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Fibre-optic broadband - What is Fibre?

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

You may know that fibre-optics are a fast way to transfer data. But what is fibre broadband exactly?

Unlike the majority of broadband connections in the UK, which use telephone lines or mobile networks, fibre-optic broadband is transferred along special cables under the ground. The signals move a lot faster than they do along copper cables, which translates to connection speeds that dwarf those of traditional broadband.

Find out about BT Infinity at our dedicated BT Infinity page

Fibre optic broadband in the UK

In the UK optical fibre is not available everywhere. But by 2017 should be available to 95% of the UK.

Virgin Media is among the best rated fibre broadband providers. This is thanks to the fact that it has invested heavily in its own fibre broadband network that delivers speeds of up to 300Mbps to business customers and up to 200Mbps for domestic customers.

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

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

The likes of TalkTalk, Sky and PlusNet also use BT's fibre infrastructure as a platform to offer a fibre service of their own and offer maximum fibre broadband connection speeds of 76Mbps.

Find out about BT Infinity at our dedicated BT Infinity page

Fibre-optic speeds

Virgin media fibre-optic

Not all fibre broadband is created equal. And although you can expect speeds of 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 lies principally in 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, which as we've seen is used by TalkTalk and Sky too, 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. And 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.

The result is that while BT fibre broadband customers can still get a super-fast fibre broadband connection, Virgin Media's fibre optic broadband service is generally faster.

What difference does a faster connection make to the user?

A faster connection means you can download movies, games and music faster, enjoy seamless streaming of HD films and 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, read the uSwitch guide to broadband download times

Types of fibre-optic connection explained

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. If you are a flat in a large building, the fibre terminates at the building, rather than your individual living space.

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 packages such as Virgin Media’s service and BT’s Infinity packages.
  • Lightning speeds of up to 300Mbps.

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