Fibre optic broadband is the latest generation of broadband - but what exactly is it, how does it work and, more importantly, should you upgrade?
Fibre optic cables offer faster, more reliable broadband speeds, and with more and more providers entering the superfast market, the cost of upgrading to fibre is falling.
What is fibre optic broadband?
Before fibre optic broadband, your only broadband option was an ADSL copper wire line, which works by using telephone lines to deliver information across the internet. ADSL broadband lines - connected via your telephone socket - offer theoretical speeds of up to 24Mb broadband, but speeds the providers are permitted to advertise are more likely to be up to 14-19Mb, and the speed you actually get will be slower again. Speeds can vary widely depending on your distance from the local exchange, the quality of your line and a number of other factors.
Telecoms regulator, Ofcom's latest speed tests found that the UK's average broadband speed was actually 12.7Mb, a figure inflated by the increased uptake in fibre packages. The speed of ADSL2+ connections hasn't actually improved that much over the last year - still averaging well under 10Mb.
Fibre optic broadband eliminates many of the usual speed degradation problems and offers hassle-free superfast broadband connections.
With fibre optic broadband, light signals are delivered through fibre optic cables, made of glass rather than copper wire. Information travels along these cables almost instantaneously, and there's very little deterioration in your download speed - even over long distances. As a result, the speeds you get will be much closer to the headline speed you signed up for. This means customers can benefit from much faster connections, perfect for downloading music and high definition films, watching internet TV or playing online games.
Fibre optic broadband deals
Monthly cost: £13.25
(for 12 months)1st year cost: £159.00
Monthly cost: £7.99
(for 3 months)1st year cost: £173.87
Monthly cost: £15.00 1st year cost: £216.95
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What makes fibre optic broadband so great?
Information travels much faster over fibre optic cables than it does over the older copper telephone wires that many traditional broadband providers use. This makes fibre broadband not only faster, but also more reliable.
Broadband speeds via fibre can go up to 100Mb, and beyond. To give you an idea of just how fast that is, Virgin Media calculates that with 100Mb broadband you could download a music album in six seconds, a DVD-quality movie in around 90 seconds and a high-definition film (which have very large file sizes) in approximately six minutes.
Do you need superfast broadband?
Fibre optic broadband will cost you more than an ADSL connection so it is worth some consideration before you sign a contract.
If you are a casual internet user, who sends the odd email, updates your Facebook status occasionally and watches programmes on iPlayer a couple of times a week, then signing up to a 100Mb connection is like using a Ferrari to drive to the corner shop. Flash, but unnecessary, and you'll pay handsomely for it.
Fibre connections are more suited to multi-user households where lots of people are likely to be online at the same time with high usage levels; movie buffs who regularly stream high definition films; dedicated gamers that play online and regularly download new titles or people working from home using a remote connection to log in.
Can I get fibre optic broadband?
Whether or not you can get fibre optic broadband will depend on where you live. In some areas you may be able to get take your pick from multiple superfast broadband providers, while in others only a select few might be available. In some cases, you may not have any access to superfast broadband at all. We recommend using our broadband postcode checker to see what fibre optic options are available in your area.
Fibre optic broadband providers
Virgin Media has an established fibre optic cable network, and offers superfast broadband as standard. It offers three packages at speeds of up to 30Mb, 60Mb, and 100Mb broadband. But its network doesn't cover the entirety of the UK, so anyone outside of its network must find an alternative.
BT broadband (www.BT.com) also runs its own fibre optic network. It sells superfast broadband through its BT Infinity packages. You can choose from speeds of up to 38Mb and up to 76Mb. A few areas of the UK can also get speeds of up to 100Mb.
BT's 38Mb connection is delivered using fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology, where fibre optic cables only run as far as the street side telephone cabinet, with copper wire running the rest of the way. The presence of the copper wire section means there will still be some speed degradation, (thoughspeeds are still pretty fast. However, BT's 100Mb connection uses fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology which uses fibre cable for the entire distance from exchange to home, eliminating distance related speed decline.
Sky (www.Sky.com) also offers truly unlimited fibre optic broadband (no usage limits) to its customers - via both up to 38Mb and 76Mb packages. Both are available along with a satellite TV subscription, so if you want access to Sky shows, movies and sport in addition to superfast broadband, it's an attractive proposition However, fibre is only available to a relatively small percentage of its customers.
Zen (www.Zen.co.uk) sells superfast broadband with download speeds of up 38Mb broadband and 76Mb broadband, with upload speeds of 19Mb. Business broadband specialists Eclipse (www.Eclipse.net.uk) offers a home broadband package of up to 39Mb. And TalkTalk (www.Talktalk.co.uk), also has fibre broadband packages, with speeds up to 38Mb and up to 76Mb.