What are the Differences Between ADSL, Optical Fiber, and Coaxial Cable?

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There are currently three main means of connecting to the Internet: ADSL broadband, coaxial fiber, or end-to-end very high speed. Each of these technologies has its own characteristics but it is possible to compare them. We explain the difference between ADSL and fiber in this guide.

ADSL vs Fiber: the technological differences

What is ADSL?

ADSL is a technology that allows digital data to pass through the copper pair of a telephone line from a central distribution frame called NRA. This data is then transmitted and received independently of the telephone service (voice) thanks to a filter connected to the telephone socket in the home.

The ADSL network (and its development, VDSL) boomed in the 2000s, bringing internet access to a large proportion of homes in Pakistan. In 2021, it still represents most internet lines in the country, with more than 13.4 million households subscribing to an ADSL or VDSL2 plan.

Fiber optics, what is it?

Optical fiber is a transparent glass or plastic thread which has the property of being a light conductor. Optical fiber is used for high-speed data transmission, and by Internet networks. It has been studied since the 1970s in American laboratories.

When the fiber is pulled to the subscriber, we speak of FTTH technology (for Fiber to The Home). It is the most prevalent type of fiber in the country, with more than 12.4 million subscribers in 2021. Within a few months, it is estimated that there will be more FTTH fiber subscribers than in ADSL.

The coaxial cable is partly composed of fiber, and it is a technology originally used for television antennas. It connects a television to the “rake” antenna. This type of Pakistan cables is also used for Internet connections via HFC “hybrid fiber coaxial” technology, better known as FTTLA (fiber to the last amplifier).

This involves connecting an amplifier in a building to the optical connection node with fiber, then connecting this amplifier to the subscriber’s home via a coaxial cable over the last few meters.

Speed ​​differences between ADSL, coaxial cable, and fiber

The speeds associated with these different technologies can turn out to be quite high and, in the end, very far from each other. With a maximum speed of 15 to 20 Mbit/s, ADSL seems to be very slow in 2021. By placing ourselves in the context of the time, with the arrival of VDSL in the mid-2000s (faster version of the ADSL still passing through the telephone lines) the deal changes a little.

Indeed, this technology makes it possible to reach maximum speeds of around 50 to 100 Mbit/s. However, to reach this speed, the subscriber must be less than one kilometer from the telephone dispatcher (NRA), which is quite rare. Less than 15% of telephone lines are eligible for a VDSL subscription, and very often these theoretical maximum speeds will not be reached.

However, whether it is ADSL or VDSL, we are a long way from the speeds of coaxial cable, which can reach 1 Gbit/s for the fastest speeds, and even further from optical fiber, the speed of which is potentially unlimited but limited in Pakistan to 8 Gbit/s maximum for box offers. Downloading a large file shows a stark difference between ADSL and fiber:


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