Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line

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Template:DSL technologies
File:ADSL router with Wi-Fi (802.11 b-g).jpg
A gateway is commonly used to make an ADSL connection. The model pictured is also a wireless access point, hence the antenna.

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) is one form of the Digital Subscriber Line technology, a data communications technology that enables faster data transmission over copper telephone lines than a conventional voiceband modem can provide. It does this by utilizing frequencies that are not used by a voice telephone call.[1] A splitter - or microfilter - allows a single telephone connection to be used for both ADSL service and voice calls at the same time. ADSL can generally only be distributed over short distances from the central office, typically less than 4 kilometres (2 mi),[2] but has been known to exceed 8 kilometres (5 mi) if the originally laid wire gauge allows for farther distribution.

At the telephone exchange the line generally terminates at a DSLAM where another frequency splitter separates the voice band signal for the conventional phone network. Data carried by the ADSL is typically routed over the telephone company's data network and eventually reaches a conventional Internet Protocol network.



The distinguishing characteristic of ADSL over other forms of DSL is that the bandwidth is greater in the direction to the customer premises than the reverse, giving rise to is asymmetric characteristic. Providers usually market ADSL as a service for consumers to connect to the Internet in a relatively passive mode: able to use the higher speed direction for the download from the Internet but not needing to run servers that would require high speed in the other direction.

There are both technical and marketing reasons why ADSL is in many places the most common type offered to home users. On the technical side, there is likely to be more crosstalk from other circuits at the Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAM) end (where the wires from many local loops are close to each other) than at the customer premises. Thus the upload signal is weakest at the noisiest part of the local loop, while the download signal is strongest at the noisiest part of the local loop. It therefore makes technical sense to have the DSLAM transmit at a higher bit rate than does the modem on the customer end. Since the typical home user in fact does prefer a higher download speed, the telephone companies chose to make a virtue out of necessity, hence ADSL. On the marketing side, limiting upload speeds limits the attractiveness of this service to business customers, often causing them to purchase higher cost Leased line services instead. In this fashion, it segments the digital communications market between business and home users.


Currently, most ADSL communication is full-duplex. Full-duplex ADSL communication is usually achieved on a wire pair by either frequency-division duplex (FDD), echo-cancelling duplex (ECD), or time-division duplexing (TDD). FDD uses two separate frequency bands, referred to as the upstream and downstream bands. The upstream band is used for communication from the end user to the telephone central office. The downstream band is used for communicating from the central office to the end user.

File:ADSL frequency plan.svg
Frequency plan for ADSL. The red area is the frequency range used by normal voice telephony (PSTN), the green (upstream) and blue (downstream) areas are used for ADSL.

With standard ADSL (annex A), the band from 25.875 kHz to 138 kHz is used for upstream communication, while 138 kHz – 1104 kHz is used for downstream communication. Each of these is further divided into smaller frequency channels of 4.3125 kHz. These frequency channels are sometimes termed bins. During initial training, the ADSL modem tests each of the bins to establish the signal-to-noise ratio at each bin's frequency. The distance from the telephone exchange and the characteristics of the cable mean that some frequencies may not propagate well, and noise on the copper wire, interference from AM radio stations and local interference and electrical noise at the customer end mean that relatively high levels of noise are present at some frequencies, so considering both effects the signal-to-noise ratio in some bins (at some frequencies) may be good or completely inadequate. A bad signal-to-noise ratio measured at certain frequencies will mean that those bins will not be used, resulting in a reduced maximum link capacity but with an otherwise functional ADSL connection.

The DSL modem will make a plan on how to exploit each of the bins sometimes termed "bits per bin" allocation. Those bins that have a good signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) will be chosen to transmit signals chosen from a greater number of possible encoded values (this range of possibilities equating to more bits of data sent) in each main clock cycle. The number of possibilities must not be so large that the receiver might mishear which one was intended in the presence of noise. Noisy bins may only be required to carry as few as two bits, a choice from only one of four possible patterns, or only one bit per bin in the case of ADSL2+, and really noisy bins are not used at all. If the pattern of noise versus frequencies heard in the bins changes, the DSL modem can alter the bits-per-bin allocations, in a process called "bitswap", where bins that have become more noisy are only required to carry fewer bits and other channels will be chosen to be given a higher burden. The data transfer capacity the DSL modem therefore reports is determined by the total of the bits-per-bin allocations of all the bins combined. Higher signal-to-noise ratios and more bins being in use gives a higher total link capacity, while lower signal-to-noise ratios or fewer bins being used gives a low link capacity.

The total maximum capacity derived from summing the bits-per-bins is reported by DSL modems and is sometimes termed sync rate. This will always be rather misleading as the true maximum link capacity for user data transfer rate will be significantly lower because extra data is transmitted that is termed protocol overhead, a reduced figure of around 84-87% at most for PPPoA connections being a common example. In addition some ISPs will have traffic policies that limit maximum transfer rates further in the networks beyond the exchange, and traffic congestion on the Internet, heavy loading on servers and slowness or inefficiency in customers' computers may all contribute to reductions below the maximum attainable.

The choices the DSL modem make can also be either conservative, where the modem chooses to allocate fewer bits per bin than it possibly could, a choice which makes for a slower connection, or less conservative in which more bits per bin are chosen in which case there is a greater risk case of error should future signal-to-noise ratios deteriorate to the point where the bits-per-bin allocations chosen are too high to cope with the greater noise present. This conservatism involving a choice to using fewer bits per bin as a safeguard against future noise increases is reported as the signal-to-noise ratio margin or SNR margin. The telephone exchange can indicate a suggested SNR margin to the customer's DSL modem when it initially connects, and the modem may make its bits-per-bin allocation plan accordingly. A high SNR margin will mean a reduced maximum throughput but greater reliability and stability of the connection. A low SNR margin will mean high speeds provided the noise level does not increase too much, otherwise the connection will have to be dropped and renegotiated (resynced). ADSL2+ can better accommodate such circumstances, offering a feature termed seamless rate adaptation (SRA), which can accommodate changes in total link capacity with less disruption to communications.

