What is fibre broadband? How fast is it & do you need it? A comprehensive guide

In this guide

If you’re finding that web pages are slow to load, downloads take forever and high definition Netflix is a stuttering mess then it may be time to take your broadband to the next level with a high speed fibre optic broadband service. 

But what is it, how do you get and is it something you need? We’ll explain everything you could want to know about fibre broadband right here.

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What is fibre optic broadband?

Fibre broadband is a technology which uses fibre optic cables to transmit data, enabling very high speed internet access. 

In the UK 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.

Fibre replaces the copper lines with a far more efficient technology to give us superfast, ultrafast and gigabit broadband speeds.

What are the different types of fibre?

There are three different types of fibre optic broadband technology used for home and business connections in the UK: FTTC, FTTP/FTTH and HFC.

What is fibre to the cabinet?

Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) is a hybrid technology where fibre optic lines run to street cabinets (those green boxes on the side of the road) and the final connection into premises uses the existing Openreach (BT) copper telephone lines. This is the most common type of fibre broadband service.

What is hybrid fibre coaxial broadband?

Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) is 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. It may also be called cable broadband, though Virgin Media no longer uses this term to refer to its services.

What is Fibre to the Premises/Home?

Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) or Fibre To The Home (FTTH) is a full fibre connection which does not use copper telephone lines or coaxial. FTTP 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.

How fast is fibre?

Fibre optic broadband offers a wide variety of speeds, depending on the availability of providers and networks in your location. 

If you get a fibre broadband deal from the Opeanreach/BT telephone network (which includes providers such as Sky, TalkTalk and EE as well as BT) you may have the choice of the following average download speeds: 

  • 36-38Mb
  • 50Mb (BT only)
  • 63-68Mb
  • 150Mb
  • 300Mb

150Mb and 300Mb are only available from a few providers in selected areas.

Virgin Media fibre offers the following average speeds:

  • 108Mb
  • 213Mb
  • 362Mb

If you’re lucky enough to have the option of hyperfast FTTP then you could get speeds up to 1Gb (most providers quote an average of 900Mb). But FTTP providers also offer cheaper packages - Hyperoptic for example has 30Mb and 150Mb options.

To learn more about what these speeds mean and how to choose the right deal, read our guide to broadband speeds.

How is fibre different to standard (ADSL) broadband?

  • Faster. Fibre optic is much quicker than standard broadband. Even the cheapest entry level deals have an average download speed more than three times as fast, while gigabit FTTP is 100 times quicker.
  • More expensive. Fibre broadband has a higher average setup and running cost than ADSL broadband. But you can still find cheap fibre broadband and there are always plenty of special offers to help save money. 
  • Better upload speed. As well as providing faster download speeds, fibre optic also has much better upload rates. Even if you don’t think you need a fast download, you may still benefit from the superior upload capabilities of fibre.
  • Less coverage. Fibre optic is available across the UK, but does not cover as many homes as ADSL. And only a miniscule percentage can get next-gen FTTP.

How is fibre different to cable broadband?

VIrgin Media broadband used to be known as cable broadband, however Virgin no longer uses that term to describe its services and instead calls it fibre broadband.

Virgin uses HFC technology. This is similar to the fibre optic services using an Openreach (BT) phone line where fibre lines run to the green cabinets on your street. The difference with Virgin Media is that instead of then relying on the copper telephone lines, Virgin connects to homes with a coaxial cable. 

Virgin Media fibre offers a different choice of speeds to Openreach FTTC. If you have the choice of both, then in most cases Virgin Media will be the fastest option.

Are there any downsides to fibre?

The major downsides to fibre are cost and coverage. 

Prices are slightly higher than standard broadband. If you are not going to benefit from the faster speeds and you’re looking to save money then a cheap ADSL broadband deal is the best choice. Our guide to broadband speeds can help you determine whether fibre is necessary.

The other drawback is that not everyone can get fibre. Rural homes especially may find that the choice of speeds and packages is restricted. For more information on broadband availability visit our local broadband page.

Can I get fibre broadband in my area?

Fibre broadband is not available to every home. Your best starting point is the postcode checker right here on Broadband Genie. Just go to any of our broadband deals pages and enter a postcode to see what's available in your area.

For further information, including what to do if you can't get fibre, read our guide to fibre optic broadband coverage.

Do I need fibre broadband?

It's always a good idea to ask this question before you sign up for a fibre deal. After all, fibre is more expensive and not everyone needs the extra speed. 

