Superfast broadband refers to broadband connections of at least 30Mbps in the UK, according to Ofcom. Superfast connections enable users to browse the internet, download music or video, and stream television at speeds that are massively higher than most internet users.
Some superfast broadband products can deliver speeds in excess of 900Mbps through full-fibre broadband connections, although these services aren't widely available. Slower fibre to the cabinet products can deliver speeds of around 36Mbps or 67Mbps on the Openreach network and are available to nearly 96% of the UK, and Virgin Media's cable network can reach average speeds as high as 362Mbps and is more widely available than full-fibre.
Coverage for cable broadband has widely increased in the past few years, so if you're still using ADSL and want to get faster internet, compare superfast broadband packages in your area now at uSwitch.
How does superfast broadband work?
Unlike the majority of UK broadband connections — which use telephone lines — the UK's fastest broadband products are delivered by a cable, or fibre-optic, broadband network. These cables are made up of glass and plastic, which allows data to move much faster than along the copper pipes used by ADSL broadband.
For most areas, Virgin Media offer the fastest network with speeds as high as 362Mbps available to a large number of consumers. BT also offers broadband with average speeds of 67Mbps, although you can get significantly faster speeds in some areas. Coverage for both is continuing to expand in the coming years.
Which superfast broadband product is the fastest?
Among the UK's fastest broadband products is Virgin Media's 362Mbps service. Virgin Media, which offers 54Mbps broadband products as a bare minimum, is able to deliver such fast connections thanks to its superfast fibre-optic broadband network.
BT's Superfast package offers a maximum speed of 67Mbps, and the aforementioned services from Sky, EE and TalkTalk, which use BT's fibre network and feature average speeds in line with BT.
Alternatively, ADSL broadband products offering an an average broadband speed of 10Mbps (or thereabouts) connection are available from most providers.
How do I get superfast broadband?
Your first step is to see which superfast broadband services are available in your area. Check which products are available using the uSwitch broadband postcode checker.
Most homes won't need any special installation to get superfast or cable broadband — especially new builds — but this does vary by location.
Advantages of superfast broadband
Superfast broadband lets you make the most of all the entertainment on offer on the internet. You'll be able to download movies in a matter of minutes, allowing you to watch what you want, when you want it, and banishing the days of long waiting times for very large downloads.
Fans of on-demand TV can enjoy their favourite shows on the BBC iPlayer, as well as rival services from ITV and Channel 4, smoothly and without buffering.
Reduced 'ping' and improved response times delivered by superfast broadband means that online gamers gain a competitive advantage over the opposition and can enjoy a better gaming experience.
Disadvantages of superfast broadband
As always, speeds are never 100% as advertised, although fibre-optic speeds are often very close. Generally, your actual speed will depend on things that are out of your control, like the quality of wiring and the distance you live from their exchange. Even if superfast broadband is on offer in your area, these limiting factors may yield little difference in speed for a much higher cost.
Who is superfast broadband for?
The massive growth in the number of people downloading music, video and watching TV online means that there is no longer a typical user of superfast broadband and almost anyone can benefit from switching to a faster speed.
However, if you're a heavy downloader or are one of the increasing number of consumers who prefer to catch up with TV programmes online, it makes sense to sign up for a superfast broadband deal.
Superfast broadband is also ideal for fans of online gaming. This is because a faster connection eliminates the delays to in-game responsiveness — known as ping — that are often caused by slower ADSL broadband products. These can seriously ruin your gaming experience.
If you only use the internet for checking your e-mail and for the occasional search, it's more prudent to opt for a standard ADSL deal.