All about fibre broadband: your comprehensive guide
Welcome to Broadband Genie's one stop shop for everything fibre broadband. Whether you're looking to buy, or just find out a little more about fibre, we've got you covered. Check out the latest deals right now using the table above, or read on to find out everything you could want to know about fibre optic broadband.
What is fibre broadband? How is it different to standard broadband?
Many of the broadband connections in the UK are using 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. But fibre broadband is much faster and less prone to degradation, and it’s now affordable and widely available in every part of the country.
So, how fast is fibre? The average speed of a standard ADSL connection is around 10Mb, but fibre packages are available with average speeds starting from around 35Mb, and can go as fast 1Gb (gigabits per second). So even the cheapest fibre deals are more than three times as fast as the best ADSL internet package.
Fibre broadband vs ADSL: is fibre better?
Fibre broadband has numerous advantages over ADSL, but that doesn’t always mean it’s better. The three key areas to consider are speed, cost and coverage.
Speed: Fibre optic is much quicker than ADSL. This is not only important for activities like video streaming and gaming, but also for shared homes where multiple users may be online at the same time.
Cost: ADSL tends to be cheaper. It’s not a huge difference as there are some good value fibre packages, but if you’re trying to keep costs as low as possible then ADSL will usually win on that front.
Coverage: The vast majority of homes can now get fibre optic broadband, but it’s still not quite as widespread as ADSL.
Generally, fibre optic broadband is better than ADSL and we would recommend it for most homes. But if you are trying to get very cheap broadband then ADSL still has an advantage on price. And in some areas you’ll find that fibre optic isn’t an option because it’s not available.
Learn more: Guide to ADSL
Fibre vs Virgin Media cable
Virgin Media used to be known as cable broadband, but the company no longer uses this term and instead refers to it as fibre broadband. But it is distinct from most other fibre internet because Virgin Media operates its own network using a different technology (HFC - see below) and offers different speeds.
Virgin Media broadband is much quicker than the Openreach network (used by almost all other fibre providers) with speeds up to 518Mb. Virgin also offers broadband without a phone line. However, Virgin is often more expensive than other fibre deals, and its coverage is smaller than other providers so fewer homes will be able to get Virgin Media.
What is superfast and ultrafast broadband?
When comparing fibre optic broadband deals you may come across terms such as “superfast” and “ultrafast”. But what do these actually mean?
- Superfast: Ofcom defines this as speeds of at least 30Mb. So any fibre optic broadband package can be considered super fast at the very least.
- Ultrafast: Once again we follow the Ofcom definition of ultrafast, which is any connection with a speed of 300Mb+.
How does fibre optic internet work?
Fibre optic broadband is a high-speed internet connection which uses fibre optic cabling that transmits signals as light. It is capable of transmitting data at a much higher rate than ADSL, and over longer distances.
What are FTTP, FTTC, FTTH and HFC?
There are different types of fibre broadband technology: fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), fibre to the premises (FTTP) which is sometimes also called fibre to the home (FTTH), and hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC). It’s helpful to have a broad understanding of what these mean because it impacts your choice of providers, speeds and deals.
- FTTC. Fibre To The Cabinet. The most common type of fibre as it is widely available on the Openreach telephone network. 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 wire as an ADSL service. The downside of this is that speeds can be negatively affected by the condition and length of the copper wire, but it is much cheaper to install. Right now the vast majority of fibre optic broadband areas are served by FTTC.
- FTTP / FTTH. Fibre To The Premises/Home. As you’ve probably guessed, the 'full fibre' FTTH eliminates that last stretch of copper used with FTTC 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 speeds of 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 much of the work here is being done by small companies such as Hyperoptic, CityFibre and Gigaclear, the likes of which specialise in bringing FTTH to new builds, rural areas and larger deployments for specific towns and cities.
- HFC. Hybrid Fibre Coaxial. Virgin Media operates its own HFC network. Like the Openreach network FTTC, Virgin utilises fibre optic to the streetside cabinet, but then uses coaxial cable rather than copper telephone lines to carry the signal the rest of the way. This has allowed Virgin to upgrade the speed of its network at a faster pace and it can now offer speeds of up to 518Mb - more than five times as most other fibre connections. However, Virgin’s network is only available to just over 60% of UK premises and it does not allow other providers access, so there’s less choice in terms of special offers.
Learn more: Guide to FTTP and FTTC.
Which ISPs provide fibre broadband?
Lack of choice is not a problem for fibre broadband because it’s offered by a huge number of providers. Here are just some of the fibre ISPs you’ll find on Broadband Genie:
BT. Average download speed of 50Mb with Superfast Fibre 1 (faster than equivalent packages from most other providers). Average speed of 67Mb with Superfast Fibre 2. Free extras include public Wi-Fi and BT Sport 1.
