Cable broadband packages
If you’re looking into getting a broadband upgrade, you might be finding it tricky to work out the difference between fibre, full fibre and cable broadband. After all, they technically all use cables!
Over the course of this page, we’ll explain why cable is different to other forms of broadband and why it could be a suitable solution if you’re currently struggling with your current internet speeds.
Let’s dive in!
What is cable broadband?
Cable broadband is also known as ‘Hybrid Fibre Coaxial’ (HFC). But this is such a mouthful, you’ll very rarely see this term used. A coaxial cable is much more affordable way of providing fast broadband speeds to properties than a fibre optic cable. A coaxial wire is made up of copper cables that are surrounded by an insulating material. This is also sometimes referred to as a ‘coax cable’.
Cable broadband is capable of delivering faster speeds than a standard fibre connection. However, unlike full fibre broadband, it has a habit of losing performance over longer distances, so it’s not quite as reliable. Cable broadband has given many homes access to faster internet speeds they can get over a traditional copper phone line (ADSL broadband).
Which broadband providers use cable?
Virgin Media is the predominant supplier of cable broadband in the UK. However, although you’ll see the term ‘cable’ still sometimes used on the Virgin Media website, even Virgin tends to refer to its service simply as ‘fibre broadband’ for ease.
Just over half of properties across England, Scotland and Wales have access to cable broadband. Over half of properties in the UK also have access to full fibre through the Openreach network and by signing up to independent network services from the likes of smaller providers such as Hyperoptic and Gigaclear. But, not necessarily the same half! Different areas have access to different services.
What’s the average speed of cable broadband?
The current average download speed of cable broadband in 2023 according to ThinkBroadband is 643Mb. The range of package speeds you can sign up varies a lot. Virgin Media’s average download speeds vary from 132Mb to 1.1Gb (Gig1 Fibre), depending on your chosen package. Meanwhile, upload speeds range from 5Mb to 104Mb. Unfortunately, that’s a lot slower than you can typically get on some full fibre networks. Something worth bearing in mind!
Is cable faster than full fibre broadband?
On the face of it, cable and full fibre speeds look similar when you see them on a comparison table. Full fibre ( ‘fibre to the premises’ / FTTP) is generally a much more reliable service, though. Coaxial cables tend to also offer much lower upload speeds.
There’s no doubt cable broadband is the fastest option for many, but that isn’t to say it’s the fastest internet connection on the broadband market. London-based ISP, Community Fibre currently offers a 3Gb fibre broadband package. Meanwhile, in some limited areas, YouFibre broadband offers a jaw-dropping 10Gb plan!
It’s also important to note, even if you can sign up to Virgin Media, you might not have access to its high-speed Gigabit package.
Pros and cons of cable broadband
How do I know if I can get cable broadband in my area?
One of the easiest ways to check if you’re able to sign up to cable broadband and to compare broadband deals is to use our free checker tool.
Broadband Genie cable deals checker
Enter your address or postcode, and you’ll be presented with a list of the best broadband deals available to you. Our deals checker is clever enough to only show packages you can sign up to at your exact address. If you’re seeing Virgin Media deals in the results, then great news. You have access to cable broadband!
Before you check out the packages you can get from various internet service providers, it can also be worth carrying out a speed test. This way, you can make sure you’re not downgrading on a deal you currently have.
Will I need an engineer visit to get connected to cable broadband?
When you sign up to Virgin Media cable broadband, an engineer will visit your property to check the cabling outside your home and connect you up to your nearest street cabinet. You won’t need to be in for this. It may be that you already have cable broadband installed. If not, some digging will be involved. As well as taking up some pavement or road, the cable may also need to be fed through your garden or driveway. However, similar disruption may also be needed to install full fibre optic cables. Neither uses an existing phone line.
Once connected to the network, you should find you’re easily able to set up your Virgin Media Wi-Fi router (also known as a ‘Hub’) yourself.
Can I still get bundled phone and broadband deals with cable broadband?
You won’t need a standard Openreach telephone line to make calls on Virgin Media’s cable broadband, but phone bundles are still available. If you prefer, you could opt for a broadband only deal and keep your phone service separate. However, this would mean paying two bills.
How do I switch to cable broadband?
We’ve already mentioned that cable broadband is completely separate to networks used by other broadband services.
Although it’s not too tricky, there’s a bit of extra admin involved moving away from a cable broadband deal. Unlike moving from one Openreach provider to another, you’ll have to initiate the switch yourself (for the time being at least). Things are set to change soon, though. A new ruling from Ofcom, called ‘One Touch Switch’ is due to come into force. This is being set up to make things easier for the customer. Your new provider will have to sort all the admin out for you, regardless of who you’re signed up to, or who you want to switch to.
Until that happens, we recommend taking a look at our guide: ‘How to switch broadband and get an amazing deal’.
What is Openreach?
Openreach is the company that maintains the former British Telecom Network used to supply the majority of broadband connections and phone services to UK homes. If a repair to a telephone exchange or installation is required, it’s Openreach who will send an engineer, not your provider.
More than 650 service providers using the Openreach network. That’s the majority of UK broadband providers. This includes Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone, NOW Broadband, Shell Energy, Plusnet and BT. The exception to this is Virgin Media - it uses its own, separate cable network.
What are my choices if I can’t get cable broadband?
If nothing comes up when you try our cable broadband checker, try this broader deals checker instead.
Broadband Genie deals checker
If you’re seeing 100Mb+ broadband deals, that means you have access to ultrafast broadband and likely rigged up to a full fibre network. If your speeds peak around 65Mb, this means you only have access to superfast broadband at the moment. Most homes across the UK should have access to superfast fibre.
Confused by the jargon? Check out these other guides:
For many in the UK, cable broadband will be the fastest broadband service they can sign up to. Also known as ‘Hybrid Fibre Coaxial’, it’s a much more reliable and speedier connection than you can get using standard fibre or basic broadband using copper wires (ADSL). It’s a completely different technology than full fibre broadband (FTTP).
Virgin Media is the main supplier of cable broadband and its network has developed independently of the Openreach network, which over 600 providers in the UK rely on. It may be the case that you don’t have access to a full fibre network, but you can sign up to Virgin Media’s cable broadband. Try our free deals checker to see if it’s available to you.
For a more in-depth look at other types of broadband, you can visit our guide to ‘FTTP, Full Fibre and FTTC’.