What is ADSL broadband?

ADSL
(Image credit: Pexels)

ADSL broadband is now considered to be quite an outdated broadband option as it only provides slow download speeds. However, for many years, it used to be the most popular choice for households and businesses who were searching for the cheapest and best broadband deals on the market. 

That said, although faster connections like fibre and cable broadband are now more popular than ADSL deals, this form of broadband connection can sometimes be the only option available for some households. Plus, ADSL deals remain the cheapest broadband deals on the market. So, if you're eligible to receive one, you could save a few pounds by picking this option. 

If you are looking for a more affordable tariff, want to know more about the jargon or you just want to know a bit more about how ADSL broadband works, we've explained all you need to know in this guide.  

What is ADSL broadband?

ADSL - which stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line - is a type of broadband that's provided to a property via a standard copper telephone line. As we've mentioned above, it's the slowest and most basic connection option available on the broadband market today.

As we also mentioned above, it's also now considered to be outdated and many providers have started to remove ADSL options from the market. For this reason, if you're searching for broadband deals in your area, you may not notice any ADSL packages. 

How does ADSL broadband work?

The old copper phone lines used with ADSL connections are in fact part of BT's Openreach network - something that's used by many broadband providers. These connections run from the nearest telephone exchange into a property.

Through something called 'local loop unbundling', different broadband providers (other than BT) can use the line to offer their services. The 'local loop' specifically refers to the part of the line that goes from the exchange into a building.

As these lines are also used for connecting landlines, a device called a 'microfilter' is then utilised. This separates the broadband and phone line, so both can be used at the same time. 

However, the download speeds you can get from the old copper cables are limited and they can only send so much data at once - hence why they're so slow. On average the download speeds are around 8Mbps, but this can be slightly higher or lower depending on how far the cable has to travel from the exchange and the condition it's in. 

A close and decent quality ADSL line can reach average download speeds of about 10Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. In some instances, a property may also be serviced by the slightly upgraded 'ADSL2+' lines, which give top speeds of 24Mbps. 

This is exactly why many providers have started to remove ADSL deals from the market. These speeds simply aren't quick enough for homes that have multiple connected devices, households where people work from home and need to go on video calls, or homes where multiple family members need to be online simultaneously. For context, even the most basic fibre broadband packages are around 3x quicker. 

Fibre broadband deals

(Image credit: CASEZY)

Who offers ADSL broadband?

It used to be the case that ADSL was the main broadband product available to UK customers and that it was widely available on the Openreach network. It also used to be considered quick, as it was much faster than dial-up internet. 

Today though, only households that cannot access fibre connections are eligible to receive ADSL connections. This is because most providers won't supply an ADSL connection to a house where they can deliver at least one fibre package. As the fibre network now covers more than 98% of the country, this means very few households can access ADSL deals. The majority of these properties are located in rural or remote areas. 

That said, if you live in a non-fibre area, then you may still be able to find ADSL broadband packages - which are often quite cheap, but slow - from the likes of:

  • Sky - its ‘Essential Plus’ package
  • BT - its ‘Unlimited’ package
  • NOW Broadband - its ‘Brilliant’ package
  • Shell Energy - its ‘Fast’ package
  • Plusnet - its ‘Unlimited’ package
  • EE - its ‘Fast’ package
  • TalkTalk - its ‘Fast’ package

A key thing to note here is that ADSL broadband is in the process of being retired entirely. Openreach has been steadily upgrading the network from old copper cabling to faster fibre ones, and is on course to roll this out to 25 million homes and businesses by December 2026.

As such, we will likely see fewer providers offering ADSL and ultimately less choice when it comes to packages in the next few years.

What can and can't you do online with ADSL broadband?

With the slower download and upload speeds provided by an ADSL connection, you won't be surprised to hear that there are some limitations to what you'll be able to do online. 

