home phone into one package.
How do I check broadband speeds?
To find out what you can get, use our online broadband speed checker. This compares speeds from people in your area and shows which providers they’re using to get those speeds.
ADSL broadband is the most widely available, but cable and fibre are still being introduced in some areas – so even if you want a faster connection, you may not be able to get one.