What is fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband uses high-tech fibre optic cabling which transmits signals as light, enabling very high speed internet access.
Our broadband infrastructure still makes heavy use of 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.
Are there different types of fibre optic broadband?
There are three different types of fibre optic broadband technology used for home and business connections in the UK, with varying levels of access across the country.
FTTC: Fibre To The Cabinet. A hybrid technology where fibre optic lines run to the green street cabinets and the final connection into premises uses the existing Openreach (BT) copper telephone lines. This is the most common type of fibre broadband service.
HFC: Hybrid Fibre Coaxial. Similar to FTTC, except coaxial cable is used in place of copper wires to reach our homes, allowing for greater speeds. This is the technology used by Virgin Media.
FTTH: Fibre To The Home (or FTTP - Fibre To The Premises). Unlike FTTC or HFC there is no other type of cabling involved with FTTH - it’s fibre all the way. As such FTTC can be incredibly fast, but it’s also expensive to install. Only a small minority of homes and businesses in the UK have access to these services at present.
See our broadband glossary for an explanation of many other common technical terms.
Is fibre optic faster than ADSL broadband?
Yes. Even the cheapest fibre optic broadband deals have a maximum download speed more than twice as fast as a typical ADSL home broadband connection (and the upload speeds are several times quicker). It’s a fantastic upgrade over the increasingly outdated ADSL.
What speeds are available with fibre broadband?
The most widespread fibre optic broadband packages available from Openreach network suppliers (which is used by most ISPs) and Virgin Media currently offer six different maximum speeds.
38Mb: The entry level speed for some of the cheapest fibre broadband deals. ADSL tops out at 17Mb so this is slightly more than twice as fast.
52Mb: This is the minimum speed for BT Broadband fibre optic deals. At present this option is not available from any other provider.
76Mb: The top speed of Openreach network fibre packages using a standard telephone line.
100Mb: The current minimum speed for Virgin Media broadband.
200Mb: The top speed of mid-high end Virgin Media fibre broadband deals.
300Mb: Current top speed of Virgin Media home broadband. Not every Virgin Media home can get this yet, but it is gradually being rolled out around the network.
Upload speeds for most fibre deals are between 6-20Mb, significantly better than the maximum 1Mb upload of ADSL - for more help with this topic read our guide to uploading.
Will I get the speed advertised?
Not always. As with any other broadband service, quoted fibre broadband speeds are a potential maximum. The exact performance varies depending on factors such as your location, quality of the lines and network traffic. However, fibre optic packages usually come much closer to achieving the maximum speed than ADSL broadband (where very few ever see 17Mb).
How do I check how fast my broadband is right now?
Use the Broadband Genie speed test to see your current broadband speed. To find out the advertised maximum rate of your package, consult the paperwork supplied by the provider or contact customer services.
Do I need fibre optic broadband?
Not everyone needs fibre optic, but it’s often a nice quality of life upgrade and there are some activities where it can be essential.
Large downloads and uploads: Anything which involves transferring large amounts of data benefits from the higher speed of fibre optic broadband. This is particularly true for uploading as fibre is much quicker than ADSL when sending data.
Streaming video: If you’re planning to stream video using services such as Twitch, fibre broadband will enable you to broadcast much higher quality video.
Cloud storage backups: Backing up data to a cloud storage service like Dropbox is much easier with fibre as it will transfer data much faster.
Shared homes and families: If the connection is shared with multiple people then the extra bandwidth of fibre will allow more of you to use the internet at once.
What is the difference between the Openreach (BT) and Virgin network?
Openreach: FTTC fibre broadband delivered via the regular telephone line. All fibre optic home broadband providers except for Virgin Media use the Openreach network. These services are available to more than 80% of premises and have a top speed of 76Mb.
Virgin Media: HFC fibre broadband (aka cable broadband) using Virgin’s own infrastructure. No other provider offers these packages. Just over 60% of premises have access to the Virgin network. The current top speed of 300Mb is significantly faster than Openreach fibre.
