ADSL guide for non techie people

Deciding on the correct ADSL option can be confusing.

There are many IT terms that are advertised but need translating.

Here is a non technical guide to sift through the noise and help you do the following:
  1. Understand what ADSL is.
  2. Choose the correct ADSL option.
Understand what ADSL is

A basic ADSL service is made up of the following:

          Telkom (Telephone Company)
Telkom gives you a telephone line to your house. You will use this line to connect your computer to the internet.
The letters stand for Digital Subscriber Line. Computers communicate in digital language. Telkom therefore connects digital equipment to your telephone line so they can receive digital communication when you connect your computer. When Telkom does this, your ordinary telephone line is now called a digital subscriber line. The important thing with DSL is that it doesn’t interfere with your normal telephone calls.
The letters stand for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. Asymmetric means unequal. This term is used because your download speed will be faster than your upload speed on your DSL line from Telkom. Most home users download stuff from the internet more than they upload stuff. Therefore a faster download speed is a popular choice.
          ADSL Modem or Router
This is the device that physically connects your computer to the ADSL line from Telkom.
          Ethernet Cable
You need a cable to connect your computer to the ADSL modem. This is the name of the cable that connects your computer to the ADSL modem.
Wi-Fi is a wireless technology designed for use in a small area, typically your house or a café. So instead of using the Ethernet cable to connect your computer to the modem which restricts you to the length of the cable. You can use Wi-Fi to connect wirelessly to your modem which gives you the freedom to work from anywhere in your house. Provided your modem has Wi-Fi.
The letters stand for Internet Service Provider. This is any company that sells you internet access over the digital line provided by Telkom. In this case Telkom just provides the physical digital line (ADSL) and not the actual access to the internet. Your ISP of choice will provide you with the internet access.
          ADSL Speed (also called bandwidth)
This is the speed at which your computer will communicate over the ADSL line. This speed is measured in Kilo Bits Per Second (thousand bits per second - kbps) or Mega Bits Per Second (million bits per second - mbps). The faster the speed, the higher the monthly rental. Also, be sure to match the speeds. If you get a 512kbps line from Telkom then get a 512kbps service from your ISP.
          Data Usage
Everything on the internet: websites, emails, videos etc, is made up of data. Individual units of data are called bytes. Therefore your internet usage can be measured by counting how many units of data (bytes) you send and receive per month. Your data usage per month will most likely be in the region of Megabytes (million bytes - MB) or Gigabytes (billion bytes - Gig).
          Capped Service
Capped service means you can only send and receive up to a specified amount of data per month. When your usage reaches that amount, your ISP stops or caps your internet access until a new month begins. So a 5 gig cap means you can only send and receive up to 5 gigabytes worth of data per month. Think of it as your monthly quota.
          Shaped Service
When you see the word “Shaped” what your ISP is telling you is that not all internet activities are being provided to you at the same speed. So you might find that browsing websites is fast but watching a video online is not. And that using Skype is also slow making your conversations irritating. That’s because you are being asked to pay more to use things like Skype and video. That is what shaped means.

Choose the correct ADSL option

The most important decisions are are as follows:
  1. Speed of the ADSL connection.
  2. Capped or uncapped service.
  3. Shaped or unshaped service.
Because of internet costs in South Africa, you have to make trade-offs between unshaped and uncapped. Here are the trade-offs:
  • Unshaped service is great for multimedia such as YouTube, Skype calls, online sport, and gaming. However this service is usually capped. Meaning you get limited usage per month. 
  • Uncapped service allows you to use as much data as you want. But the service is usually shaped meaning it is not great for multimedia such as YouTube, Skype calls, online sport, or gaming.
If you want both an unshaped and uncapped service, the price tag goes up. Here is an example. Notice the difference in price for a 384kbps ADSL line that is:
  1. Uncapped but shaped: R219 (at time of writing from providers)
  2. Uncapped and unshaped: R699 (at time of writing from providers)
         NB: prices above exclude Telkom costs.
Here are some suggestions:
  • If you will be using lots of multimedia including gaming, Skyping and torrents? Think of getting an unshaped service. 
  • If your activity will be mostly email and browsing? Think of getting a basic uncapped service even if it is shaped. 
  • A guide on speed: 384kbps is fast; 512kbps is faster; 4mbps is fastest on ADSL. The faster the speed, the better multimedia performance you are going to get. Broadly speaking 384kbps should be fine for just email and browsing on a shaped service.
It’s now up to you to decide which option suits your requirements and monthly budget. What will you be doing online?
  • Is it full blown multimedia? (uncapped and unshaped, fastest speed – premium price)
  • Basic email and browsing? (uncapped and shaped at 384kbps – low price)
  • Or is it somewhere in between? (shaped with faster speed or unshaped but capped starting at a speed of 384kbps – medium price)
NB: If you found this useful, leave a comment below.


  1. ADSL is a term everyone has heard of but not everyone knows what it really means. (Everyone being me, of course!) I've also noticed the increase in advertising around "uncapped usage" which, in theory, sounds great. "Where's the catch?" I wondered. The catch is that you have to add Telkom costs to that. Hmmm....

    Thanks for a cool, simple, dumbed-down explanation ! Keep em coming !

  2. Definately very helpful!! It makes it easier to decide which package is suitable for my needs.

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