Fibre optic broadband deals
Discover how fibre optic broadband works and find the best fibre optic broadband deal for you today.
Broadband companies talk about their fibre optic broadband plans. Some also talk about “full fibre” and “fibre to the premises” (FTTP). But what does that all mean? We explain the lingo and how to find the right deal for you.
What is fibre optic broadband?
Fibre optic broadband is the most common type of Internet connection used by UK households today, according to the telecoms industry watchdog Ofcom.
Simply put, fibre broadband sends a connection to your home via clusters of tiny cables, each one thinner than a human hair. Data is transmitted through these cables, which are made from high-quality glass or plastic, via beams of light.
This technology allows an Internet connection to travel faster than it does through traditional copper telephone lines, which is how most people used to get connected to the web. Most households with access to the most basic fibre broadband connections can expect to receive download speeds of between 38Mbps and 76Mbps.
Over the last few years Openreach, the country’s largest network operator, has been upgrading as much of the network as possible from the old, less efficient, copper lines, to shiny new fibre optic lines. This has meant that increasing numbers of households can get access to “superfast” fibre connections offering upwards of 100Mbps speeds and, in some areas, “ultrafast” connections offering up to 1Gbps speeds.
To give you an idea of what this means in practice, the average household needs a minimum download speed of 25Mbps to stream ultra-high definition (or 4K definition) movies on Netflix. In recent years the BBC has begun offering viewers the chance to stream live sports events in 4K definition, which is some of the highest picture quality available to household viewers. For these types of bright, busy content you’ll need download speeds upwards of 40Mbps.
Types of fibre optic broadband
The vast majority of UK broadband suppliers offer some type of fibre connection. Here are the different types of fibre connection available. Check which of these are available in your area:
Fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) is the most common form of fibre broadband available in the UK. This type of connection involves fibre optic cables that are run from a local telephone exchange to roadside cabinets. From there, standard copper telephone cables carry the connection the rest of the way to the customer’s home.
FTTC packages are typically sold as offering speeds of up to 36Mbps or 76Mbps (for a higher price).
Fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) or “full fibre” broadband uses fibre optic cables that run directly from a local exchange to the home, cutting out the cabinet entirely. Full fibre offers greater speeds than FTTC, with connections typically upwards of 100Mbps, and, in some areas, as fast as 1Gbps (or 1,000Mbps).
Cable broadband is very similar to a FTTC connection, except that the last leg of the network’s journey from the fibre cabinet is made with a “coaxial” cable, instead of traditional copper telephone cables. A coaxial cable is a type of electrical cable that transmits data at a faster rate than copper.
A cable connection typically offers faster speeds than FTTC, but slower speeds than FTTP. This is because the strength of a signal carried through a coaxial cable can weaken over longer distances. Virgin Media is the main provider of cable broadband, as it has installed coaxial cables as part of its broadband network. Cable broadband can provide download speeds of up to 300Mbps at the pricier end of the market.
Compare the UK’s best fibre broadband deals
What other types of broadband are there?
Aside from fibre, you can get connected to the Internet via an ADSL connection, mobile broadband and satellite.
ADSL broadband (or asymmetric digital subscriber line, in the jargon) is the most basic Internet connection available. Digital subscriber lines are a type of technology that allows data to be transmitted digitally over phone lines.
An ADSL connection is brought to a customer’s home using copper wires which connect to a wall socket at the premises. ADSL broadband speeds are the lowest available, typically up to 11Mbps.
Mobile broadband uses 4G and 5G mobile data to power your Internet connection. Mobile broadband can be a great solution for households looking for fast Internet speeds but who don’t live in areas served by fibre.
Households can get mobile broadband via a rechargeable dongle or router that houses a SIM card which gets you online. You don’t need any cables to get you surfing the web.
While the earliest mobile broadband plans were pretty expensive and limited your data usage, there are now a range of plans available that are very competitive when compared to fixed line fibre connections and offer unlimited usage.
In some more rural areas that don’t have access to decent ADSL, fibre or mobile reception, another option to get connected is via satellite broadband. As the name suggests, this type of connection uses a wireless signal via a satellite dish to get you online. Satellite Internet services are mainly for those without other real options to get connected and they tend to cost more.
How to find the best fibre optic broadband deal
Bottom line: Fibre optic broadband offers the biggest choice
Fibre optic broadband comes in a range of shapes and sizes, suiting households large and small. Depending on where you live, you may be able to access ultrafast download speeds measuring into hundreds of megabytes per second.
If you live in a shared home where several people are likely to be using the connection for high-bandwidth activities like streaming ultra-high definition TV programmes or online gaming, you may want to opt for the faster packages.
But for general usage, more basic fibre optic plans offering between 36Mbps and 80Mbps will serve you well.
Frequently asked questions
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