All about fibre broadband: your comprehensive guide
Ready to discover more about fibre broadband and find the perfect deal? You're right where you need to be. Whether you're looking to buy or find out more about fibre, Broadband Genie has you covered.
Check out the latest deals now using the table above, or read on to learn more about fibre-optic broadband.
What is fibre broadband? How is it different from standard broadband?
Fibre optic is a broadband service that provides fast internet speeds using fibre optic cables.
Standard broadband uses copper telephone wires. This technology is known as Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (or ADSL, for short). It's the most widely available and cheapest broadband technology. But download speeds average around 10Mb, so it’s relatively slow by modern standards.
Fibre broadband is much faster and more reliable. And there's great news for those looking to go for a fibre deal: it's widely available in every part of the country and there are lots of cheap fibre deals.
How fast are fibre broadband speeds?
Fibre is much quicker than standard ADSL broadband. On average, a standard broadband ADSL connection will give you top speeds of 10Mb.
But fibre optic broadband can be much faster. Even the cheapest fibre deals are more than three times quicker than the best standard ADSL internet package.
Fibre can even deliver speeds more than 100x times as fast as ADSL, which is known as gigabit broadband.
Find out how different broadband speeds impact your browsing experience on our download calculator page. And to learn more about broadband speed in general, read our comprehensive guide to broadband speeds.
Next up, we'll compare fibre and ADSL for speed, cost, and coverage.
Fibre broadband vs ADSL: is fibre better?
Fibre broadband has many advantages over ADSL, but that doesn’t always mean it’s better. Three key areas to consider are speed, cost, and coverage.
Speed: Fibre optic is much quicker than ADSL. This is important for video streaming and gaming. It's also a must-have for anyone living in a shared home, where multiple users may be online at the same time.
Cost: While ADSL tends to be cheaper there's not a huge difference in cost these days. There are some great value fibre packages to be found. However, if you’re trying to keep costs low as humanly possible, ADSL will often win on price.
Coverage: In the past, fibre was more difficult to access than ADSL. Now the vast majority of UK homes can get fibre optic broadband, though coverage is still not as widespread as ADSL. If you only have access to standard broadband, you can learn more about what to expect in our guide to ADSL.
Coming up, we'll take a look at fibre broadband and Virgin Media cable.
Fibre broadband vs Virgin Media cable: what's the difference?
Virgin Media used to be known as cable broadband. Virgin no longer uses this term and instead refers to it as 'fibre broadband'. But it's distinct from most other types of fibre internet because Virgin Media operates its own network. The Virgin Media network uses a different technology and offers different speeds.
Virgin Media broadband is much quicker than many other services, with speeds up to 1.1Gb. Virgin also offers broadband without a phone line.
However, Virgin can be more expensive when compared to other fibre deals. And its coverage is smaller than other providers, meaning fewer homes will be able to access Virgin Media broadband.
Find out whether you could get it in our guide to Virgin Media availability and coverage.
What is superfast fibre and ultrafast fibre?
When comparing fibre optic broadband deals you may come across the terms “superfast” and “ultrafast”. Beyond the marketing jargon, what do these actually mean?
- Superfast: refers to broadband with a speed of 30Mbps+. Most fibre optic broadband packages offer superfast speeds at a minimum.
- Ultrafast: usually refers to a speed of 300Mb+. However, it may also be used by some providers to refer to broadband packages of 100Mb+.
Next, we're going to geek out together over the science of fibre broadband.
How does fibre optic internet work?
We know it's faster and more reliable, but how does fibre optic broadband offer its high-speed internet connection? The answer is pretty magical.
With fibre, information is first converted into light, which is sent bouncing down very thin glass tubes which form part of a fibre optic cabling network. Information is then converted back to data at the other end.
The glass fibre tubes that form a fibre cable can transmit data at the speed of light. That's how we get very fast internet access which lets us do things like download big files quickly, or stream TV in HD without buffering.
Fibre optic broadband can get pretty technical, but you don't need to be an expert to use it. However, when you're comparing deals you will encounter various technical terms, and it can help to have an understanding of these to ensure you get the right service.
Next, we'll break down some of the acronyms and broadband jargon you might have been baffled by.
What are FTTP, FTTC, FTTH, Full-Fibre and HFC?
