Fibre Guide

What is Fibre-Optic Broadband?

Very simply, it’s broadband that uses very thin fibre-optic cables – one fibre-optic wire is thinner than a strand of human hair – rather than traditional copper wires, to provide internet to people’s homes and businesses. Another difference is that these cables are all laid underground rather than utilising telegraph or mobile networks.

Because of the materials used – fibre optic cables are made of plastic or glass – more data can be transferred much quicker and more reliably over longer distances than the old ADSL broadband.

The term ‘fibre optic’ broadband is used interchangeably with the word ‘superfast’.

Is there only one type of Fibre-Optic broadband?

No, there are a number of different types available in the UK, though not everywhere can get all or indeed any of these services.

Fibre to the Cabinet

Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) broadband is currently the most commonly used type of superfast in Britain.

Fibre-Optic cables run from your local exchange to your nearest telephone cabinet, then the old copper wire system completes the journey to your doorstep. So FTTC is really a mixture of the old and new systems.

The big advantage of this is cost. It’s a cheaper service because your home phone-line doesn’t have to be completely rewired to Fibre. BT Openreach isn’t having to change its infrastructure as drastically and the costs of that aren’t therefore transferred to you, the consumer.

After all, the vast majority of us already have a BT landline which runs copper wire from our home to the cabinet, then from cabinet to exchange. It’s usually a relatively simple task for an engineer to enable FTTC in your home, although you may occasionally need to have a new master socket fitted.

The disadvantage of FTTC is that the maximum speeds you are capable of achieving are not as great as those provided by FTTP. Though at cheaper cost, less disruption and still pretty fast (anything up to around 100 Megabytes per second), for most consumers it’s a decent trade-off.

Fibre to the Premises

The other most well-known method is Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP), also known as Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) or ‘true fibre’. Much as it sounds, FTTP delivers superfast broadband directly to your home or place of business with no copper cables involved at all.

Obviously, the main upside here is that speed, reliability and overall performance can achieve maximum capability because no copper wires are used. Research also suggests that true fibre-optic maintains its speed much farther from the cabinet than either FTTC or ADSL.

Speeds up to and exceeding 300 Megabytes per second are well within the bounds of possibility with FTTP.

There is a downside, of course, which is expense. FTTP is far pricier to subscribe to than FTTC (assuming it’s even available to you), and may require a fair degree of engineering work. Most commonly – although not exclusively – it is high tech business premises that use FTTP.

Fibre to the Building

A third type of connection is Fibre-to-the-Building/Basement (FTTB) – this sends the fibre-optic cables to the basement, typically, of shared business or living premises. Generally used in very large buildings such as flats or student Halls of Residence.

Fibre to the Node

The final method is Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN). This is basically the same as FTTC broadband, but local cabinets can be much further away – up to several miles – with the remainder of the distance covered by copper wiring.

How widely available is Fibre?

You can’t get fibre-optic everywhere yet. Major towns and cities are mostly superfast enabled, smaller towns are being rolled out on to the Fibre network regularly, while unfortunately many rural areas are still unable to receive superfast and there is no clear schedule for its arrival yet.

Having said that, superfast is much, much more common than it was even a couple of years ago. Current government targets of 95% superfast coverage in the UK by 2016 look reasonably certain to be met.

Most internet providers offer at least one fibre-optic package these days, in fact there are usually several deals on offer including bundles, which give you television, phone and broadband for one price, and packages which tailor themselves to your needs with different speeds, download limits and extras.

This is where using a comparison website like really comes in handy. It allows you to see, at a glance, the types of service you can get and how much they’ll cost you, as well as being able to check out any special deals.

What do faster speeds really mean?

Broadband speed is measured in Megabytes or Megabits per second. A bit or byte is a very small unit of data, and there are one million of these in a single Megabyte. The higher the number of Mbps you can receive/download, the faster your internet usage should be.

For example, if you have a superfast connection that averages around 50 Megabytes per second, you should be able to:

  • Download 100 MB worth of content (a music album for instance) in just a few seconds.
  • Download a gigabyte (1000 megabytes) of content in less than a minute.
  • Download 10 GB (roughly the size of an HD film) in about 10 minutes.
  • Stream HD video and online games quickly and with no fear of dropping out or slowing down.

Is Fibre-Optic broadband the right choice for me?

The following are all reasons why you could consider superfast broadband.

  • If you watch on-demand television such as BBC iPlayer, or film/TV streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Video, particularly in High Definition.
  • If you download video games, and/or play them online, or regularly download a lot of films, television and music.
  • Live in shared accommodation or have a big family where many people are using the internet at the same time across lots of different devices – tablets, mobiles, games consoles, laptops, desktops and Smart TVs all count.
  • Find your current DSL broadband too slow for your needs.

Final note: Always make sure you check what services are available in your area, what speeds you can realistically expect to achieve, and what limits (if any) your provider puts on your downloads.