Vendors may support usage of higher frequencies as a proprietary extension to the standard. However, this requires matching vendor-supplied equipment on both ends of the line, and will likely result in crosstalk problems that affect other lines in the same bundle.

There is a direct relationship between the number of channels available and the throughput capacity of the ADSL connection. The exact data capacity per channel depends on the modulation method used.

ADSL initially existed in two flavours (similar to VDSL), namely CAP and DMT. CAP was the de facto standard for ADSL deployments up until 1996, deployed in 90 percent of ADSL installs at the time. However, DMT was chosen for the first ITU-T ADSL standards, G.992.1 and G.992.2 (also called G.dmt and G.lite respectively). Therefore all modern installations of ADSL are based on the DMT modulation scheme.

ADSL standards

Version Standard name Common name  Downstream rate   Upstream rate   Approved in 
ADSL ANSI T1.413-1998 Issue 2 ADSL 8 Mbit/s 1.0 Mbit/s 1998
ITU G.992.1 ADSL (G.DMT) 12 Mbit/s 1.3 Mbit/s 1999-07
ITU G.992.1 Annex A ADSL over POTS 12 Mbit/s 1.3 Mbit/s 2001
ITU G.992.1 Annex B ADSL over ISDN 12 Mbit/s 1.8 Mbit/s 2005
ITU G.992.2 ADSL Lite (G.Lite) 1.5 Mbit/s 0.5 Mbit/s 1999-07
ADSL2 ITU G.992.3 ADSL2 12 Mbit/s 1.0 Mbit/s 2002-07
ITU G.992.3 Annex J ADSL2 12 Mbit/s 3.5 Mbit/s
ITU G.992.3 Annex L RE-ADSL2 5 Mbit/s 0.8 Mbit/s
ITU G.992.4 splitterless ADSL2 1.5 Mbit/s 0.5 Mbit/s 2002-07
ADSL2+ ITU G.992.5 ADSL2+ 24 Mbit/s 1.0 Mbit/s 2003-05
ITU G.992.5 Annex M ADSL2+M 24 Mbit/s 3.5 Mbit/s 2008

Annexes J and M shift the upstream/downstream frequency split up to 276 kHz (from 138 kHz used in the commonly deployed annex A) in order to boost upstream rates. Additionally, the "all-digital-loop" variants of ADSL2 and ADSL2+ (annexes I and J) support an extra 256 kbit/s of upstream if the bandwidth normally used for POTS voice calls is allocated for ADSL usage.

ADSL1 access utilizes the 1.1 MHz band, and ADSL2+ utilizes the 2.2 MHz band.

The downstream and upstream rates displayed are theoretical maxima. Note also that because digital subscriber line access multiplexers and ADSL modems may have been implemented based on differing or incomplete standards some manufacturers may advertise different speeds. For example, Ericsson has several devices that support non-standard upstream speeds of up to 2 Mbit/s in ADSL2 and ADSL2+.

Installation issues

Due to the way it uses the frequency spectrum, ADSL deployment presents some issues. It is necessary to install appropriate frequency filters at the customer's premises, to avoid interference with the voice service, while at the same time taking care to keep a clean signal level for the ADSL connection.

In the early days of DSL, installation required a technician to visit the premises. A splitter or microfilter was installed near the demarcation point, from which a dedicated data line was installed. This way, the DSL signal is separated earlier and is not attenuated inside the customer premises. However, this procedure is costly, and also caused problems with customers complaining about having to wait for the technician to perform the installation. As a result, many DSL vendors started offering a self-install option, in which they ship equipment and instructions to the customer. Instead of separating the DSL signal at the demarcation point, the opposite is done: the DSL signal is filtered at each phone outlet by use of a low-pass filter for voice and a high-pass filter for data, usually enclosed in what is known as a microfilter. This microfilter can be plugged directly into any phone jack, and does not require any rewiring at the customer's premises.

A side effect of the move to the self-install model is that the DSL signal can be degraded, especially if more than 5 voiceband devices are connected to the line. The DSL signal is now present on all telephone wiring in the building, causing attenuation and echo. A way to circumvent this is to go back to the original model, and install one filter upstream from all telephone jacks in the building, except for the jack to which the DSL modem will be connected. Since this requires wiring changes by the customer and may not work on some household telephone wiring, it is rarely done. It is usually much easier to install filters at each telephone jack that is in use.

DSL signals may be degraded by older telephone lines, surge protectors, poorly designed microfilters, radio frequency interference, electrical noise, and by long telephone extension cords. Telephone extension cords are typically made with small-gauge multi-strand copper conductors which do not maintain a noise-reducing pair twist. Such cable is more susceptible to electromagnetic interference and has more attenuation than solid twisted-pair copper wires typically wired to telephone jacks. These effects are especially significant where the customer's phone line is more than 4 km from the DSLAM in the telephone exchange, which causes the signal levels to be lower relative to any local noise and attenuation. This will have the effect of reducing speeds or causing connection failures.

See also


  1. ANSI T1.413-1998 “Network and Customer Installation Interfaces – Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) Metallic Interface.” (American National Standards Institute 1998)
  2. Data and Computer Communications, William Stallings, ISBN 0132433109, ISBN 978-0132433105

External links

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