There are different types of fibre broadband technology. These include Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC), Fibre To The Premises (FTTP or FTTH, Fibre To The Home), and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC).
Understanding what these mean will help you make a well-informed choice when comparing providers, speeds, and deals.
Fibre To The Cabinet is the most common type of fibre. It's widely available on the BT Openreach telephone network.
FTTC uses fibre optic cables that connect to your nearest telephone cabinet (those green boxes you see by the side of the road). From here to your home, it utilises the same copper telephone wire as a standard broadband service.
FTTC is much cheaper to install than full-fibre. The downside? It isn't as fast, and performance can be negatively affected by the condition of the copper wire and the distance to your telephone exchange.
Right now, the vast majority of fibre optic broadband areas are served by FTTC over the Openreach network. Ofcom's latest research claims FTTC is available to more than 90% of the country.
FTTP / FTTH / Full-Fibre
Fibre To The Premises or Home is also known as full-fibre. It eliminates that last stretch of copper used with FTTC. This technology brings the fibre link directly into your home.
It's far more expensive to install but speeds are significantly better than FTTC technology. With full-fibre, you can get broadband at rates of 1Gb and beyond.
In addition to BT and Virgin Media, a lot of the work here is being done by small companies such as Hyperoptic, CityFibre, and Gigaclear. These companies specialise in bringing FTTP to new builds, rural areas, and larger deployments for specific towns and cities.
Hybrid Fibre Coaxial is the technology used by Virgin Media for most (but not all) of its network.
Like FTTC, HFC runs on fibre optic up to the street cabinet. But it then uses coaxial cable rather than copper telephone lines to carry the signal the rest of the way. This is faster than a regular telephone line and has allowed Virgin to deliver very fast speeds.
However, Virgin’s network is only available to around 53% of UK premises and it does not share with other providers. That means there’s less choice in terms of special offers, and no way to save money by going to a competing provider on the same network.
Now we're going to take a look at some of the providers offering fibre.
Which broadband providers offer fibre?
Lack of choice is not a problem for fibre broadband, it’s offered by a huge number of providers. Here are just some of the fibre ISPs you’ll find on Broadband Genie:
- BT provides average download speeds of 36Mb, 50Mb, or 67Mb. BT also offers ultrafast fibre packages with speeds up to 910Mb. BT fibre is also available as a broadband-only service without a phone.
- Sky offers fibre speeds of 59Mb with the Sky Broadband Superfast package, or up to 900Mb with Sky Ultrafast. Optional satellite TV and broadband bundles. Includes free Wi-Fi from The Cloud.
- TalkTalk does cheap fibre optic deals with 38Mb or 67Mb download speed on standard fibre, or up to 900Mb with FTTP.
- Virgin Media is the fastest fibre currently available to many homes. It has speeds up to 1.1Gb but is also available with speeds of 54Mb, 108Mb, 213Mb, 362Mb, 516Mb, or 630Mb, so there's something to suit every home. Virgin also offers broadband without a phone line.
- Vodafone has a range of fibre options including Vodafone Superfast 1, which provides an average download rate of 35Mb or 41Mb. Its Superfast 2 package offers 63Mb or 82Mb. Ultrafast is also available up to 910Mb. Cheap monthly prices come as standard, as does a speed guarantee.
- Plusnet offers great value fibre broadband packages at 36Mb and 66Mb. They're known for their good customer service and generous free gifts.
Now let's look at whether you need fibre, or if a cheap ADSL package would better suit your broadband needs.
Do I need fibre broadband?
Not everybody needs fibre optic. For some, a cheap ADSL package is all that’s required. That said, there are times when fibre is very useful if not essential. Let's take a look at some examples.
Families and shared households
The more people you have online at the same time, the greater the demand on your connection. If broadband is shared by more than a couple of people, you’ll be better off with a fibre connection. Slow broadband can be incredibly stressful for everyone.
Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime require high speeds to deliver great quality, HD video. While you can technically stream with ADSL, fibre optic will give you a much better video quality. It also means that the connection won’t grind to a halt for everyone else while a video is streaming.
Just like Netflix, catch-up services such as iPlayer and All4 work best with high-speed broadband.
Fast fibre optic means less waiting around when transferring files. If you frequently download large files, fibre is a must.
Fibre optic broadband provides a significantly faster upload speed than ADSL. Very helpful if you often have to transfer big files such as YouTube videos.