Can I get fibre without a phone line or call package?
Yes, but only from Virgin Media. You are able to choose a Virgin broadband package without line rental or a calls bundle. Other fibre optic services require an active telephone line, which will mean paying for line rental even if you don’t use the landline for calls.
Do all broadband providers offer fibre?
All of the major broadband internet service providers, and most of the smaller firms, now offer fibre optic broadband. Except for Virgin, all are reselling access to the BT Openreach network.
Can I get Wi-Fi fibre broadband?
Wi-Fi can be used with any fibre optic broadband service, and most providers will include a Wi-Fi router for free as part of the package. The Wi-Fi router will supply your internet connection, as well as operating a Wi-Fi network for sharing the fibre broadband with all your devices around the home.
How long does fibre broadband take to install?
The usual installation estimate is 14 days, but as with other broadband services it can take longer if a new line is needed, or if there are delays for other reasons, such as a rush of customers to your chosen provider.
Are there any additional costs to getting fibre?
Fibre broadband often has a higher setup fee than ADSL broadband, though fibre broadband deals with free setup are sometimes available.
Do I need to get an unlimited package?
It is not necessarily needed, assuming you’re mostly using it for lightweight activities such as web browsing, email and social media. However we would recommend an unlimited deal for most people. The higher speed of fibre optic broadband makes it much easier to use large amounts of data, and regularly exceeding a data cap can result in extra fees which eliminate any cost savings. Unlimited broadband means you never have to worry about restrictions or unexpected bills.
Can I upgrade my broadband to fibre?
It is very likely your existing broadband can be upgraded to fibre optic. As mentioned above, more than 80% of properties now have access to fibre, and most ISPs offer fibre deals.
Can I get fibre broadband in my area?
Many areas are covered by fibre optic broadband. You can see what type of deals are on offer in your location by entering a postcode into our comparison table. For more information, including guides to particular towns and cities, visit our local broadband page.
What can I do if fibre broadband is not in my area?
Virgin Media: use the Cable My Street page to register your interest in Virgin Media.
Alternatives to fibre optic: 4G mobile broadband can be faster than ADSL so is a possible alternative to home broadband - our guide to mobile broadband at home can tell you more. Another option is satellite internet, which can be installed just about anywhere.
How do I compare fibre broadband deals?
Postcode: Begin by checking availability. Enter a postcode in the comparison table to see what deals are on offer in your area.
Speed: Click the speed column in the comparison tables to sort by speed. 38Mb is usually plenty for most people, but heavy users and busy shared homes will benefit from quicker fibre broadband speeds.
Data limits: Most fibre deals are unlimited, though there are a few cheap packages with monthly usage caps. We would usually recommend opting for unlimited.
Cost: The cost column in our comparison table shows the monthly price, including line rental where applicable. For a more detailed breakdown including setup, click “offer details and pricing”.
How do I find a cheap fibre deal?
Equipment costs: The broadband Wi-Fi router is usually included for free, though sometimes an ISP will charge for postage. If the router is extra this will be noted in the offer details section. It is sometimes possible to use your own router, but not every ISP allows this.
Setup costs: Up front setup and installation costs vary. Installation will cost more if you require a new line. Free setup deals are available, so look out for these to save a little extra.
Free gifts and discounts: Many broadband deals include free shopping vouchers, cashback and discounted pricing for a set period. These are worth taking into consideration, but don’t let your decision be swayed by a voucher alone, and always check the full price after the discount ends.
Effective monthly cost: Click “Offer Details and Pricing” on a deal in the comparison table and you can see the effective monthly cost including setup fees.
Are there downsides to fibre optic broadband over ADSL?
Cost: Fibre broadband is more expensive than ADSL, both in terms of up front costs and the monthly price. However the difference is not huge, especially on the entry level deals.
Availability: This is less of an issue now, but there are still a significant number of homes and businesses which do not yet have access to fibre broadband.