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ADSL broadband

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 type of broadband internet connection and comes through your phone line. An ADSL connection is generally the slowest 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 – 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.

Although ADSL speeds are faster than they used to be, 97% of all homes can now access a superfast fibre broadband connection that exceeds even the fastest ADSL speeds, according to Ofcom. And with ultrafast full fibre broadband now available to more than 12.5 million homes in the UK, ADSL deals are no longer popular. 
Openreach, the company that runs the UK’s digital network, has already started to retire the copper network that ADSL relies on and plans to switch off the analogue phone network by the end of 2025. 

How does ADSL broadband work? 

ADSL broadband is delivered to your home through the standard copper telephone wire network 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, most ADSL lines are the second-generation type: ADSL+.

In March 2023, ADSL speeds varied considerably, depending on where you lived. The average speed in urban areas was 14.5Mbps, more than double the speed of rural areas where it was 6Mbps.

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 about 11.7Mbps in 2023, ADSL broadband offers speeds that can stream video content, such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer. Netflix recommends a speed of 3Mbps for HD quality and at least 5Mbps for Full HD.
  • Browse the internet – ADSL speeds can normally easily handle browsing webpages, checking and updating your social media, and shopping online.  
  • Stream music – 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 several people aren’t 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 are 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 Gigabitor 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.

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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 – look carefully at what you actually get for your money. There may be upfront costs and mid-contract price rises to factor into your budget.
  • Freebies – some providers throw in offers, like free security software, shopping vouchers or streaming dongles. 
  • 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 find the right broadband deal for you – whether you choose an ADSL, cable or fibre connection – use our comparison service to help you compare broadband offers based on your postcode and needs.

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Frequently asked questions

How fast is ADSL broadband, fibre and cable?

According to Ofcom, the average broadband speed across the UK was 69.4Mbps in March 2023.

Here’s how the three main broadband types compare on download speeds: 

Broadband  Broadband speeds (average) 
ADSL 11.7Mbit/s
Cable 270.6Mbit/s
Fibre (FTTC) 55.7Mbit/s
Full Fibre (FTTP) 149.2Mbit/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. 

ADSL+ tech is only at its best over shorter distances. We mentioned above 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 internet is now considered outdated and is set to be retired by the end of 2025, so it’s generally only available to households who don’t have access to fibre broadband. 

For example, you may still be offered ADSL deals if you live somewhere remote or in a hard-to-reach rural area.

Is ADSL cheaper than other types of broadband?

ADSL could be 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. 

See our guide to broadband in rural areas.

Need help to choose the right broadband deal?

Take a look at some of our guides: