Battle of the bandwidth: What’s the real difference between ADSL, VDSL and Fibre?
With a variety of connectivity options available to businesses today, how can they ensure they’re making the right choice for their bandwidth needs? Jarryd Chatz, CEO at BitCo, explores this question while unpacking some of the different fixed line options – ADSL, VDSL and Fibre – in terms of their benefits, disadvantages and ideal environments.
Email. VPN access. The occasional Google search. Rewind a decade or two, and these were probably the bulk of your business connectivity requirements, but today things are different. Think about the last time you came into work only to find yourself without an internet connection and completely unable to do any work.
Our online dependency
It probably felt a lot like when the electricity goes out at home. You try to get on with other things only to realise there isn’t much to get on with, and you keep catching yourself flipping the light switch instinctively or trying to use the microwave; this level of dependence has now also extended from electricity to connectivity. Without it, you can’t do your admin, book meetings, use your business instant messenger, access your collaborative efforts on Google docs, back up your data remotely, or even handle customer queries.
Because radio silence status (downtime) is crippling for most businesses, staying connected is non-negotiable and connectivity considerations should be made. This is why businesses need to investigate and identify their ideal connectivity solution.
The A to Z of ADSL
An Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) is a type of broadband connection transmitted over copper cables, the next step up from the old dial up modems – a noisy relic of the past, where connecting to the internet meant a permanently engaged phoneline. Gone are those days for most of us, and good riddance too.
Yes, ADSL means higher speed connectivity than before, topping out at a maximum of 10Mbps, and is widely available in most areas. It won’t put you out of pocket either with zero special installation costs. However, it does have some drawbacks.
You will not only need a landline, which comes with its own cost, but upload speeds are a fraction of download speeds, your speed is also not consistent or guaranteed as it works on a “up to” basis and both are affected by the condition of the cables, high contention rates, the distance to the provider’s exchange location and even the weather. So, you may end up paying the same rate as others but still get a significantly slower or more intermittent service.
The asymmetrical nature of the connection is the other problem for many businesses today, making uploading large files a very difficult and slow task.
Getting up to speed with VDSL
Although Very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line connections use the same copper cable medium as ADSL, they offer accelerated speeds of up to 40Mbps with more stable upstream and downstream signals. Unfortunately, the overall speed will still be affected by cable condition, high contention rates, and geographic location in relation to the exchange, as with ADSL, and it comes with an additional price tag for the installation.
Tapping into the future of fast Fibre
There’s no denying that fibre optics is the superior choice, especially from the perspective of bandwidth. It enables you to transmit data of up to a whopping 1Gbps, bypassing copper cables completely in favour of glass cables instead. These transmit at the speed of light, avoiding the use of copper also makes them completely resilient to electromagnetic disturbances and much more reliable and future-proof. Start-up businesses are free to choose an initial 20Mbps line, and increase this as their connectivity demands grow. With fibre, no physical network infrastructure work is needed. All it takes is a few minor changes to the router.
The installation process can be long and more expensive than ADSL and VDSL, but ISPs often absorb a majority of the cost. And because fibre optic cables are made of glass and buried underground, they hold little value for thieves on the hunt for copper, making them less likely to be tampered with. Fibre connections, unlike DSL connections, also suffer very minimal performance loss due to distance.
The only notable difficulties to this kind of broadband is price and availability. Fibre is still in the process of being rolled out in Africa, putting it out of reach for some homes and organisations and the installation cost for the ISP requires a significantly larger capital initial investment than DSL connections. Over the past 24 months, we’ve seen significant reductions in FTTB pricing, driven continually lower by tense competition and a huge number of businesses signing up. As the demand and competition in the fibre space continues to grow, prices are set only to further decrease in the coming years.
So, which one is right for your business?
There’s no clear-cut answer as to which connection is best for your business. Every business’s needs will differ according to their requirements from a quality versus costs perspective. However, simply put, ADSL offers users lower speeds that are adequate for basic connectivity, such as a start-up ecommerce site that only demands you check your emails and process payments online.
Small businesses running internal networks may want to consider VDSL, which is the middle ground between ADSL’s availability and affordability and fibre’s superior speed. But it’s important that these businesses first research their location, keeping in mind that their distance from the exchange will affect their connection’s performance, and that fibre offers other advantages besides speed.
Finally, when fibre is a viable possibility for a business, it generally beats out the DSL options by a long shot, especially in cases where businesses of any size with multiple users cater to high densities of customers, from restaurants to hotels. I would recommend that all businesses explore this option before settling for DSL. It’s the most reliable, scalable and future proof of the three, so if you want your business to last (and who doesn’t), it’s worth doing your homework to find a service provider who can offer an affordable fibre package for your business. You’ll even save money in the long-run.