The CAP System
There are two competing and incompatible standards for ADSL. The official ANSI standard for ADSL is a system called discrete multitone, or DMT. According to equipment manufacturers, most of the ADSL equipment installed today uses DMT. An earlier and more easily implemented standard was the carrierless amplitude/phase (CAP) system, which was used on many of the early installations of ADSL.
CAP operates by dividing the signals on the telephone line into three distinct bands: Voice conversations are carried in the 0 to 4 KHz (kilohertz) band, as they are in all POTS circuits. The upstream channel (from the user back to the server) is carried in a band between 25 and 160 KHz. The downstream channel (from the server to the user) begins at 240 KHz and goes up to a point that varies depending on a number of conditions (line length, line noise, number of users in a particular telephone company switch) but has a maximum of about 1.5 MHz (megahertz). This system, with the three channels widely separated, minimizes the possibility of interference between the channels on one line, or between the signals on different lines.
The DMT System
DMT also divides signals into separate channels, but doesn't use two fairly broad channels for upstream and downstream data. Instead, DMT divides the data into 247 separate channels, each 4 KHz wide.
One way to think about it is to imagine that the phone company divides your copper line into 247 different 4-KHz lines and then attaches a modem to each one. You get the equivalent of 247 modems connected to your computer at once. Each channel is monitored and, if the quality is too impaired, the signal is shifted to another channel. This system constantly shifts signals between different channels, searching for the best channels for transmission and reception. In addition, some of the lower channels (those starting at about 8 KHz), are used as bidirectional channels, for upstream and downstream information. Monitoring and sorting out the information on the bidirectional channels, and keeping up with the quality of all 247 channels, makes DMT more complex to implement than CAP, but gives it more flexibility on lines of differing quality.
CAP and DMT are similar in one way that you can see as a DSL user.
If you have ADSL installed, you were almost certainly given small filters to attach to the outlets that don't provide the signal to your ADSL modem. These filters are low-pass filters -- simple filters that block all signals above a certain frequency. Since all voice conversations take place below 4 KHz, the low-pass (LP) filters are built to block everything above 4 KHz, preventing the data signals from interfering with standard telephone calls.