Fastest broadband explained
By Dan Howdle | Friday, April 12th 2019
In this guide
- Fastest broadband in the UK
- Fastest broadband where you live
- What speed do I need?
- Fastest broadband providers
- Frequently asked questions
What's the fastest broadband I can get where I live? It's a really common question. Some of us are fully aware we're internet hogs who will max out even the fastest thing we can get. We're less interested in comparing offers and deals, then, and to some extent relatively unconcerned how much it's likely to cost.
That's why we've put this page together. To show you only the fastest broadband deals where you live, and offer some advice on what the best choice might be for you and your household.
The fastest broadband in the UK
Arguably, there are three broadband networks in the UK. In reality there are many more, but as far as networks go that have a national reach there are three, as well as many additional 'local' networks.
The networks you will be most familiar with are the Virgin Media, which exclusively delivers Virgin Media services, and the Openreach network, which delivers pretty much everyone else. In addition, there is newcomer Hyperoptic, which continues to roll out its ultrafast (1,000Mbps) pure fibre network, but sadly (for you) offers very, very limited availability.
Each of these networks is built on differing technologies, with differing maximum speeds offered. Let's take a closer look.
Uses, in large part, what used to be the old cable TV networks to deliver both broadband and indeed cable TV. The coaxial DOCSIS 3 cables used by Virgin Media are a fundamentally superior technology on which to deliver your broadband when compared to the copper phone wires that partially deliver any broadband signal on the Openreach network (everyone else).
For this reason, Virgin Media's top speed is more than five times faster than anything on Openreach, averaging 362Mbps. Later this year from the time of writing (sometime spring/summer 2019), Virgin Media plans to up its average top speed to 500Mbps. Virgin Media broadband is available to approximately 60% of UK households, meaning you will need to use our Virgin Media postcode checker specifically, or alternatively put your postcode in at the top of this page and see if Virgin Media packages appear.
Providers on the Openreach network:
- EE Broadband
- Shell Energy Broadband (formerly First Utility)
- Direct Save Telecom
- John Lewis Broadband
- NOW Broadband
- Post Office Broadband
- Sky Broadband
- SSE Broadband
All of these providers operate on the Openreach network, formerly owned by BT, but now a discrete company (that's still in effect run by BT). Openreach is a part-fibre network, often referred to as an 'FTTC' network. FTTC stands for 'fibre to the cabinet', meaning there are ultrafast fibre optic cables running as far as the green cabinet in your area, with copper phone lines covering the remaining distance (called the last mile) to your house.
Pure copper cables slow down broadband speeds over any significant distance. This is why the fastest average speed offered on Openreach is 67Mbps – a fraction of the top speeds available on Virgin Media. This has remained unchanged for years because the copper in the network means it's very hard to offer anything faster. Openreach is rolling out pure fibre to cover the last mile, but this process has only just started and will take many years to complete.
You've probably not heard of Hyperoptic unless the provider is already operating in your area – if it is you'll have seen the leaflets. Hyperoptic is tight-lipped about just what proportion of the UK its own network currently covers, but we would bet our house on it being considerably less than 1%.
If you are lucky enough to be able to get Hyperoptic, then you will find it not only an excellent provider from a customer service standpoint, but that it also provides some of the fastest broadband in the country, offering as it does speeds of up to 1Gbps (1,000Mbps). That's three times faster than Virgin Media's top speed, and more than 15 times faster than anyone else's.
In some areas of the UK there exist local networks, where local communities have built broadband businesses to provide fast broadband to (usually rural) communities with inadequate connectivity. An example of one of these would be B4RN – Broadband For The Rural North. Built as a non-profit community benefit society and delivering 1,000Mbps to those within its reach.
Like Hyperoptic, it is extremely unlikely you will be somewhere where one of these operates. But never say never, we suppose.
The fastest broadband where you live
As you'll have no doubt noted if you read the section above, the best broadband speed you can get comes down to which networks are available at your address. If you're somewhere you can only get Openreach providers (everyone but Virgin Media and Hyperoptic), then it will matter whether fibre is available, and if it is how far from your nearest cabinet you are.
On Openreach, being more than 800 metres from the cabinet will have a significant impact on the maximum speed you can get, with speeds pretty much falling off a cliff at that point. On Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, or a local community provider, it doesn't matter how far you are from anything. If you can get it, you will get the advertised speeds.
Here are the speed levels available in the UK right now, along with a brief note on what you can do with each and who offers them.