Here are a few examples of the kinds of things you will be able to do:

  • Casually browse websites
  • Stream music
  • Download files, apps and documents
  • Use streaming services (potentially with some interruption during peak times)

However, you won't be able to do the following:

  • Stream in 4K or UHD
  • Use video chat without interruptions or loss of quality
  • Use multiple devices online at the same time
  • Quickly download large files
  • Include larger TV bundles (in most cases)

Stofa

(Image credit: Stofa)

What to think about before you choose ADSL broadband

As the above lists suggest, even the online tasks you can do with ADSL broadband can be affected if there's more than one active internet user in a household. This can be especially challenging for those working from home. 

However, the flip side to this is that you can pick up an affordable tariff if you opt for an ADSL connection. What's more, some providers tend to offer extra incentives if you're a customer who can't access fibre broadband yet.

So with that, before you choose ADSL broadband, it's important to consider the following factors:

  • The broadband usage and requirements of your household.
  • How much you can realistically afford to pay each month.
  • If there are any download limits (as some packages can have these).
  • What extras a provider is including. 
  • How long the contract is and if it works out good value in the long run.
  • Whether or not fibre is likely to come to your area any time soon.

What other types of broadband can I get in the UK?

As we've mentioned earlier, ADSL used to be the main choice for broadband here in the UK. However, this is no longer the case. To give you an idea of how much things have changed in the last 10 years or so, here's a rundown of the other types of broadband we can now receive in the UK:

  • Fibre - uses 'fibre-optic' cables to connect your property to your nearby telephone cabinet, instead of the copper lines. Due to this, fibre broadband packages can transmit much more data and give average download speeds of between 30 and 80Mbps.
  • Full Fibre - this type of fibre broadband sees the fibre-optic cables run all the way from the provider's exchange and into your property - this is also known as 'fibre-to-the-premises or FTTP. As such, huge average download speeds of 1,000Mbps can be accessed.
  • Cable - rather than using the Openreach network, there are some providers (with Virgin Media's broadband deals being the main example) who have their own independent cable networks that bring broadband into homes and businesses. While cable broadband isn't as widely available as some other types, the technology in these cables can give average download speeds over 1,000Mbps. 
  • Mobile - you can do away with cables altogether with mobile broadband. This is because this broadband type uses phone networks and all you need to do is plug in a router or dongle and connect your devices to the WiFi it will then provide. This can be available as 4G broadband and 5G broadband, with the latter being the faster of the two. However, whether or not you can get mobile broadband depends on the coverage in your area.
  • Satellite - this is another broadband type that's cable-free. As you can guess, your broadband is instead beamed into your property via satellites. It's becoming more and more popular as the technology is starting to advance and offer faster speeds. It was historically only really for remote properties who couldn't get ADSL. You can learn more about this in our 'what is satellite broadband?' guide. 

get broadband without a landline

(Image credit: Shutterstock / bluebay)

ADSL broadband: FAQs

To help get you even more up to speed, here are some extra frequently asked questions consumers have about ADSL broadband:

When was ADSL first made available in the UK?

ADSL was first actually launched way back in 2000 and was marketed as a 'permanently connected' internet line to replace 'dial-up'. The first ADSL speeds were around 512kbps, which was a notable increase from the 56kbps that was available through dial-up. 

The technology quickly grew in popularity as it of course meant consumers could use the internet and their phone line at the same time - rather than the single connection modems that were typically used by households for their internet access. ADSL also meant that customers didn't have to pay a charge for the specific amount of time they were online. 

ADSL download and upload speeds began to slowly increase following the technology's introduction and, by 2005, there were more ADSL connections supplying households than there were dial-up ones. By this time, the download speeds had increased to a maximum of around 2Mbps.

How do I know if I have ADSL broadband already?

One of the best ways to determine this is to run a broadband speed test. If your average download speed tops out around 10Mbps and your upload speed is 1Mbps or less, you'll be on an ADSL connection. If you're still in any doubt, simply contact your provider and ask them directly about your current internet package.

What tech do you need with ADSL broadband?

As ADSL broadband uses the Openreach network and existing phone lines, you won't need much in the way of installation. Instead you'll need a microfilter plugging into your phone line socket to split your landline and your broadband so they can be used at the same time, as well as a router and ethernet cable to then connect these all up. 