Sky. Offers fibre speeds of 59Mb with the Sky Broadband Superfast package. Optional satellite TV and broadband bundles. Includes free Wi-Fi from The Cloud.
TalkTalk. Cheap fibre optic deals with 36Mb (TalkTalk Faster Fibre) or 63Mb (TalkTalk Faster Fibre Large) download speed.
Virgin Media. For most of us this is the fastest fibre broadband available, with speeds up to 362Mb with the VIVID 350 package, but also available with speeds of 50Mb, 100Mb or 200Mb. Virgin is unusual for offering broadband without a phone line.
Vodafone. Vodafone Superfast 1 provides an average download rate of 35Mb, while Superfast 2 offers 63Mb. Cheap prices as standard, and a speed guarantee.
Do I need fibre broadband?
Not everybody needs fibre optic, for some a cheap ADSL package is all that’s required. But there are times when fibre is very useful if not essential. For example:
Families and shared households
The more people you have online at the same time, the greater the demand on your connection. If the broadband is shared by more than a couple of people then you’ll be better off with a fibre connection or it could become very slow.
Streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime require quite high speeds to deliver high definition video. While you certainly can stream with ADSL you’ll find that fibre optic allows you to increase the video quality. It also means that the connection won’t grind to a halt for everyone else while 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 so if you frequently download, fibre is a must.
Fibre optic broadband provides a significantly faster upload speed than ADSL. This is 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 as with streaming video you’ll have a much smoother experience with faster broadband. It allows for better quality video and more participants in a group chat.
Playing online games doesn’t demand fast broadband, but gamers are still best off with fibre. Many games are digital only, but even boxed copies can require downloads, and they can be very large files. The faster upload speed of fibre is also nigh on essential for Twitch and YouTube streaming, and also comes in handy if you want to host online games.
Learn more: What broadband speed do I need?
Fibre optic internet availability
The vast majority of homes and businesses now have access to fibre broadband. According to Openreach, 95.8% of the UK can get broadband with speeds of 30Mb+. And around 6% have access to very high-speed FTTP.
Is fibre in my area?
There’s a good chance fibre is available in your area. You can check right now by entering a postcode in the box below, or check out our guide to fibre broadband availability:
What are the best fibre broadband deals?
With so many different fibre optic deals finding the best fibre optic broadband for your needs can seem daunting. But there are 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, Onestream, TalkTalk, SSE, Plusnet, Shell and Origin. All of these providers have packages starting from under £25 per month.
To find a cheap fibre deal start by entering a postcode to filter packages by location. You can then click on the ‘Monthly Cost’ column to sort deals by price.
Look out for special offers and free gifts which can add value to a deal, but also remember that many packages have a discounted price for the initial contract and can be 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 speeds of any major national network, with packages offering up to 362Mb in many locations and up to 518Mb in some areas. FTTP broadband from providers such as Hyperoptic is faster (up to 1Gb) but has very limited availability.
For FTTC broadband using Openreach telephone lines, it is BT, EE and Origin which advertise the fastest speeds at average 67Mb, though there isn’t a huge amount of difference here as even the slowest Openreach network provider offers at least 63Mb.
To find the fastest fibre deals on Broadband Genie you can make use of our filters and tables. After entering a postcode, use the filters to exclude slower deals and sort the offers by speed. For more, check out our guide to the fastest broadband deals in the UK.
Frequently Asked Questions about fibre broadband
- How fast is fibre?
- There are various speeds available with fibre optic broadband. The cheapest deals are more than three times as fast as ADSL with an average download of 35Mb. Openreach network fibre is also available with speeds of 50Mb (BT only) and 63-67Mb. Virgin Media offers speeds of 54Mb, 108Mb, 213Mb, 362Mb and 518Mb. Fibre to the premises can provide speeds up to 1Gb.
- Can I get fibre optic without a phone line?
Virgin Media offers broadband without a phone. Fibre to the premises services such as Hyperoptic and Gigaclear also do not require a phone line.
Openreach network fibre from ISPs like BT, Sky, TalkTalk and EE all need a phone line to work. If you don’t use the phone then choose a package without inclusive calls.
- How is fibre internet installed?
The installation of FTTC broadband using an Openreach phone line is not much different from getting ADSL internet. 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 (and perhaps a separate modem) on the day of activation. In the rare case where there is no phone line then 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.
- 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 you are moving to fibre from an Openreach network provider you do need to do much else as the new ISP will handle the switch. If you’re moving to or from Virgin Media you will need manage cancellation of your current broadband.
- How much does fibre broadband cost?
- The cheapest fibre deals are around £20 per month, though most cost in the region of £25-£40. 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 supplants ADSL as the standard for home broadband we will probably see prices come down a little, though it’s not going to be drastically cheaper than what is currently available. We can expect to get more for our money in the near future as new technology such as G.fast and FTTP delivers faster speeds.