You probably know that fibre broadband is faster and more reliable than standard copper broadband, but if you’re not 100% sure how it works, don’t worry — we’re here to help.
Here’s all you need to know about fibre broadband, including what the different types of fibre connection are and how they can improve your broadband service.
What is fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband, also known as fibre-optic broadband, takes its name from the type of cables used to transmit the broadband signal.
In the past, the majority of connections in the UK relied on copper telephone lines or mobile networks to connect homes with providers, but nowadays the most common broadband connection is a fibre one. It doesn't use fibre-optic cables all the way to the home, but a significant portion of the journey relies on it, and broadband speeds in the UK are a lot faster than they used to be as a result.
Fibre-optic cables transmit data a lot faster than copper wires, which allows for much faster downloads, much higher quality picture when streaming TV and significantly reduced any buffering or loading times than traditional ADSL.
How does fibre optic broadband work?
Fibre-optic broadband is able to provide much faster internet speeds because its cables use pulses of light (hence the word 'optic') to transmit data instead of electrical signals, which copper cables use.
This means the information travels at lightspeed, the fastest speed physically possible, to get to its destination — and therefore means more data can be downloaded and uploaded in less time.
There are several ways fibre-optic broadband reaches your home, and the speed of your fibre broadband connection can vary between 36Mbps and 1000Mbps (or 1Gbps), depending on the type of connection available to your home.
The types of fibre available are:
Superfast fibre | fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) | 30-70Mbps — Fibre-optic cables run all the way from your provider's broadband exchange to the green cabinet in your street, which can be up to 300 metres away. The cabinet is then connected to your home with regular copper wires, which delivers slower speeds. This is the most common connection.
Full fibre | fibre to the premises (FTTP) | 50-1000Mbps — As the name suggests, this is where fibre-optic cables run all the way to your premises, whether it be a house, flat building or office. This is the fastest broadband connection, delivering speeds of up to 1000Mbps (or 1Gbps), and is what the UK government wants to roll out to every property this decade.
FTTN | fibre to the node — Roughly the same as fibre to the cabinet, only the street cabinet can be at a further distance from your home — up to several kilometres away — with the rest of the distance to your house being covered by regular copper wiring.
Does fibre-optic broadband require a phone line?
Superfast fibre (FTTC) connections require a phone line because the final leg of the journey still uses the same copper phone lines as ADSL broadband. This is still by far the most common fibre connection in the UK, so the fibre broadband installation process happens remotely for this type of connection and doesn't require an engineer to visit.
However, full fibre (FTTP) broadband connects cables directly to your property for both your broadband and phone service, so it removes the need for copper phone lines altogether. An engineer will be required to install this fibre-optic connection.
Fibre broadband speeds
Not all fibre broadband is created equal, but faster fibre broadband with speeds over 151Mbps is actually available to the majority of UK homes. To find out your current broadband speed, run our speed test.
Fibre broadband will always be faster and more reliable than ADSL, but there can still be large variations in the speed and quality of your fibre broadband, depending on where you live and who your provider is. This is due to how broadband providers deliver their broadband from the telephone cabinet into your home.
The final leg of your broadband’s journey can make all the difference between getting superfast (30Mbps — 99Mbps) and ultrafast (100Mbps — 900Mbps) speeds at home.
What difference does a faster connection make?
If you don’t use the internet for much beyond scrolling through social media or watching the odd YouTube video, you might not notice much of a difference.
The real benefit of a faster connection comes when you use the internet to stream movies and TV or play bandwidth-hungry video games online. A faster connection means you can stream or download movies, games and music faster and with less buffering and connection dropouts.
It’s also worth considering the number of people in your household, since with every person comes a few more devices that’ll need to use your broadband. The faster your broadband connection, the more devices you can have in use at any one time.
Take a look at our more detailed guide if you want to learn more about superfast broadband and how it can benefit you.
The Openreach FTTP network
The Openreach network, which is part of BT Group, uses fibre-optic cables to deliver broadband from your telephone exchange to the cabinet on your street. For the most part the connection to your home is then completed via copper wires. It's this reliance on less efficient copper wire for the so-called 'final mile' that slows down your connection.
However, BT and Openreach are investing heavily in expanding their FTTP network. BT FTTP broadband is becoming available to a growing number of homes in the UK, with full fibre coverage currently reaching about 18% of properties.
Hyperoptic's full fibre network
Hyperoptic is one of the only broadband providers that deals exclusively with full fibre connections. Its connections run fibre optic cables all the way to your property, instead of just to the green cabinet at the end of your road.
This means that all Hyperoptic broadband connections are capable of up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps) speeds. However, this also means that their availability is limited to just a select number of properties in mostly urban areas at the moment.
You can find out more about Hyperoptic broadband and check out their latest fibre broadband deals.
Can I get fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband is available to over 96% of the UK, meaning that superfast broadband is more than likely an option for your home. However, full fibre broadband, where the entire connection is made of fibre-optic cable, is far more limited.
Search your postcode with our broadband postcode checker to see what types of broadband you can get in your local area.
Superfast fibre broadband on the Openreach network has an average top speed of 67Mbps, but if you're lucky enough to live in an area where BT has rolled out its super speedy full fibre service, you can get speeds much higher than that.
How do I find fibre broadband in my area?
Take a look at our fibre broadband checker to see which deals are available in your postcode.