Video calling and Skype
ADSL internet is perfectly capable of handling a Skype or Facetime call but, like streaming video, you’ll have a much smoother experience with faster broadband. It allows for better quality video and more participants to join in a group chat.
Playing online games doesn’t demand fast broadband, but gamers are still better off with fibre. Many games are only available as digital downloads, but even boxed copies can require downloads and can be very large files. The faster upload speed of fibre is essential for Twitch and YouTube streaming and comes in handy if you want to host online games.
We've covered whether you need ADSL or fibre broadband. Now, let's dive into which package you'll need, based on what you use the internet for.
What fibre package should I get?
Which fibre package is right for you will come down to personal choice. There's no hard and fast rule. Take a look at our guide below and be aware, by 'user', we mean someone with a heavy usage device that would be used for heavy tasks like streaming video, gaming, or making video calls.
- Basic fibre (~35Mb): Suitable for 1-2 heavy users simultaneously
- Faster fibre (~66Mb): Suitable for 3-5 simultaneous heavy users
- FTTP/Ultrafast (100Mb+): Suitable for heavier still usage requirements
It's all well and good us showing you all the different packages out there isn't it, but what if fibre isn't an option? We'll get to that now.
Fibre optic internet availability
The great news is, the vast majority of homes and businesses now have access to fibre broadband.
According to Ofcom data, more than 90% of the UK can get broadband with speeds of 30Mb+. Around eight million homes have access to very high-speed FTTP.
Can I get fibre in my area?
There’s a good chance fibre is available in your area. You can check right now by entering a postcode into our fibre broadband availability checker.
Virgin Media operates its own network with slightly less availability nationwide, so use our Virgin Media checker to see if you can get it in your area.
Why can't I get fibre?
The majority of homes can now get some kind of fibre broadband, but there are still a few areas where it is not yet available. This might be because it is too expensive for a network to install. Or you may live in an area where fibre can't be installed due to geographical features or population density.
You can read more about this on our fibre availability page.
When can I get fibre?
This is a tricky question to answer. Fibre might be available to more than 90% of UK properties according to Openreach, but what about the remaining properties?
Most of Openreach's and even the Government's attention has turned to the rollout of full-fibre. For now, Openreach suggest they will show the date they plan to bring fibre to your area when you enter a postcode in their checker.
If you can't get fibre there are alternatives that may offer faster speeds than ADSL. This includes 4G and 5G mobile broadband, which can offer good speeds if you are in a strong signal area.
Our guide to fibre availability has more information about alternatives to fibre optic.
So, you've decided to go for fibre. What can you expect when making the switch?
How is fibre internet installed?
Getting FTTC broadband installed using an Openreach phone line isn't that different from getting standard ADSL internet installed.
If you’ve not had fibre before, an engineer may need to carry out some work on the phone socket. Otherwise, you simply need to plug in the Wi-Fi router on the day of activation.
In the rare case where there is no phone line, additional work will involve bringing a cable into your home and installing a BT phone point.
Virgin Media will need an engineer visit unless you already have a Virgin socket in your home. The Virgin engineer will feed the cable through an external wall and install the access point. If you do already have a Virgin line in your home you can choose a quick install option which means your broadband can be up and running within days.
FTTP installation will probably require an engineer as most homes will not have an existing full-fibre connection. To install FTTP, engineers will run a fibre optic cable from the street (either underground or via a telephone pole) and then install it through the wall of your home to a box inside.
Now, let's take a look at which fibre deals are best.
What are the best fibre broadband deals?
With so many different fibre optic deals to choose from, finding the best fibre optic broadband for your needs can seem daunting. To narrow the search, we'll run through some important differences to consider.
Here are a few areas to look out for as you compare fibre broadband.
What are the cheapest fibre deals?
The cheapest fibre optic broadband deals usually come from Vodafone, TalkTalk, SSE, Plusnet, and Shell. All of these providers have packages starting from under £25 per month.
Alternatively, you can use our comparison tables to find a cheap fibre deal start by entering a postcode to filter packages by location.
Look out for special offers and free gifts which can add value to a deal. Keep in mind though that where packages have a discounted price for the initial contract, they can become much more expensive once that ends. To keep your costs low you might need to switch regularly in order to take advantage of the latest offers.
What are the fastest fibre deals?
