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Fibre-optic broadband — What is fibre?

Fibre-optic broadband, often misspelt as "fiber-optic," is a high-speed form of internet connection, but how does it work?

What is fibre-optic broadband?

Fibre-optic broadband refers to a type of super-fast broadband and takes its name from the type of cables that are used to transmit data.

Unlike the majority of broadband connections in the UK — which use telephone lines or mobile networks — fibre-optic broadband is transferred along special optical fibre cables underground. These wires are made of glass or plastic, so signals move a lot faster than they do along copper cables, which translates to connection speeds that dwarf those of traditional broadband.

Does fibre-optic 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 cable broadband packages that don't include a phone line. In fact, Virgin Media is the only major provider that offers fibre broadband without line rental.

Fibre-optic broadband in the UK

In the UK, optical fibre isn't available everywhere just yet. In the next few years, though, it should be available to 95% of the country.

BT has their own fibre network and broadband, called BT Infinity. Most broadband providers — including TalkTalk, Sky and Plusnet — use BT's fibre infrastructure, known as Openreach.

Fibre broadband through BT Openreach is widely available across the UK. For most customers, the top speed BT Openreach fibre can provide is 76Mbps; however, if you're lucky enough to live in an area where BT has rolled out its super-fast "fibre-to-the-premises" service, you can get a speed of up to 300Mbps.

You can read more about BT Infinity at our dedicated BT Infinity page.

Virgin Media is not part of Openreach and instead use their own cable network. The company was one of the first fibre-optic broadband providers, and Virgin Media is among the best-rated fibre broadband providers.

Instead of using BT's infrastructure, Virgin company invested heavily in its own fibre broadband network, which delivers speeds of up to 300Mbps to business customers and up to 200Mbps for consumers, depending upon location.

Find out more about Virgin Media fibre-optic broadband at our dedicated Virgin Media page.

Fibre-optic speeds

Virgin media fibre-optic

Not all fibre broadband is created equal.

Although you can expect speeds well in excess of a standard ADSL broadband service even with a cheaper fibre-optic service, there can be a significant difference between the quality of service and speeds you get from different providers. The reason for this is due to the method used by fibre providers to deliver broadband for the last leg of its journey from the telephone cabinet into your home.

BT's network 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 fibre broadband network also uses fibre-optic cables to deliver broadband to the cabinet on your street, but from here, it uses coaxial cables to get the broadband into your home. Although coaxial cables are still made of copper, they're much more efficient at transferring data than standard copper cables, making Virgin Media's fibre-optic broadband service generally faster than BT's.

What difference does a faster connection make to the user?

If you're a light user who mainly uses the internet to read e-mails, check Facebook or watch YouTube, you might not notice much of a difference. If you use the internet for media, however, you'll definitely notice the faster speeds.

A faster connection means you can download movies, games and music faster, enjoy seamless streaming of HD films, and have a much better online gaming experience. It is, to borrow a phrase, how the internet was supposed to be.

For more information about speeds and download times, check out our download speed calculator.

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 30Mbps and 300Mbps. The types of fibre available are:

FTTH (fibre to the home) — Fibre-optic cables run all the way to the outside of your house. This is the quickest service, but is 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 are a flat in a large building, the fibre terminates at the building rather than your individual living space. It still provides very fast speeds.

FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) — Fibre-optic cables run all the way to the cabinet in the street, which can be up to 300m away. This is the most common connection.

FTTN (fibre to the node) — Roughly the same as above, only the street cabinet can be further away — up to several km away — with the rest of the distance to your house being covered by regular copper wiring.

The benefits of fibre-optic broadband

  • A fast, sustained and reliable connection which results from transmission through fibre-optic material rather than ordinary copper wires.
  • Options to receive cable TV, phone deals and excellent product bundles with triple-play packages.
  • Lightning speeds of up to 300Mbps.

Compare all our fibre deals at our dedicated fibre-optic broadband page.