Compare fibre optic broadband
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Buyers guide to fibre optic broadband
Fibre optic broadband is transforming the telecommunications industry to deliver faster internet access than ever before. It’s the biggest innovation since the launch of broadband and is changing how we enjoy everything that the internet has to offer.
However, it's still pretty early days for fibre broadband and networks currently span around half of the UK, with coverage steadily growing all the time. So how do fibre optic cables work, can you get this type of broadband in your area and most importantly, do you even need it? We answer all these questions and more in our buyers guide to help you understand the technology and choose the right service for you.
What is fibre broadband?
Fibre is the latest internet delivery method, following ADSL technology and traditional dial-up. Unlike its ancestors, which used copper telephone lines, fibre optic broadband takes its name from the cables it uses to transmit data.
The cables are made up of thousands of individual fibres of silica glass as thin as a human hair. These are individually coated in plastic and encased within a protective tube underground.
How does it work?
To get briefly techy for a moment, each fibre's signal (just light, in reality) is always reflected back to the fibre's centre. The big benefit for internet users, is that this leads to very little reduction in speed no matter the distance or any obstacles.
Why choose fibre broadband?
In one word: speed. It is at least five times faster than ADSL broadband, which allows you to do everything online at impressively high speeds. This means downloads will be quicker, videos will stream more smoothly and gamers will notice far fewer glitches where poor connection might normally cause them to temporarily drop out of the action.
It also presents a big benefit for households that spend a lot of time online using multiple devices at once. This simultaneous activity can put a strain on internet bandwidth, causing broadband speeds to slow. Not with fibre. It handles heavy internet use with ease, meaning you can watch catch-up TV, make a Skype call and use a games console with the same Wi-Fi connection at the same time. In large families, student households or small businesses, this means everyone is happy.
Who provides fibre broadband in the UK?
Is fibre available in my area?
The main factor in your decision to take fibre is whether the networks have reached your area yet, as they are still very much in the roll-out phase. If not, you’ll have to sit tight until the BT network (used by the majority of other providers as well) or Virgin Media’s separate cable service arrive in your neighbourhood. You can check coverage in the postcode checker at the top of the page.
What are my options?
After availability, your choice broadly comes down to just how fast you want your superfast fibre broadband to be. Currently, there are three speed bands (see below). The BT network offer two choices – up to 38Mbps and up to 76Mbps – which are matched by other providers that use the network, while Virgin Media offers up to 30Mbps, up to 60Mbps and up to 120Mbps in upgraded areas.
- Up to 30 to 38Mbps
- Up to 60 to 76Mbps
- Up to 120Mbps
For those hankering after even faster fibre, BT is currently working on two new services, up to 200Mbps (Infinity 3) and up to 300Mbps (Infinity 4). You’ll notice that these aren’t listed in the table above because they are not widely available and we’re yet to find a postcode that can access either service.
Which package is right for me?
The right choice for you depends on what speed you can access in your area, coupled with what speed your household actually needs. There’s no point paying out for Virgin’s 120Mbps service for example, if you can only get up to 70Mbps in your area. The postcode checker at the top of the page comes in handy again here, as it will let you know what speed and services are available in your area.
So what speed does your family need? You’ll need to consider your internet habits, including how much time you’re online, what kind of activity you do and how many devices are connected at the same time. The heavier your household usage, the more you’ll benefit from a faster service.
Conversely, light to medium use households that browse, shop, check in social media and occasionally download or stream music or TV – but not incessantly – will find standard ADSL broadband adequate. But you might still like to upgrade to fibre anyway if your current internet ADSL connection isn’t fast enough.
Broadband data allowance: capped, unlimited or truly unlimited?
In addition to speed, you’ll need to think about how much content you download from the internet each month and pick a service to match. Internet use is measured in megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB), and you can choose from capped services with a set limit; unlimited or truly unlimited.
Truly unlimited fibre broadband providers the ultimate internet experience, as the chances are that if your household will benefit from superfast fibre, you’re probably eating though a lot of data each month as well. Read on for the lowdown on each level of usage to help you choose.
These services have a top download limit that you must stick to each month. Broadband with a capped allowance is ideal for those that don’t spend a huge amount of time online or do particularly data heavy stuff like downloading HD video and frequent gaming.
If you hit or exceed your limit, you could incur extra charges for further downloads, or be hit with penalties and see your internet speed slowed down until the next billing period.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that unlimited means you can download as much as you like, but that’s not always the case. There are often restrictions in the small print, such as a fair usage policies and traffic management policies to control network usage at peak times.
These limitations are unlikely to hamper performance for most users, but those that want to make the most of fibre broadband and download at anytime without restriction should look out for truly unlimited broadband.
This is the one to look out for if you want unlimited broadband in the true sense of the word. It means there are no fair usage caps or traffic management polices to restrict activity at any time. However, while these services won’t actively slow you down, internet congestion is unavoidable at peak times, which means your fibre broadband may see dip in speed anyway.
Six essential questions before you buy
You're almost ready to start comparing, but before you do, take some time to consider these six essential questions:
- Is fibre broadband available in my area?
- What speed can I get in my area?
- How many devices are online in my house at one time?
- Are my family light, medium or heavy internet users?
- What is my monthly broadband budget?
- Is my current broadband fast enough?
How much does fibre broadband cost?
The speed of fibre comes with a higher price tag, so you should generally expect to pay more than standard ADSL broadband, although there’s always some great discounts on offer. Like ADSL, you’ll need to pay line rental on top of the broadband fee, which averages around £15.40 per month. The exception to this is Virgin Media, which gives the option to take broadband without a phone line.
How do I sign up?
If you’ve decided that fibre broadband is the choice move for you, you can either upgrade with your current ADSL provider or move to a new supplier. Follow the steps below to choose the right option and move with minimum of fuss.
- Check availability in your area with our checker at the top of the page.
- Compare the different packages in your area. Take into account all the factors we’ve covered in this guide, and keep an eye out for any special offers.
- When you’ve chosen a deal, contact your current provider to ask for your Migration Authorisation Code (commonly known as a MAC).
- The majority of providers (except Virgin Media) need a MAC to accept moving customers (although they’ll become obsolete from April 2014) and it’s a good opportunity to check the notice period for the cancellation as well. The standard term is 30 days.
- Once you have your MAC, click the See Deal button next to your chosen package above to visit individual providers website, where you can enter your details and sign up for the new fibre service.
- Your new provider will confirm a date for the switch to take place, at which point you can cancel your old account.
If you’ve got any questions or comments about our guide to fibre broadband - or anything else - why not email us?