Fibre optic broadband is fast, reliable and more affordable than ever. But what is it, what does it let you do, and - most importantly - should you get it? broadbandchoices.co.uk is here to help you decide...
You've probably alread visited our fibre optic broadband postcode checker. And no doubt you've heard a lot about fibre optic broadband. It's hard to miss - the likes of BT and Virgin Media are constantly shouting about it on their TV adverts.
But why are they so excited? Well, it's the fastest type of broadband you can get in the UK for starters. Compared to a standard broadband connection, fibre is like Usain Bolt on rocket-powered rollerskates, making browsing the web as smooth as butter and allowing you to download movie-size files in just a few minutes.
Video: Fibre optic broadband
Of course, it's very easy to be stunned by these speedy statistics, but don't assume that fibre optic broadband is a must. For some people it could revolutionise their lives, for others, it's likely to be an unnecessary expense. In short, don't just look at the speed of a fibre package - look at what you can do with that speed.
Which providers offer fibre optic broadband?
Every major provider in the UK now sells fibre optic broadband packages. Here's a brief overview:
Fibre optic broadband deals
|Infinity 1 + Weekend Calls||Primus Saver 38Mb Fibre Broadband + Phone||Broadband: 152Mb + Phone: M|
Monthly cost: £7.50
(for 6 months)1st year cost: £171.95
Monthly cost: £8.00
(for 3 months)1st year cost: £175.95
Monthly cost: £20.00
(for 6 months)1st year cost: £288.00
|speed up to 38 Mb||speed up to 38 Mb||speed up to 152 Mb|
|Weekend calls inc.||Eve & wknd calls inc.||Weekend calls inc.|
Call Primus on
0800 036 0391
Call Virgin Media on
0808 168 6088
- BT: Offers a range of packages, offering speeds of up to 38Mb or 76Mb - more than fast enough to watch the likes of BT Sport online! For more information check out our BT Infinity guide.
- Sky: Although its TV may come via satellite, but Sky's broadband is delivered via more earthbound means. That includes fibre, with unlimited packages offering speeds of up to 38Mb or 76Mb. For more information, read our Sky broadband guide.
- Virgin Media: If it's pure speed you want, Virgin Media's the obvious choice. It offers superfast packages offering speeds of up to 30Mb, 60Mb and 100Mb - and in some cases even more. For more details, click your way over to our full guide.
- Plusnet: Looking for affordable fibre packages from a Yorkshire-based provider? That oddly-specific request is easily accommodated by Plusnet, which offers up to 38Mb and 76Mb packages with unlimited downloads. Read our full guide to Plusnet broadband for more information.
- TalkTalk: It does two fibre packages, which offer speeds of up to 38Mb and 76Mb respectively, both with unlimited downloads. Fibre optic broadband's perfect for the provider's YouView-based TV packages, so it's an attractive option. Get the skinny on TalkTalk fibre with our guide.
What can you do with fibre optic broadband?
The extra grunt you get from fibre should give general browsing a nice boost, but there are some online activities where you'll really see a difference. Here are just a few…
The whole family being online at the same time
For families, or people in house shares, broadband can become a battleground. It's a Thursday night, and you want to catch up with that crucial episode of Casualty you missed at the weekend. But one of your kids is watching videos on YouTube, another's playing games on the Xbox, your partner's making a video call on Skype and you can't watch your show without it having to stop to load every few seconds.
That's because your internet gets slower if lots of people are using it at once. But with fibre that's less of an issue. Your connection will still get slower, but because it's so much faster to start with, it's unlikely to drop to unusable levels.
Watching films and TV in high-definition
If you like to watch TV and films online, through services like BBC iPlayer and NOW TV, or subscription services like YouView from BT and TalkTalk, you'll love fibre. It gives the smoothest possible experience, with minimal loading, or interruptions, even in high-definition (HD).
Renting or buying films over the internet is becoming more and more popular - partly because of how quick fibre makes it. With 100Mb fibre broadband, for example, you could download a DVD-quality movie in less a couple of minutes approximately - it's hard to be precise about this sort of thing.
If you're a serious gamer, you need fast broadband. It could help performance of multiplayer games - ensuring you don't miss the crucial moment in a match on FIFA 2014 or a once-in-a-lifetime headshot in Call of Duty. But more importantly, it will let you download the games themselves, extra content and updates and patches very quickly, so you spend more time playing and less time waiting to play.
For more information on broadband for gaming, check out our guide.
Phone calls are good and all, but sometimes you want to see the person you're speaking to, especially if you rarely get to see them in the flesh. Online video calls and conferences can be data-intensive, and the faster your connection the smoother your experience will be.
How does fibre optic broadband work?
See, unlike telephone lines - which have essentially been repurposed to carry broadband - fibre optic cables are custom-built for broadband. Information is transmitted as flashes of light. The thing about light is that it travels extremely quickly. There's less chance of interference slowing down fibre too.
This means the broadband speeds you get from a fibre package are much faster than you'd get from a 'traditional' connection, and you get speeds much closer to the up to speeds advertised by providers to boot.
That's not to say speeds will be exactly the same as advertised, mind you. Most superfast packages use fibre optic cables to your nearest cabinet - the green box on or near your street - and run into the home via copper telephone wire, which is unreliable and prone to interference at the best of times. As a result, some drop in speed is inevitable.
The exception to the rule is Virgin Media, which has its own network. In this case, coaxial cables - which are designed to reduce interference - run into the house, so you are more likely to get the up to speeds advertised with Virgin Media than you are with other fibre broadband providers.
Do I need fibre optic broadband?
For all its superfast awesomeness, fibre's not for everyone. If you're not a heavy internet user - you go online to browse websites, check your email and Facebook, and that's about it - you're not going to find your life greatly enhanced by fibre.
However, you will likely benefit if you:
- Have a large family living in the same house
- Share accommodation with more than one other person
- Watch a lot of movies online
- Regularly use online TV catch-up services like BBC iPlayer
- Have a TV service like YouView, which allows you to stream content from the web
- Regularly upload photos and videos to the web
- Play games online
- Regularly download and upload large files
- Use video calling services like Skype on a regular basis
There's also cost to consider; fibre has a reputation of being prohibitively expensive. That's not the case anymore - the fierce competition between providers has driven down prices to the point where some fibre packages are actually cheaper than top-end packages that provide internet through copper phone lines.
Even so, a fibre package is never going to be the cheapest option, so if you're on a budget you're likely to find that the most affordable options are good old-fashioned standard broadband - also known as ADSL.
Can I get fibre optic broadband in my area?
One of the biggest drawbacks of fibre broadband is that not everyone can get it yet. In some areas, you may be able to pick and choose from a range of packages, whereas others - particularly in the countryside - may find they have no options at all.
That's changing though. Fibre broadband's now available to more than two thirds of homes and businesses in the UK and, supported by government investment, that's likely to hit 95% by 2017.
As it stands right now though, if you're interested in getting fibre optic broadband, you should check to make sure you can get it. Compare fibre optic broadband to see what's available in your area.
Alternatively, take a look at our full guide to broadband coverage and availability.