You'll only need an engineer sending out for installation work if your property isn't yet connected to the Openreach network. Also, some providers may also require a separate modem to connect to your router. 

Can I get a replacement microfilter from my broadband supplier?

Usually, if you need to get replacement tech, your broadband supplier should be able to provide this for you. However, you should be aware that this may also be at cost, especially if your chosen provider no longer officially offers an ADSL package.

This is a commonly asked question, as microfilters can get easily damaged and suffer from wear and tear.

Can I get ADSL broadband instead of fibre, even if fibre is available in my area?

In short, it depends. Most providers will now only offer fibre broadband to customers when it's available, but you might be able to speak with them directly about using ADSL instead. The only way to truly guarantee being able to access ADSL broadband is if your property is connected to the Openreach network but has not yet been upgraded to 'fibre-capable' status.

You should also remember that the ADSL network is being retired. So, even if you can access it now, it's more than likely your provider will soon stop providing access. Of course, they'll discuss what this means for you and won't simply cut you off when they 'switch off' the old network. But it's something that's worth keeping in mind. 

Can I get ADSL broadband without a phone line?

No, ADSL broadband requires a phone line as it uses the same cables and network. However, you don't need to physically have a landline phone if you don't want one. You can learn more about this in our 'do you need a landline for broadband?' guide.

Does ADSL have another name?

Yes, ADSL is also known as 'standard broadband'. The others are 'superfast', which refers to fibre connections (and some mobile and satellite ones), and 'ultrafast' which is for 'Full Fibre' and cable speeds of between 300 and 1,000+Mbps. 

How can I speed up my ADSL broadband?

While there's not much you can do to get your speeds above 10Mbps (this is also determined by how far away your property is from the telephone exchange and the quality of the telephone cables), you can make a couple of changes to how you use the internet to give its performance a little boost.

- avoid having multiple devices trying to use the internet at the same time.

- lower the quality of your streaming to something below HD.

- directly plug your laptop into the router using an ethernet cable.

- avoid having too many tabs open at once.

Is ADSL the cheapest broadband option?

In most cases, yes. However, the price of fibre packages has reduced substantially in recent years and, in a quest to get most customers to move away from ADSL deals, many ISPs have offered discounts on entry-level fibre plans. All of this now means that many fibre plans are around the same price as ADSL deals. 

You may find that some ADSL plans are a couple of pounds per month than fibre plans would be, but the difference is usually negligible. So, unless you're trying to save every possible penny, it's usually advised to plump for a fibre package over an ADSL one, if you have the option. 

Can I cancel my ADSL broadband?

Much like any other broadband package, you have the right to cancel your ADSL one if you wish. That said, if you’re still under contract you may have to pay an exit fee if you do want to terminate your deal. 

How do I switch from ADSL to a new broadband package?

The best thing to do here is to contact your existing provider and learn more about what broadband options might be available to you now. With fibre’s widespread rollout, it’s more than likely you’ll be able to switch to such a package - it might even be the case that you’ve been moved over automatically. 

It can also be useful to check out the latest broadband deals to get a measure of the cost and average download speeds you could soon get in your property. However, you may need to prepare yourself for the fact that you can currently only access ADSL broadband.

More advice for finding the right broadband option

If you decide that you do indeed want ADSL broadband, then you should head to our best broadband deals page to see what offers can be found right now. You can also use our widget below to see what's available in your area.

Equally, our guide and widget can show you more about the other broadband options we've mentioned above, including fibre, 'Full Fibre', 5G broadband, cable and more. This is something we go into finer detail about in our guide to the different broadband types that we can get in the UK, if you want to get some additional insights into these. 

Finally, if you're still unsure about whether or not ADSL is right for you, then we also have our handy 'how do I find the best broadband provider for me?' guide that should be able to point you in the right direction. 

Loading...
Richard Hart

Rich is a freelance copywriter and content strategist with over 10 years' experience. His career has seen him work in-house and in various agencies, producing online and offline content marketing campaigns and copywriting for clients in the energy industry.

With contributions from