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Fibre-optic broadband is the most popular type of broadband connection for UK customers, offering much faster speeds and a more reliable connection than the broadband that runs on old-fashioned copper telephone lines. But what is fibre broadband, and how does it differ from other types of broadband?
From internet speed, to availability in your area, to monthly price, to enticing add-ons, here's everything you need to know before you compare fibre broadband deals.
Fibre broadband prices starting from:
|POP Telecom||from £20.50|
|Vodafone fibre||from £21.95|
The main difference between standard ADSL broadband and fibre broadband is the internet speed it provides. Fibre-optic cables transmit much more data in a given time period than the older, copper-based phone lines used for ADSL broadband.
Most ADSL broadband services will offer average download speeds of around 10Mbps — though due to the dated infrastructure and other variables it can be quite inconsistent.
Whether it's the particular line you're connected to, your distance from the broadband exchange, how far you are from your street cabinet or how many people in your neigbourhood are using the internet all at once, many factors can have an effect on the ADSL speed you receive. So in reality, you could receive anything from around 16Mbps to less than 1Mbps, depending on your circumstances.
Most fibre broadband services, on the other hand, start at around 36Mbps — some three times faster. They also use more robust technology that allows for a more consistent service that doesn't fluctuate in speed as much.
It's also worth noting that fibre packages at their lowest speeds are often the same price, sometimes even cheaper, than many ADSL prices nowadays — especially if you're currently out of your initial fixed-term contract.
There's a huge push for people to take up fibre from both the industry and the government right now, so we're likely to see fibre broadband become the most cost-effective option for almost everyone from now on.
Plus, its speeds don't just stop there. Fibre broadband deals are offered at a range of speeds up to around 1Gbps (that's 1000Mbps), depending on the type of fibre connection. That's about a hundred times faster than copper-based broadband, and it would future-proof your home for years to come.
We perceive it as 'faster' internet because it means downloads complete in a much quicker time, and webpages, images and videos load a lot sooner. But it also means the quality of what you do online significantly improves, because it allows for more detail in the things you watch and listen to. 4K video, for example, is made possible with superfast fibre speeds.
If you're in a small household of one or two people and you only use the internet for scrolling through social media, sending emails or watching the odd YouTube video, standard broadband should do the job — that is unless you can get fibre broadband for the same price.
It's definitely worth checking to see if fibre broadband is actually cheaper than your current connection before you decide what to get. You may find the extra investment worth it for the extra reliability fibre provides.
If you want to stream video regularly, play games online, download large files and programs, or you live in a household with three or more internet users, the speed advantage offered by fibre broadband is invaluable.
Take a look at these examples to see the broadband speed you need for each individual device while it's in use:
Of course, different services will have their own requirements. But, the more internet you want to use at once, the more bandwidth you will need.
If you've got four people wanting to watch Netflix at the same time, you'll need to account for four times the minimum recommended speed for that activity. Otherwise you may have to put up with arguments over who gets to use the internet at what time.
Fibre broadband gains its speed advantage from the way it delivers data. Standard ADSL broadband uses the same copper wires as your landline telephone, using separate electrical frequencies so both services can work at the same time.
However, fibre-optic broadband cables, which are made of plastic and glass, use pulsing beams of light (hence 'optic') to transmit the data at lightspeed.
Not only does that mean data travels significantly faster than copper, but it also won't slow down due to distance since the data is already moving at the fastest possible speed.
There are two main versions of fibre broadband. The most common is known as fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) — this only uses fibre-optic cables as far as your local street-level cabinet and then relies on copper phone lines to connect the last part of the journey to your home. It delivers what is known as 'superfast' speeds between 30-70Mbps.
Then there is full fibre, which is technically called fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP). As the name suggests, this does away with copper completely and runs fibre-optic cabling right from the exchange to your property.
Given that full fibre runs fibre-optic cables all the way to your home, it's capable of much faster speeds. They're capable of supplying 'ultrafast' connections (over 100Mbps) and even 'gigabit' internet speeds (around 1000Mbps), but it can be a lot more expensive as a result.
