Fibre optic broadband
Hands up who’s tired of sluggish ADSL broadband? Even if you’re lucky enough to be in the small minority of those getting more than 16Mb from ADSL we all look jealously at the state of broadband in places like Hong Kong or Kansas City, where screaming-fast 1Gb internet links are available.
But the times they are a changin'. Between Virgin's cable and BT's Infinity more than half of the UK now has access to a new generation of superfast broadband.
Fibre optic broadband is here and it’s now affordable and widespread enough to cover a large amount of the population in a comforting blanket of super-speed connectivity.
What is fibre optic broadband?
Older broadband in the UK uses the old copper telephone wires. While this is cheap and covers vast areas of the country it was never designed for data; hence problems with speed and the degradation of the signal the further you are from your telephone exchange.
Fibre broadband uses high-tech fibre optic cabling which transmits signals as light, allowing for far greater speeds than copper wiring without the exchange distance issues.
Because of this you will find with fibre optic broadband that when it says ‘38Mb download’ that is the speed you actually achieve (or very close to it), rather than the vague 'up to' or 'max' estimates of an ADSL connection. It's not expensive either so upgrading your broadband doesn't have to mean spending a huge amount of money.
FTTC vs FTTH
To complicate things a little more there are two different types of fibre optic connection available: fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and fibre to the home (FTTH) which is sometimes also called fibre to the premises (FTTP).
FTTC is the common, cheaper option because it only uses fibre cables up to your nearest telephone cabinet (those green boxes you see by the side of the road). From there into your home it utilises the same copper cables as ADSL.
The downside of this is that speeds can be negatively affected by the condition and length of this cable, but it is much cheaper to install. Right now the vast majority of fibre optic broadband areas are served by FTTC.
There is a push to expand FTTH however, which is vastly superior. As you’ve probably guessed the 'full fibre' FTTH eliminates that last stretch of copper and brings the fibre link right into your home. That makes it far more expensive to install, but allows for vastly improved speeds - this is when you can get broadband at 1Gb and beyond.
Some providers are offering FTTH in the UK, though coverage remains limited. BT has been trialling it in a few areas but most of the work here is being done by small companies such as Hyperoptic, the likes of which specialise in bringing FTTH to new builds, rural areas and larger deployments for specific towns and cities.
Fibre optic broadband providers
It's not only Virgin and BT that are offering fibre optic broadband. Many UK providers now offer it alongside their ADSL products (via BT Openreach's network), including TalkTalk, Sky, EE, PlusNet, John Lewis broadband and Fuel.
Prices are higher for fibre than for ADSL, but are coming down fast as competition increases. However if you need the cheapest broadband possible you should still consider standard ADSL broadband; especially if you mainly use the internet simply for surfing, email and social networking (Facebook, Twitter etc).
Like its telephone services, BT Infinity owns the fibre optic lines and allows the other companies to resell access. It’s also currently the major fibre ISP with its popular BT Infinity service.
Putting the 'cable' in fibre optic
Don't worry - we're not forgetting Virgin Media. Cable internet also uses fibre optic cables and has been around longer. And it can offers speeds of up to 150Mb - twice that of Infinity. However Virgin owns its network (which is only available to about half of the UK) and does not allow others providers access, so we talk about cable and fibre optic internet as two separate things.
While those in major towns and cities often have both options, Virgin doesn't have great reach outside the more populous areas. But where available it is certainly worth considering. It has some fantastic television and online services alongside both home and mobile broadband, while it's also possible to get its broadband without getting a landline.
Fibre optic broadband in your area
The big question is...can you get fibre broadband in your area? It’s easy to find this out by tapping in your postcode above. We’ll display all the best broadband deals and offers using our postcode checker tool, along with reviews from other users so you can compare the options from all angles before you buy.
Fibre optic broadband now covers more than 60% of the UK population and availability is growing all the time. BT regularly adds new exchanges to its fibre network - you can check the current situation on its 'where and when' page.
Unfortunately the more remote areas of the country are unlikely to have fibre broadband any time soon, but there is a government initiative ongoing to ensure everyone can get access to at least 2Mb broadband.
If you live in a small country village it could be some time before you see the kinds of speeds found in larger towns. Due to the cost involved fibre optic broadband areas will naturally encompass those places where communication firms can make the most profit.