You can’t turn on the TV these days without seeing an advert for fast fibre broadband. But what exactly is fibre broadband, and do you need it? Let’s find out.
Are there other types of broadband?
While fibre is the latest type of broadband, there are other varieties:
ADSL stands for asymmetric digital subscriber line and is sometimes called standard broadband. It works over copper telephone lines and is the slowest of the fixed-line internet options, with a maximum download speed of around 24Mbits/sec. The other disadvantage of ADSL is that it gets slower the further you live from the telephone exchange. However, it is often the cheapest option, and many people find the speed more than acceptable for general internet use.
Cable broadband uses coaxial cable to deliver the internet at speeds of up to 1Gbit/sec, although there’s potential to go faster. Cable is less widespread in the UK because Virgin Media primarily owns the infrastructure. As a result, it is only available in areas where Virgin and its predecessors have installed it.
So what is fibre broadband?
As the name suggests, fibre broadband uses fibre-optic cables made of thin strands of glass or plastic to transmit data by light. What’s great about these cables is that they can carry more information and move it around much faster than traditional copper, making them ideal for a fast broadband connection. Fibre optic cables also have the added benefit of not slowing down over long distances.
What’s the difference between fibre and full fibre?
You’ll often see broadband providers offering ‘fibre’ or ‘full-fibre’ connections. There are currently two types of fibre broadband available in the UK:
FTTC is often called just fibre or superfast broadband, and is the most common fibre broadband in the UK at the time of writing. With FTTC, fibre-optic cables run from the exchange to those green cabinets you see on the streets. You then receive your internet from the cabinet to your home or office via existing copper telephone wires. With a current maximum speed of 80Mbits/sec, this blend of fibre and copper allows for much faster download speeds than ADSL. In addition, it dramatically reduces the issue of speed loss over long distances.
FTTP is also known as ultrafast or full-fibre broadband. With FTTP, fibre optic cables extend the entire way to your home or office, and by cutting out the use of copper wires, it can deliver much higher speeds than FTTC. The maximum speed currently offered by most broadband providers is 1Gbit/sec, but this will likely increase in the future. Full-fibre broadband is less widely available than standard fibre as it requires laying extra cables to the premises. However, with the Government setting a target to have it available nationwide by 2030, ultrafast broadband is becoming accessible in many more places around the country.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom thinks the distinction between fibre and full-fibre broadband is confusing customers, and has proposed switching terminology to ‘part-fibre’ for FTTC and ‘fibre’ for FTTP. It’s currently consulting with the industry on this change.
Do I need fibre broadband?
While fibre broadband offers much faster speeds, it doesn’t mean you need it. If you currently have standard ADSL broadband and are okay with the speed, then it is unlikely you need to change. However, if your connection is slow, especially with streaming video, it may be worth looking into getting fibre.
If you currently don’t have broadband, then consider your internet needs. Standard ADSL broadband may offer enough to do the usual internet activities such as web browsing, checking emails and even streaming services such as iPlayer or Netflix. However, if you intend to do online gaming or watch 4K streaming video, it may be best to see if you can get fibre. Also, consider how many people you have in the house, especially if they are likely to game or stream on different devices at the same time.
It’s also worth checking the prices, as you may find that fibre is actually cheaper than standard broadband. However, be careful of any time-limited deals, as you’ll likely pay more in the long run.
Finally, many broadband providers no longer sell new ADSL connections in areas that have fibre, so you may have little choice anyway!
How can I check if I can get fibre broadband?
As you can’t get fibre broadband everywhere, it’s best to check to see what’s available in your area. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use a broadband comparison site such as Cable.co.uk. All you need to do is enter your postcode and select your address, and you’ll then see all the deals listed. If you look to the left-hand side of the list, you’ll see the broadband speeds available under the heading Speed.
While the site may not show all the internet providers available, Cable and other comparison sites are also a great way to get an idea of the different broadband prices if you are considering buying or upgrading.