To learn more about how fibre broadband works, take a look at our detailed fibre broadband guide.
|Package||Broadband speed||Contract length|
|TalkTalk Unlimited Fibre 65, TalkTalk TV and Unlimited UK Calls||67Mb average*||18 months|
|Vodafone Superfast 2||63Mb average*||24 months|
|Plusnet Unlimited Fibre Extra & Phone Line||66Mb average*||18 months|
|Virgin Media M100 Ultrafast Fibre Broadband & Phone||108Mb average*||18 months|
|Virgin Media M200 Ultrafast Fibre Broadband & Phone||213Mb average*||18 months|
|Sky Superfast Broadband||59Mb average*||18 months|
|NOW Broadband: Super Fibre & Anytime Calls||63Mb average*||12 months|
|BT Fibre 2 Broadband||67Mb average*||24 months|
|Virgin Media M500 Ultrafast Fibre Broadband & Phone||516Mb average*||18 months|
|BT Fibre 1 Broadband||50Mb average*||24 months|
Superfast, ultrafast and gigabit may all sound like marketing buzzwords, but they actually have specific definitions referring to the speeds you're able to achieve.
A superfast connection means download speeds above 30Mbps. Ultrafast, according to most broadband providers, applies to speeds of 100Mbps and higher, although Ofcom defines it as above 300Mbps.
Gigabit broadband only refers to the very fastest connections — those of around 1Gbps or more — and can only be delivered full fibre, or FTTP connections.
While these are the official differences between speeds, you might often hear 'superfast' used to describe full fibre broadband in the media or elsewhere. So just watch out for that when you're looking for coverage in your area.
It's currently very rare for 1Gbps to actually be reached through Wi-Fi signal in the home, so you'll have to plug an ethernet cable into the device you're using to reach that level. However, a wireless connection can still offer you several hundred megabits per second, which for almost every household in the UK is still more than enough.
Wi-Fi routers will soon have the technical capability to support gigabit wireless speeds with the introduction of 'Wi-Fi 6' technology. So it won't be long before you can enjoy the fastest possible speeds without having to plug your device in.
Take a look at these examples to compare broadband download times:
|Broadband connection||Broadband speed||Download time|
|Broadband connection||Broadband speed||Download time|
|Broadband connection||Broadband speed||Download time|
The vast majority of homes in the UK are able to get fibre broadband from at least one supplier. According to figures from Ofcom, superfast FTTC broadband is available to over 95% of UK homes.
Most connections are delivered as FTTC via Openreach's networks. Meanwhile, the number of UK homes able to access full fibre (FTTP) stands at roughly 21%, though there are a variety of providers rolling out new networks over the coming months and years to rapidly increase this figure.
You can use our broadband postcode checker to find out what types of broadband are available in your area.
There are several reasons why some homes still can't get fibre broadband. One of the most common is the cost for networks to install the infrastructure, and this is a problem particularly in rural areas.
It's very expensive for providers to route cabling to remote locations, and as there won't be many users, fibre broadband providers may not deem it economically viable to invest so much money for a relatively small number of potential customers.
However, even if you live in a city or suburb, this is no guarantee of fibre broadband either. Some areas are so densely populated that there simply isn't room to add additional capacity for fibre connections, and many purpose-built flats and apartment blocks are also poorly served because of the way they are wired internally.
However, some full fibre providers like Hyperoptic are working hard to specifically improve broadband connections for apartment blocks in particular.
If you can't get fibre, there are still some speedy options available in the form of mobile broadband. 4G speeds can often reach around 24Mbps, which is still more than double the average speed of ADSL broadband, and 5G broadband (while its coverage is currently quite low) can even offer ultrafast speeds of up to 300Mbps.
Take a look at our latest mobile broadband deals to see if you could still get fast broadband speeds without a fixed-line connection.
The government has recently launched a full fibre rollout programme called Project Gigabit, in order to get 1Gbps speeds to the hardest-to-reach rural homes in the country. See the first locations it plans to fund here.
Almost all broadband providers in the UK offer fibre broadband, with most of them using Openreach's network. However there are some full fibre providers that use their own infrastructure to deliver ultrafast and gigabit services.
Essentially, it pays to compare fibre broadband deals to ensure you're getting the best broadband package.
BT is the UK's most popular provider of fibre broadband services, though Sky and TalkTalk are also very popular nationwide. Virgin Media, the other member of the UK's 'Big Four' broadband providers, runs its own fibre-based cable network. It supplies faster speeds but has more limited availability, at around 52% of premises.
Here are some of the fibre broadband providers you can compare deals with today.
If fibre-optic broadband is delivered to your home via copper cabling as part of an FTTC network, then you will still need a working phone line to deliver it. However, if you have access to Virgin Media's cable broadband or full fibre connections available, you can do away with this requirement.
See our guide on how you can get fibre broadband without a phone line.
Bundling fibre broadband with TV is very popular because the faster broadband speeds make for smoother TV and streaming connections. A number of major broadband providers often bundle fibre and TV together because of this.
If you don't need TV, however, it's easy to find fibre broadband-only deals, too. You can compare these deals on our broadband only deals page and clicking the 'fibre broadband' filter.
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