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What is gigabit broadband?

Fast broadband speedometer

Many of us would jump on the opportunity to sign up for quicker broadband service, and we may soon have the option to enjoy an incredible boost in performance thanks to the deployment of ultrafast gigabit broadband connections.

If you're after the fastest broadband possible, then a gigabit broadband service is the way to go. It provides an enormous amount of bandwidth that's enough to handle anything a home user could throw at it, as well as capably serving the needs of small and medium businesses.

What exactly is gigabit broadband, how fast is it, and how do you get it? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

Gigabit broadband: the key points

  • Gigabit is a broadband speed of 1Gb+.
  • Virgin Media has the best gigabit coverage in the UK.
  • Most gigabit broadband providers require a full-fibre connection.

What is gigabit broadband?

Gigabit broadband is an internet connection that offers a speed of 1 gigabit per second (1Gbps/1Gb) or more.

With a speed of 1Gb, you could potentially download a 5GB file in just 40 seconds!

At present, these incredible speeds are only achievable with a fixed-line connection. 5G is theoretically capable of gigabit broadband, but it'll be a while before we get that kind of performance in practical day-to-day usage.

Most gigabit broadband uses fibre optic lines, but it's different from the fibre you may already have.

The fibre broadband available to most homes from ISPs such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk, and Plusnet is Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) technology. That means that the fibre connection stops at the roadside cabinets and the final step into homes is completed with a regular telephone line.

To enable gigabit broadband, providers are gradually installing another type of fibre technology: Fibre To The Premises (FTTP, or FTTH - Fibre To The Home).

With FTTP, fibre lines run all the way into your home and connect directly to the router. This 'full-fibre' broadband is capable of much quicker speeds when it's not hindered by the old telephone network.

Virgin Media also offers gigabit broadband, with coverage to around 53% of homes.

Virgin mostly uses a technology called Hybrid Fibre Coaxial. This is similar to FTTC except it uses coaxial cable instead of telephone lines to reach into homes (hence why it used to be known as cable broadband). Virgin Media does also make use of full-fibre, but only for a small percentage of its network.

What is gigabit broadband used for?

The same thing as any other broadband service, only faster!

Not many of us could claim we need gigabit broadband, but the additional speed is definitely useful for some situations.

Any really demanding tasks like transferring large files or streaming HD video are painless with gigabit internet. Big files can download or upload in moments so it would certainly be a lot less hassle to transfer lots of data.

If your connection is shared between many people or you've got a large number of net-connected devices in your home, then a gigabit service should mean there'll always be more than enough bandwidth for everyone and everything, even if you're all streaming HD video and downloading huge files at the same time.

For the more technically inclined it's also an exciting prospect for operating servers from home for multiplayer gaming, media streaming, or website hosting (though if this is what you're planning, check the ISP's terms and conditions to ensure such activities are permitted).

Gigabit business broadband

While gigabit broadband might be overkill for a typical home user, there are plenty of businesses that would be well served by such a speedy connection, not just for file transfers but VOIP and video calls and handling the needs of multiple users.

At present, internet access for small and medium businesses may be limited to consumer-level services using ADSL or FTTC, which can be a hindrance with even just a few employees. Upgrading to a quicker connection is often possible but can be very expensive because if the infrastructure isn't in place you'll have to foot the bill for installation. You could theoretically get a gigabit leased line right now, but the cost of such an endeavour is high.

Affordable and widespread gigabit broadband would allow small businesses and sole traders to take advantage of the faster speeds.

How to get gigabit broadband

So you fancy getting your home hooked up with gigabit broadband?

Unfortunately, the situation right now is that while there are numerous ISPs offering gigabit in the UK, coverage is a little more limited compared to other types of broadband.

Your best bet is probably Virgin Media; its network is available in approximately 53% of homes, and it offers speeds up to 1.1Gb. 

You can also get gigabit broadband from some popular home providers including Vodafone, EE, and BT. Other well-known providers such as TalkTalk and Sky are now offering services using FTTP technology, but do not yet sell gigabit services.

If you're lucky enough to be within the coverage zones, you may be pleasantly surprised by the relatively affordable cost. Many gigabit packages are available for around £50-£60 per month.

Here are just a few of the fastest deals currently available:

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