Fibre vs ADSL: The startling reality of modern high-speed internet

Internet penetration in South Africa is on the rise and the right to a quality connection has become paramount, but in the end, consumers don’t always know what they’re paying for.

As one of South Africa’s best-loved installers of Fibre, Link Africa is at the cutting edge of fibre optic technology, an innovation that will supplant ADSL within a matter of years.

But if you’re juggling a busy schedule, you don’t want the hassle of trying to work out what makes ADSL and Fibre different.

That’s why we’ve put together a handy guide that unpacks the two side by side, giving you a clear picture of the differences between the two.

So, what is ADSL?

ADSL stands for “Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line.” It’s an evolution of the old dial-up mode that tapped into your telephone line. ADSL uses the same copper cables as your phone, but runs at a different frequency. That’s why you’re able to use the web and the landline in tandem.

And what is Fibre?

Fibre refers to fibre-optics. Whereas ADSL is powered by electrical impulses running over copper, Fibre harnesses light running over fibre-optic strands made from pure glass.

Glass is a far better medium than copper. And that means Fibre is capable of faster speeds than copper-based ADSL (and is more reliable too). The sky’s the limit in terms of speed, and glass is immune to electrical interference, lightning storms and theft.


Network cable with Fiber optics light internet concept

So, we get to the juicy, million dollar question. What speeds can you expect from the two?

ADSL reaches a maximum speed of around 40 Mbps. ‘Around’, because the final product is subject to degradation. Speeds are often not what they’re advertised to be, and it all depends on the quality of the copper cable as well as how far your home/business is situated from the exchange. The ‘A’ in ADSL means the service is asymmetrical by design. That implies that if you pay for a 40 Mbps service, the upload speed will be 50% of that (i.e., 20 Mbps). While that suits the needs of most internet surfers, it’s restrictive if you create content from home, such as music or art, or offer professional services like, say, architectural drawings.

ADSL speeds drops off markedly the further you move away from the main exchange, so if you’re in a home that isn’t optimally-positioned, you won’t get the speeds you pay for. Plus, ADSL is a ‘best-effort’ service which struggles with bandwidth: you’ll notice you’re throttled during high-peak times.

Most internet users in South Africa make do with 4 mbps connections (3.7 to be exact, according to the Akamai Q3 report), and if conditions are not favourable, they’re getting speeds a fraction of that.

Fibre is as advertised, and when it comes to speed, nothing does it better than fibre-optics.

At the moment, ISPs are offering speeds up to a maximum of 1000 Mbps. Yes, one-thousand megabits. Picture downloading a gigabyte movie in 10 seconds.

(Incidentally, with the average South African connection, that movie would take 40 minutes on a 4 mbps ADSL connection).

Prices for the top-tier 1000 Mbps package currently sit at R2500, which is expensive, but should come down as it becomes more commonplace.


Price is determined by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). At Link Africa, we’re involved in the installation of the fibre in the ground, which is then leased by an ISP, who sells the end product to the consumer.

On the whole, fibre is marginally more expensive but the price is dropping all the time.

Shop around and you’ll find uncapped Fibre at 4 Mbps for between R448 – R499. For the same price, you can get MWEB ADSL, 10 Mbps, for R499.

Still, as we’ve explained, a 10 Mbps ADSL connection doesn’t mean you’re getting 10 megabits every second. Plus, Fibre has the advantage of offering upload and download speeds can be set to be in line with one another. So, you’ll notice that when you have a Skype call, for instance, the picture you receive (download) and send (upload) will be fast and lag-free. ADSL doesn’t offer the same luxury.

Real-World Value


Fibre doesn’t just mean more speed. It means more speed minus bandwidth limitations, latency issues and throttling.

It means an almost limitless speed cap. While you might opt for a 4 Mbps speed today, you could one day upgrade to 100, or even 1000, 2000, 3000 and more. In fact, speeds will continue to increase so long as there are ISPs able to handle it!

Fibre in your area raises your house price and rental value; it is easier to maintain than copper, and once fibre is installed in your neighbourhood, it never needs to be re-installed.


At the moment, ADSL is more easily available than Fibre. Why? It’s been around longer, increasing its penetration. Almost any household or business with a telco landline can get ADSL. Fibre, on the other hand, needs to be installed underground (or in existing storm water and underground networks) by a trenching team.

Still, in a country where we’re increasingly leading our lives online (and in thrall to HD content) fibre is on the rise. Check out if there’s fibre in your area at If not, head over to to register your interest.

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