Virgin Media has the fastest deals of any major national network. It offers download speeds up to 1.1Gb.
The very fastest fibre broadband comes from full-fibre FTTP providers such as Hyperoptic and Community Fibre. However, the availability of FTTP is currently quite limited.
More readily available FTTC broadband uses BT's Openreach telephone lines.
The fastest broadband available to most homes with this service delivers an average speed of 67Mb. EE, Vodafone, TalkTalk, Cuckoo, and BT all advertise 67Mb deals.
(Vodafone does also offer deals with an 82Mb average speed, but only in certain areas. In most cases, it will average 67Mb).
But there isn’t a huge amount of difference between FTTC offers; even the slowest Openreach network provider offers at least 59Mb.
To find the fastest fibre deals on Broadband Genie, first, enter a postcode. Then, use our filters and tables to exclude slower deals and sort the offers by speed.
Frequently Asked Questions about fibre broadband
How fast is fibre?
Fibre optic broadband offers a range of speeds depending on the type of fibre technology you can access.
Cheaper FTTC fibre deals will give you average download speeds of around 35Mb or 65Mb, making them many times as fast as standard broadband.
Virgin Media offers a wide range of speeds, from 50Mb up to 1.1Gb.
Full-fibre broadband is the fastest service. While most deals deliver up to 1Gb, there are a few that go even further and offer up to 10Gb!
Can I get fibre optic without a phone line?
Virgin Media and BT offer broadband without a phone.
You can also get broadband without a phone with Fibre to the Premises (FTTP, or full-fibre) services, as they do not need a phone line.
FTTC fibre from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Sky, TalkTalk, and EE all need a phone line to work. They'll offer fibre-optic broadband only deals, though. This will include a phone line for broadband but no other extras, such as TV or free calls. So, if you don’t use the phone line, choose a package without inclusive calls and keep costs down.
How do I switch to fibre?
Switching to fibre optic is easy. Start by searching with your postcode to view availability in your area, choose a deal, then sign up with your chosen provider.
If you currently have ADSL broadband and are moving to fibre from an Openreach network provider (such as BT, TalkTalk, Sky, or Plusnet), the new ISP will handle the switch. If you’re moving to or from another network (such as Virgin Media or KCOM) you're responsible for cancelling your current broadband contract.
How much does fibre broadband cost?
The cheapest fibre deals are around £20 per month, though most cost in the region of £25-£30. If you want the fastest speeds and extras such as a TV and broadband bundle then they can cost £50-£100.
Will fibre internet get cheaper?
As fibre internet becomes more widespread and replaces ADSL as the standard for home broadband, we'll probably see prices come down a little, though not drastically. We can however expect to get more value for our money in the near future as FTTP delivers faster speeds.
Can you get unlimited fibre?
Yes! The vast majority of fibre broadband deals are unlimited. Do read the small print though as not every provider offers truly unlimited broadband.
Truly unlimited means they don't have traffic management. This is when speeds are throttled at peak times.
Also, watch out for the provider's fair usage policies. These could penalise you for extremely high usage. These are rarely too much of an issue though. The only providers on Broadband Genie to have such policies are John Lewis, Shell, and SSE.
Should I get unlimited fibre?
Yes! We always recommend unlimited broadband, but it's really a no-brainer if you're getting a very fast fibre service.
How long are fibre broadband contracts?
Most fibre packages come with 18 or 24-month contracts. Nowadays 12-month contracts are less common but they're still around. You can also get rolling monthly fibre deals from NOW, DST, and Cuckoo, to name but a few.
At Broadband Genie, we want to help you make a good, fast decision about their next broadband package - without the hard work. We've covered all things fibre broadband and ADSL related in this comparison guide.
To recap, after comparing standard ADSL and fibre, we'd recommend fibre optic broadband for most homes. All things considered, it's better than ADSL. If you're looking for extremely cheap broadband ADSL has that small advantage in price. In some areas of the UK, you’ll still find fibre isn’t even an option as it’s not available.
Most homes can get fibre using Fibre To The Cabinet technology (FTTC, for short). Fibre cables are brought close to your property, then copper cables are run into your home.
In some areas, FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) is available, where fibre optic lines run all the way into your home. This can be much faster, but only a minority can get it right now.
Whether you're looking to go for full-fibre or a super cheap standard internet package, Broadband Genie has you covered.