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What is ADSL Broadband? How does it compare to fibre and cable?

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Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) is the most basic type of broadband connection in the UK. This uses your phone line and offers average downoad speeds of around 10Mb.

Although there are many benefits to fast fibre optic (and it’s what we recommend for most people) an ADSL connection can be good enough for many tasks. ADSL-compatible landlines are also available just about everywhere because most broadband providers use the BT Openreach telephone network. 

ADSL is also cheap broadband. This makes it a good option if you're looking to reduce the cost of your internet, you only carry out basic tasks such as emailing and browsing and you don’t need a fast connection.

But you also might not even have a choice. In some rural areas, faster fibre connections may not be available at all.

ADSL: The key points

  • ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line.
  • ADSL broadband is available in almost every home in the UK. 
  • It requires an active telephone line.
  • ADSL is relatively slow, but it will be fine for basic online tasks. We recommend you choose fibre optic broadband where you can.

How does ADSL internet work?

ADSL works by sending data and voice along the same copper wires, with a filter at the end to split the signals. Remember the old days of dial-up when you had to unplug the internet to make a call? You don’t have to do this with ADSL.

Most ADSL broadband now uses ADSL2+ technology, with average download speeds of around 10Mb.

ADSL2 and ADSL2+ are enhancements to the original ADSL standard, each offering higher rates for users situated closer to telephone exchanges. That’s right, with ADSL speed decreases the further you are from an exchange.

Unfortunately, there are a handful of areas currently unable to receive ADSL2 and ADSL2+. In those locations, speeds are limited to a maximum 8Mb and the internet connection is usually a lot slower in practice.

Improvements to the choice of packages, speeds and prices have been enabled thanks to LLU or ‘Local Loop Unbundling’. This is a regulatory process set up by Ofcom, that allows other ISPs to provide services on the BT Openreach network and that’s what's offered by providers such as Sky, TalkTalk and Plusnet.

Why should I choose ADSL broadband? The pros and cons

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  • It’s widely available across the UK.
  • It's affordable.
  • There’s a huge choice of providers and deals.
  • It uses existing telephone lines.
  • Installation is usually straightforward and cheap.
  • It’s much slower than fibre broadband services, especially when uploading.
  • It equires a telephone line and line rental.
  • Speeds get slower the further you are from the exchange.

 

If you're now sold on ADSL, you can check out our best deals below:

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Who offers ADSL broadband?

Thanks to ADSL's wide availability, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer low-cost internet access using this technology.

However, it is worth mentioning that some big-name broadband providers don’t.

For example, Virgin Media only offers cable broadband over its own fibre optic cables. And while Vodafone uses the Openreach telephone lines, it doesn’t offer ADSL, only high-speed fibre broadband.

Which ISPs offer standard ADSL broadband internet?

BT - 'BT Broadband'
Unlimited broadband packages start at around £29 on a 24-month contract. BT deals include a free BT Home Hub and free access to the BT Wi-Fi public hotspot network. You’ll get an average download speed of 10Mb and BT broadband is frequently available with free rewards.

NOW Broadband - 'Brilliant Broadband'
Starting from around £20 a month on a 12-month contract, NOW deals offer unlimited data and you can add on call plans, including 'Evening & Weekend’ or ‘Anytime’ calls. The average speed is 11Mb.

Plusnet - 'Unlimited Broadband'
Plusnet offers unlimited ADSL broadband with various package options, including 'line only’, without inclusive calling. That’s great if you don’t use your home phone. Prices start from around £25 per month. You’ll get a free wireless router included in the price, and there’s no setup cost on most packages. 

Shell Energy - 'Fast Broadband'
Shell Energy Fast Broadband is the cheapest ADSL deal going, with prices starting from £17.99 per month. Although you will have to pay a set-up fee of £9.95. It’s possible to sign up to this as a ‘line only’ deal. Alternatively, there are dedicated Evening & Weekend or Anytime call bundles.

TalkTalk - 'Fast Broadband'
Cheap ADSL broadband deals, starting from £24 per month, include a free router. You’ll get an 11 Mb average download speed and a 1 Mb average upload speed. TalkTalk offers unlimited downloads and online security features.

Dynamic deal panel

Is ADSL fast enough?

While the speeds are limited in comparison to high-speed fibre broadband, it should be enough for most individuals or small households.

ADSL packages can cheap, but be aware, as providers,such as Sky Broadband, have phased out ADSL broadband, you may find there are cheaper deals to be had with a basic fibre connection. It can sometimes be a false economy.

To find out the most affordable deals at your address, use the Broadband Genie broadband checker tool, or enter your address below to see what's on offer for you:
 

Broadband Genie deals checker

Frequently Asked Questions about ADSL broadband

  • Is ADSL faster than fibre broadband?

    No, quite the opposite. ADSL is the slowest broadband technology and will give you download speeds of around 11Mb. In contract, superfast fibre broadband delivers download speeds of 30Mb+. Meanwhile, an ultrafast fibre deal refers to speeds of 300Mb+.

  • What’s the average price for ADSL broadband?

    You can pick up an ADSL for around £17-£25 depending on your provider. ADSL broadband deals are available from NOW Broadband, TalkTalk, Plusnet, BT and Shell Energy.

  • What are the advantages of ADSL broadband?

    The main advantage of ADSL broadband is its availability. Most UK homes have access to an ADSL connection, as it uses a standard BT phone line.

Expert Summary

When it comes to trying to save money, ADSL might sound like the right route to go down. But unless you’re after the very cheapest broadband, or it’s all you can get, we’ll always recommend fibre instead. Full fibre is limited, but it’s much faster than ADSL and the prices don’t tend to be too bad either. Oddly, you can often get a cheaper superfast fibre deal. Especially as providers, such as Sky Broadband phase ADSL deals out.

If you can’t get full fibre then ‘FTTC’ or ‘Fibre-to-the-Cabinet’ broadband also makes use of the BT telephone lines to bring you fast broadband. This means it’s as widely available as ADSL. It just gives you faster speeds for a slightly higher price.

ADSL broadband is a little dated now, but it’s certainly still useable. Provided you’re not going to be downloading plenty of big files or gaming online, it should still work well.

If you’re interested in ADSL, you won’t have to worry about any expensive installation costs, so it should be pretty quick to set up. It’s also offered by a lot of the big providers, so there are plenty of options to choose from.

Meet the author:
Christian Cawley

With a background in general desktop support in the public sector and specialised software support in the private sector, Christian has worked as a freelance technology writer for websites and newsstand publications since 2008.

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