ADSL broadband: a guide

A man and a woman using a laptop

Read our guide to ADSL and cable broadband, discover the pros and cons of each and choose the right broadband package for you.

What is ADSL broadband?

ADSL, or asymmetric digital subscriber line, is a type of broadband you can get in your home, usually through the same line as your home phone. It’s the most commonly available type of connection, as well as being the cheapest and slowest – the other options are cable or fibre broadband.

How does ADSL broadband work?

ADSL broadband uses the copper cables belonging to the BT/Openreach infrastructure, through which your phone line will also run. While only a couple of decades ago you couldn’t use the phone and the internet at the same time, these days a microfilter separates them so you can use both.

Unlike with fibre broadband, the distance you are from the telephone exchange can influence your download speed – as speed is lost over greater lengths of cabling.

What other types of broadband are there?

The other types of broadband you can look for are:

Cable: Cable broadband isn’t as widely available as ADSL in the UK, but it usually offers faster download speeds. Rather than using BT’s infrastructure, it uses a coaxial cable setup belonging to Virgin Media

Fibre: Fibre broadband uses cables made from glass or plastic to transmit data far quicker than cable or ADSL – but it’s not as widely available, and can be quite expensive in comparison

How fast is ADSL broadband?

ADSL broadband is comparatively slower than cable or fibre, but the speed you’re likely to get will depend on the type of connection you have. There are two different types of ADSL broadband:

ADSL1: ADSL1 is the slower of the two, usually reaching up to around 10Mbps

ADSL2+: ADSL2 is capable of faster speeds, often around a maximum of 24Mbps

Is ADSL broadband fast enough for 4k streaming?

If you have an ADSL1 connection you’ll likely be able to stream up to HD, but it’s usually recommended you have around a 25Mbps connection speed for stable 4k streaming. An ADSL2+ connection might be able to handle it, but it would likely restrict any other internet usage.

Do I need unlimited broadband?

If you’re a heavy internet user, you might consider an unlimited downloads broadband deal. Most providers offer unlimited downloads as standard, but not all – so it’s worth checking to make sure you don’t hit a cap when you still need to make downloads.

What affects my broadband speed?

Aside from the type of connection you have, your download speeds may also be affected by the following:

  • People or devices using your connection: The more people or devices connected to your broadband, the more bandwidth is being used – so the slower your overall connection speed will be
  • Electrical devices in your home: Electrical devices, even when not connected to your wi-fi, may still cause interference with the connection – so keep these as far away from your router as possible
  • Quality of hardware: Old routers and cables, especially when in poor condition, can restrict your download speeds – it might be worth asking your provider for an upgrade if possible
  • Viruses and malware: Your computer might be slow in general, including your wi-fi connection, if it’s got a virus or malware installed – try scanning your computer with anti-virus software
  • Weather conditions: Severe weather can affect phone lines, while freezing temperatures can cause damage to underground cables
  • Time of day: During peak internet use hours, usually between 6 and 11pm, it’s normal to see slower broadband speeds

MoneySuperMarket also offer a broadband speed checker tool, so you can see what kind of download speeds you’re getting and whether they match what your provider has promised.

Can I get ADSL broadband?

Not all broadband connection types are available in all areas of the UK, though ADSL is the most common. When you compare broadband deals with MoneySuperMarket just pop in your postcode so we can show you accurate results for your area.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need any special equipment for ADSL broadband?

Depending on where you live and what connection is already in place – if any – you may require new equipment to be installed in your home. Your provider will be able to tell you if this is necessary.

Do I need a modem?

Some providers may require you to have a modem in addition to a router for the installation of ADSL broadband – you’ll be told about any requirements when you switch.

Can I cancel my ADSL broadband?

You should be able to cancel your broadband subscription or switch to a new provider, but keep in mind there are likely to be cancellation fees involved.