But it is a quality of life upgrade and there are some activities where it can be essential. For example:

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.

If you’re not quite sure whether fibre is right for you, or want to learn more about what broadband speed actually means, check out our guide to broadband speeds.

Which providers offer fibre optic packages?

Fibre optic broadband is available from a huge variety of internet service providers (ISPs). Here are some of the providers and packages you’ll find listed on Broadband Genie:

BT

BT Superfast Fibre

  • From £29.99 for 18 months
  • Setup from £9.99
  • 18 month contract
  • 50Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and BT TV bundles

BT Superfast Fibre 2

  • From £39.99 for 18 months
  • Setup from £9.99
  • 67Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and BT TV bundles
EE

EE Fibre Broadband

  • From £26 for 18 months
  • Setup from £10
  • 18 month contract
  • 36Mb average speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and EE TV bundles

Superfast EE Fibre Plus

  • From £30 for 18 months
  • Setup from £10
  • 18 month contract
  • 67Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and EE TV bundles
Plusnet

Plusnet Fibre Broadband

  • From £23.99 for 18 months
  • Setup from £9.99
  • 18 month contract
  • 36Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls

Plusnet Fibre Extra

  • From £28.99 for 18 months
  • Setup from £9.99
  • 18 month contract
  • 66Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls
Sky

Sky Fibre Unlimited

  • From £25 for 18 months
  • Setup from £9.95
  • 18 month contract
  • 36Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and Sky TV bundles

Sky Fibre Max

  • From £30 for 18 months
  • Setup from £9.95
  • 18 month contract
  • 63Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and Sky TV bundles
SSE

SSE Unlimited Fibre

  • From £24 per month
  • Setup from £30
  • 1 month contract
  • 35Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls

SSE Unlimited Fibre Plus

  • From £30 per month
  • Setup from £30
  • 1 month contract
  • 63Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls
TalkTalk

TalkTalk Faster Fibre

  • From £22.50 for 18 months
  • Setup from £0
  • 18 month contract
  • 35Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and TalkTalk TV bundles

TalkTalk Faster Fibre with Speed Boost

  • From £25 for 18 months
  • Setup from £0
  • 18 month contract
  • 63Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and TalkTalk TV bundles
Virgin Media

Virgin Media VIVID 100 Fibre

  • From £29 for 12 months
  • Setup from £20
  • 12 month contract
  • 108Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and Virgin Media TV bundles

Virgin Media VIVID 200 Fibre

  • From £37 for 12 months
  • Setup from £20
  • 12 month contract
  • 213Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and Virgin Media TV bundles

Virgin Media VIVID 350 Fibre

  • From £42 for 12 months
  • Setup from £20
  • 12 month contract
  • 362Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls and Virgin Media TV bundles
Vodafone

Vodafone Unlimited Fibre 38

  • From £24 for 18 months
  • Setup from £0
  • 18 month contract
  • 35Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls

Vodafone Unlimited Fibre 76

  • From £29 for 18 months
  • Setup from £0
  • 18 month contract
  • 63Mb average download speed
  • Optional inclusive calls

Frequently asked questions about fibre optic broadband

Can I get fibre without a phone or call package?

Openreach network fibre services require an active phone line. However you can choose to get fibre without a call package, which could save a few pounds each month. 

But fibre without a phone line is available from Virgin Media. You can also get fibre without a phone line from a FTTP network provider such as Hyperoptic.

Will I need unlimited data with a fibre package?

We would generally recommend unlimited data packages for any fibre optic service. The higher speed of fibre means you could exceed a cap very quickly, and limited data deals are not usually that much cheaper anyway. You’ll also find that the choice of packages is small as most fibre providers are unlimited as standard.

Can I upgrade to fibre?

Your existing standard broadband provider almost certainly has fibre optic deals available too. Whether or not you can upgrade is going to depend on fibre being available to your home. 

Check availability right here on Broadband Genie by using the postcode check on any of our broadband deal comparison pages.

How do I find a cheap fibre deal?

Use Broadband Genie! Our comparison tables are designed to make comparing offers quick and easy. Narrow down the options with filters, then order the tables by price. 

When comparing fibre optic broadband deals look out for special offers. Some packages may offer shopping vouchers, reward cards and cashback, and when taken off the total cost of the contract it can provide a significant saving. 

You should also make a note of the contract end date. Many providers will increase prices at the end of the contract, so that’s when you want to either start shopping for a new deal or negotiate for a better price with the existing provider.

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