Glossary definition of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line

Also known as: ADSL

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) is a technology allowing high rates of digital data to be sent over conventional twisted-pair copper telephone lines. It is referred to as asymmetric because it provides a significantly greater bandwidth in one direction than the other, with faster data transfer from the network to the subscriber than it is in the opposite direction. Consequently, ADSL suits the Internet user who downloads large amounts of data from the Net, but tends to send comparatively little data back in return.

Theoretically, data speeds of up to 9 Mbps (megabits per second) are possible downstream to the customer, and up to 800 kbps (kilobits per second) upstream. This high-speed, high bandwidth digital communication makes live MPEG2 video signals possible, as well as a range of other multimedia broadband services. However, in practice capacity is lower than the theoretical maximum, because line length reduces data speed and limits the exchange to subscriber distance at about 2 miles.

ADSL requires the installation of a special modem, but ADSL then provides an 'always on' connection to subscribers. Simultaneous voice and data transmission is also possible over the same line, because the data transfer uses a section of the phone line bandwidth not utilised by voice. Therefore, subscribers can leave their computers logged onto the Net without interrupting their normal phone connections.

A form of ADSL, called Universal ADSL (G.lite), has been approved as a standard by the ITU-TS for services to homes and businesses. Universal ADSL can provide speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps over conventional phone lines. However, although a provider might typically offer a downstream rate of 512 kbps, this is still about 10 times faster than the fastest analogue-to-digital modems, and several times faster than an ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) connection. Upstream speeds can reach 128 kbps.