ADSL Speed Explained

There are number of different technologies available on the broadband market at the moment. There's a lot of buzz around fibre optic broadband, which is undoubtedly the fastest broadband connectivity type out there available to consumers; but many of us are still stuck on ADSL or choose to be on it, and this article will look at how to understand the speed attainable on different ADSL packages, and the limitations of ADSL itself.

The Technology of ADSL

It used to be the case a long time ago that we were struck with 56kbps dial-up broadband internet. It was the era of “narrowband” and we were severely limited in what we could do. Web developers were making their web pages lighter so that they could actually load in less than a minute, and we couldn't do online streaming or any sort of heavy activity. The internet, really, was the realm of a little bit of internet browsing and checking email.

Nowadays, the situation has changed - somewhat. ADSL still travels over the same telephone lines that dial-up broadband did, but the pulse rates are much higher and the bandwidth is huge in comparison. Having said all that, ADSL broadband is still limited.

The telephone cables over which the signals pass are made of copper and they’re not optimal for transferring internet data. In fact, in some locations in the UK, it's impossible to get an ADSL connection on your telephone lines because you live so far from the telephone exchange.

Why Is This?

The distance from the telephone exchange has a massive impact on the speed you get in ADSL. With each metre that passes, the speed of the connection will slow down and, therefore, at the target end you can end up with such a low speed that the connection is unworkable. At the other end of the spectrum, you could live within 200m of the telephone exchange and get superb connectivity.

What Is Installed in the Exchange?

As well as the line and distance from the exchange, it's important to understand what additional technology is installed at your telephone exchange. If you go on to Sam Knows Best, you'll find on the website a way you can search for your local telephone exchange and see the distance and technology installed.

You may be looking for LLU services from companies such as Virgin Media, TalkTalk, O2 and Sky, who will provide much better connectivity speeds and integrity than standard ADSL.

Indeed, ADSL has gone through transformation over recent years. It used to be the case that top speeds were up to 8mbps, which seemed very fast at that time. In today's age, 8mbps is below the average internet broadband speed. Nowadays, we have ADSL 2 and ADSL 2+, which run at up to 16mbps and up to 24mbps, respectively. Signals do vary, but these are good guides of the types of speeds you can get on ADSL broadband under optimal circumstances.

Your Setup and Other Considerations

When I check my broadband speed, I try and ensure that I understand the setup of my connection. The setup really can have an impact on the ability of your broadband connection to travel as fast as it possibly can.

Some important things to consider include the quality of your wireless router, quality of your cabling and microfilters, the length of your cables and the positioning of your router for Wi-Fi. If everything is optimal, you're more likely to get a good quality connection as an end result. If you have a substandard router that's unable to work at the types of speed coming in to your home, you may end up with half the connection speed you could have received.

The Number of People on the Connection

It's also important to recognise that multiple people on the same connection may be sharing the bandwidth. Therefore, the speed you will receive on your connection when you decide “I want to check my broadband speed” will be slower if other people are doing certain activities. Indeed, even the activities running in the background in your computer can slow your connection so that you're unable to get accurate results.

When I check my broadband speed, I ensure that other people are off the connection and data-munching processes on my laptop are not consuming resources.

Broadband Advertising can be Misguiding

Sometimes, broadband advertising really isn't fair. When you see a broadband speed of up to 24mbps, you kind of expect that you'll receive somewhere close to it. In reality, you may only receive a 1/2 or 2/3 of that connection speed. As we've seen earlier, a lot of this is down to distance from the exchange and the quality of the cabling in between the exchange on your home.

The wiring in your home can also have an impact, and it may work when you take out the bell wire that used to pass the ringing sound around your home, or install an iPlate or broadband accelerator.

You really do need to help your ADSL connection as much as possible by getting the setup correct.

Impediments to Wireless Speed

When I check my broadband speed, I ensure I do so both wired and wirelessly. I will check through my Ethernet cable to find out what kind of connection I'm getting from my router, and then will check in different parts of my house to see how the speed is in different locations. If you do this yourself, you'll probably find that you have certain internet black spots, and these can be caused by a number of factors.

One of the most common problems with wireless connections is actually the structure of your home itself. If you live in an old home, you're likely to have quite dense walls and ceilings, which are capable of restricting the passage of broadcast wireless broadband signals. Therefore, the connection you get upstairs or around your house will be slower than close to your router.

Connecting within Line of Sight of Your Router is Always the Best Way Forward Where Possible

In addition to the obstructions caused by walls and ceilings, cupboards and furniture can also get in the way, so you must place your router in a sensible location. Elevated positions are normally best, such as on a shelf.

Other local wireless internet connections can also impede your connection, especially if they work at the same frequency as yours. If you have a standard router, it probably works on the 2.4GHz range and, so, the airwaves can be filled with other people on the same frequency.

A premium router can solve this problem, and you can now get routers where you can use several different frequencies in order to ensure that you get a better connection and avoid these interference patterns.

Devices in your home can also cause issues, and anything with a frequency of around 2.4GHz can cause issues - such as the monitors you use to keep tabs on your babies, the thermostats for your boilers if they operate wirelessly and even the communication devices between your audio systems if you have a snazzy music system in your home.


ADSL, really, is a connectivity type fraught with possible challenges. It is a postcode lottery whether you can get a decent connection in the first place, and then there are a lot of things in the setup and infrastructure in your home and outside that cause issues.

If you can get fibre optic broadband and the price isn't so much that it will squeeze your budget, it may be worth considering this type of connection.

Fibre optic cables are designed for internet data transfer and, therefore, speeds tend to be close to advertised rates, and the connections tend to be very good.

How Often do I Check my Broadband Speed?

I tend to check my broadband speed whenever I have issues with my connection - when I'm looking to try different activities such as high-definition streaming in different parts of my home, and when I'm approaching the end of my contract and want to compare my broadband speed with other offerings available on the market. 

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