Understanding ADSL

The first question on most of our lips when it comes to getting broadband is what speed we can get.  These days we enjoy doing more intensive activities online and rely on our internet connections for increasingly extravagant online lifestyles.  For example, we now have online movie rental services that provide the opportunity to access six and a half thousand films in the case of LOVEFiLM instant, where we can jump online, choose a movie, and be watching in seconds.  Gone are the days where we had to go and rent a DVD.  Our decisions can be instant and our viewing can be instant.

Similarly, we now have online channels from digital TV providers, such as Sky Go from Sky TV.  These offer the opportunity to watch everything we could watch on the big screen on our laptops and on our tablets.  This is great for watching in different parts of the home where we don’t have a big TV.  Of course it also provides the opportunity to watch on the go when we’re outside the home.  So the question emerges what internet speed can we get and what dictates the level of service we receive. 

The fact is that with ADSL broadband, the most important consideration is how far you are from the telephone exchange.  The reason for this is the technology that is used to pass the data and that is what we’re going to consider first. 

ADSL Broadband Technology

Whether we’re on Tesco Broadband ADSL, or Sky Broadband ADSL, the internet data is passed in packets over the telephone infrastructure provided by BT.  This infrastructure was developed many years ago and has been upgraded in part over the decades.

The technology was developed not for high speed internet connections but of course for landline communications. Landline calls work at a much lower frequency than high speed broadband over ADSL, and therefore the cables often cannot cope with the speeds available through ADSL at the exchange.

The BT infrastructure is copper cables and these run from the exchange all the way to our homes.  Therefore, the further we are from the telephone exchange, the further the internet signal has to travel over these inefficient cables.  If we live several miles from an exchange, this can mean that the internet arrives in our homes to our devices is much, much slower than when it left the exchange.

If you live within a couple of 100 meters of the telephone exchange, you are likely to get close to the advertised rate, which can be extremely high if you can get on ADSL 2+.  For example, where I live, I am 200 meters from the telephone exchange;  I am on Sky ADSL technology and can get 20Mbps connection speeds.

BE Broadband, Plusnet Broadband, Sky Broadband, Tesco Broadband and all the others

The fact is that ADSL technology will in a few years become relatively obsolete.  We have fibre optic broadband rolling around the country and providers such as, Tesco Broadband, BE Broadband, Plusnet and all the others will be jumping on to the BT fibre optic infrastructure in the future. 

Fibre optic broadband is custom designed for the delivery of internet signals and therefore there is no loss of speed over distance.  You can be 20 miles or 20 meters from the telephone exchange and the speed over fibre optic broadband will be similar.  In fact, with Virgin Broadband, sometimes the speeds advertised are actually over achieved by connections.  Official Ofcom tests suggest that Virgin Media Broadband customers get around 95% of their advertised speed in most cases.  If you compare this to the average with ADSL of around 50% or 60% there is a marked difference.

What else affects speed on ADSL?

The set-up in your home can make a massive impact on the speed of ADSL broadband as well.  You should have your router plugged in to the main telephone socket, your microfilters installed, your WiFi router appropriately placed, and you should have good equipment for all of the set-up.

On wireless connections you can receive poorer signals to your devices if you have dense walls and ceilings, as is the case in most, older, homes. You can also receive interference from all manner of sources.

Some of the top interference sources of wireless broadband signals include:

  • Other broadband services in your local area taking air waves
  • Wireless devices in your home such as baby monitors
  • Wireless boilers, and wireless audio systems
  • And electric devices near to your telephone line and near your router, such as fridges, freezers, microwave ovens, and radios.

It’s important to think of your ADSL connection as a journey over which your internet data travels.  At any step of the way there can be a bottleneck, or a complete shield to stop the connection.  When you think in these terms, you can look for places that could cause inefficiency in your connection in order to remedy them and get the most out of your broadband package.  At the end of the day, that’s all we want from our broadband.  The maximum capacity of the package we bought and therefore value for money.

Top Tip

It’s well worth considering a relayer or repeater, a home plug system or a premium router upgrade if you are having wireless problems.  You could also always plug in with a superefficient Ethernet cable and connect wired rather than wirelessly if you can.  By running wired cables around your home, you can overcome many of the issues that older homes have and also issues in homes where there are too many wireless signals flying about, in order to get online where you want to get online in your home. 

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