You probably know that fibre broadband is faster and more reliable than standard ADSL broadband, but if you’re not 100% sure how it works, what the different types of fibre broadband are and how they influence your broadband service, don’t worry — we’re here to help.
Here’s all you need to know about fibre broadband.
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.
However, in recent years there has been significant investment in UK broadband networks, replacing copper wires with fibre-optic cables. The cables are made of glass or plastic and allow more information to be transmitted along them, therefore making fibre broadband speeds lots faster than those of traditional ADSL.
How does fibre-optic broadband get to my house?
There are several different ways fibre-optic broadband reaches your home. Depending upon what connection type you have, the speed of your fibre broadband connection can vary between 36Mbps and 362Mbps, or even 900Mbps, depending upon your area.
The types of fibre available are:
FTTH (fibre to the home) — As the name suggests, this is where fibre-optic cables run all the way to your house. This is the quickest service, delivering speeds of up to 900Mbps, but it's not widely available.
FTTB (fibre to the building/basement) — Fibre-optic cables run all the way to your premises, which is why this is sometimes called FTTP (fibre to the premises). If you live in a flat in a large building, the fibre terminates at the building rather than your individual living space, but it still provides very fast speeds.
FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) — Fibre-optic cables run all the way to the green cabinet in your street, which can be up to 300m away. The cabinet is then connected to your home with regular copper wires, which delivers slower speeds. This is the most common connection.
FTTN (fibre to the node) — Roughly the same as above, 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?
Because fibre-optic broadband uses special cables to transmit data, you don't technically need a phone line.
That being said, there aren't many fibre broadband packages that don't include a phone line. In fact, Virgin Media is the only major provider that offers cable broadband without line rental.
Fibre broadband speeds
Not all fibre broadband is created equal. Faster fibre broadband with speeds over 151Mbps is actually available to around 60% 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 fibre 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 — 300Mbps) and ultrafast (300Mbps — 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 media, either video content or online gaming. A faster connection means you can stream or download movies, games and music faster and with less buffering or a loss of connection.
It’s also worth considering the amount of people in your household too, 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.
If you want to learn more about superfast broadband and how it can benefit you, take a look at our more detailed guide.
The Openreach fibre network
The Openreach network, formerly owned by BT, uses fibre-optic cables to deliver broadband from your telephone exchange to the cabinet on your street — but then relies on copper wire to deliver broadband from the cabinet into your home. It's this reliance on less efficient copper wire for the so-called 'final mile' that slows down your connection.
Virgin Media's broadband network
There are a few providers that have their own cable network, and so don’t have to rely on the Openreach infrastructure, the most popular of which is Virgin Media.
Virgin invested heavily in its own UK fibre broadband network, which also uses fibre-optic cables and delivers average broadband speeds as high as 362Mbps, depending on your location. The main reason for this massive jump in broadband speeds is the final connection being made by coaxial cables, rather than copper ones. While these cables are still made of copper, they’re much more efficient and can, therefore, transfer more data than a standard copper telephone wire.
Unlike the Openreach network, Virgin doesn't share its cable network. Initially, the Openreach network was a public infrastructure which was then privatised. Virgin's network has always been owned privately, so they don't currently share their cable network with other providers.
You can find out more about Virgin Media fibre-optic broadband at our dedicated Virgin Media page.
Can I get fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband is available to over 95% 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.
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 "fibre-to-the-premises" service –– known as BT Ultrafast –– 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.