ADSL vs Fibre broadband: what do they mean and which do I need?

fibre broadband

ADSL and fibre are the two most common types of internet connection in the UK, but today fibre broadband tends to be the more popular choice for new broadband connections - and those switching providers - largely thanks to its fast speeds.

Fibre is now also said to be available in around 97% of UK households, while ADSL is typically the option - and sometimes only option - for those living in areas where the population is sparse or where fibre has not yet been enabled by Openreach - the company which manages the UK’s phone and broadband networks.

With this then, you might be wondering which you should choose if you're in the market for a new broadband package, as there are pros and cons to each option in terms of things like cost and download speed.

So to help, in this guide we've explained everything there is to know about these connection options, to then help you decide which might be the best for your needs and location. 

This will then be useful information you can use make sure you get the best prices and packages, which you can take a look at here on our best broadband deals page.

What is ADSL broadband? 

ADSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line and this gets delivered into your property via your standard copper phone line. 

However, as widespread as this connectivity is, ADSL can be unreliable in terms of broadband speed. Copper lines can only transmit so much data (much less than fibre), which in turn limits the speed you can get.

On top of this, your ADSL speeds also depend very much on the distance you live from your telephone exchange. In other words, the further away it is, the more difficult it is to transmit data and the slower the speeds will be for your property.

Average speeds for ADSL are said to be around 10Mbps, so it's much slower than fibre. However, the resounding benefit of ADSL is the price. Standard ADSL still has the monopoly on the best cheap broadband deals, plus you can still choose top providers like BT, Sky and EE and enjoy a selection of their services. 

What is fibre broadband? 

Fibre broadband is faster and more reliable than standard ADSL internet and is delivered to homes and businesses through fibre optic cables - hence the name. Pretty much every broadband provider now offers fibre, including BT, Sky and TalkTalk and, as we mentioned earlier, it's now something 97% of homes can access.

Most fibre connections connect to your home via the phone network cabinet in your area (those green boxes you see at the side of the road or on your street somewhere). The fibre comes from the telephone exchange and terminates at the cabinet, with the connection into your home provided by your copper phone line as with ADSL. 

Effectively fibre brings the exchange much closer to your home. This system is called FTTC, or 'Fibre To The Cabinet' and on average, the speeds you can get with this type of connection range from 30Mbps to 80Mbps, but this can also be higher. 

If you want to see what's available near you then have a look at our best fibre broadband deals page.

What's next for fibre broadband?

In the last year more and more providers have been offered super-fast fibre, sometimes called 'Full Fibre' or 'Ultra Fibre'. What it's actually called though is FTTP, or 'Fibre To The Premises', where promised speeds can hit as much as 1Gbps - however, you might have seen these marketed already as 300-900 Mbps.

FTTP sees you direct wire from the nearest cabinet straight into your property, essentially making the 'full fibre' connection for your broadband. 

FTTP is still being rolled out across the UK and coverage is currently said to be with around 37% of households. This figure is increasing each month and year on year (2021-2022) the growth has been quite a sizeable 24%. 

If you are one of those interested in this incredibly fast broadband, you may want to use Openreach's full fibre broadband checker to see if your home is one of the lucky ones already on the network. 

Which broadband option should I choose?

To answer this common question, there are a few considerations you should factor in...

First, you should look at what broadband you can actually get in your property, using a broadband checker - like the Openreach example above. But, be warned that you may only be able to get ADSL internet right now. 

If you do have a choice, you should then think about your household's download demands. If you want to use multiple devices, stream in high definition and indulge in some online gaming, then ADSL won't be up to the task. You'll need a fibre package and it's smart to aim for a mid-level package to avoid disruption, especially if there'll be lots of people using the internet at the same time. 

Another factor is your monthly expense. There's no escaping the fact that ADSL is the most affordable broadband choice, so if you want to keep costs low then it's a no brainer. That said, if you time it right you can pick up a decent fibre broadband deal during big sales events like Black Friday. Alternatively, just keep an eye on our broadband deals as we regularly update our lists with the biggest and best promotions as they come out. 

Last but not least, if you're looking to add a TV bundle or get some bonus extras with your broadband, then fibre is going to be the better choice.

With contributions from