- 10-11Mbps – This is 'standard' or 'ADSL' broadband. Broadband that isn't fibre, and instead relies entirely on the copper phone network. This explains why it's so slow compared to fibre options. ADSL is offered by all providers on the Openreach network – so that's everyone except Virgin Media and Hyperoptic. Despite being 'slow', ADSL is still fast enough to stream movies on Netflix, iPlayer and so forth, even in high definition (HD). It won't be enough for large households with multiple users and devices, however
- 35-36Mbps – Is the speed of entry-level fibre broadband packages offered by all providers on the Openreach network. This is an average, meaning your actual speed may be faster or slower depending on how far you are from the cabinet. This speed will serve a small household of moderate internet users, but will likely struggle if there are multiple gamers and/or video streamers in the house
- 50-54Mbps – BT offers a 50Mbps broadband package – a sort of middle-tier fibre deal. Meanwhile, Virgin Media's 'slowest' offering comes in at 54Mbps. This speed would suit a medium-sized household of 3-4 moderate internet users, most of whom like to stream video, download apps and games and so on
- 63-67Mbps – If you're living somewhere you can't get Virgin Media, this is going to be your speed limit. Speeds in this range are suited to larger households or households where multiple household members engage in a lot of heavy internet activity such as streaming and gaming, especially focused around peak times of the day
- 108Mbps – Only Virgin Media offers this speed, and it's already enough for pretty much any household. The only real advantage to speeds greater than 100Mbps right now is that things will download more quickly. Most people don't download a lot of things these days – mostly we stream it instead. Gamers who download and update their games frequently may benefit from greater speeds, however
- 213Mbps – Only Virgin Media again. Same things apply that we've already said for the 108Mbps speed level. Only here it goes double
- 362Mbps – Only Virgin Media offers this speed. If your household downloads half the internet every month (exaggerating here, but you know what we mean), or you just have to have the fastest thing you can get, for most of us, this is it
- 1000Mbps – Only available from Hyperoptic or from a local community pure fibre provider. In both cases it is extremely unlikely you will live somewhere it is available. It's also far quicker than anyone justifiably needs
Do I actually need the fastest speed I can get?
It's an interesting question. You've probably arrived here for one of two reasons: Either your internet is too slow and you just need something better suited to the needs of your household. Or you've moved somewhere or are about to move somewhere and you're curious as to the fastest speed you can get. Both cases beg the question: Do you actually need the fastest speed available.
For the best answer, put your postcode into the box at the top of this page and sort the list by speed. This will show you the best speed you can get where you live. Once you know that you can refer to the section above this one to determine whether that suits your needs or whether, in fact, you could make do with something a little less potent.
Which providers offer the fastest broadband?
We've talked about the networks. We've talked about the different speeds available across the UK. But what about the providers themselves? At each speed level there are providers who either own it completely or are slightly faster than their rivals. Depending on what providers are available to you where you live, these ones offer the fastest speeds.
- BT – Its widely available top speed averages 67Mbps (as does EE's, below), which is a bit faster than its competitors on the Openreach network. BT also offers what it calls 'ultrafast' broadband to a tiny percentage of UK households. The speeds it offers are 100Mbps and 150Mbps. Technically, ultrafast refers to speeds over 300Mbps, so we're going to have to call BT out there – marketing at its finest
- EE Broadband – EE is also owned by BT, and we'd say it's no coincidence then that it's the only other provider on Openreach to offer an average top speed of 67Mbps (all other providers offer between 63mbps and 66Mbps)
- Hyperoptic – As stated a few times now, Hyperoptic is only available to a tiny fraction of the UK population, and if you can get it you will almost certainly already know it, as Hyperoptic will have frequently been dropping leaflets through your door. Hyperoptic offers symmetrical (upload speeds same as download speeds) pure fibre broadband at speeds of up to 1,000Mbps
- Virgin Media – Is your best chance at getting really, really fast broadband. Its top speed of 362Mbps – soon to be 500Mbps – is so fast you're never going to max it out, bar perhaps downloading a huge game on Xbox or PC (sorry PlayStation users, but Sony throttles the connection for downloads)
Frequently asked questions
Who's the fastest broadband provider in the UK?
Both Hyperoptic and some other local/community providers such as B4RN offer 1Gbps (1,000Mbps) broadband, but only to a tiny fraction of the population. The fastest widely available provider is Virgin Media, which is available to around 60% of UK households and offers top speeds of 362Mbps (soon to be 500Mbps).
Can I get ultrafast (1Gbps or more) broadband from a local provider?
There are a number of areas around the UK, almost exclusively rural, that offer broadband from providers formed by members of the local community. In these instances it is offered on pure fibre networks and at speeds of 1Gbps (1,000Mbps) or more. We do not list local providers as they are unable to provide us with up to date postcode/availability data. We recommend using Google to establish if once of these providers operates where you live.
Can I get fast business broadband?
Yes. Both superfast and ultrafast business broadband deals are available via our dedicated page.
How fast is my current broadband?
If you're curious to find out how fast your existing broadband connection is, you can visit our broadband speed test page to find out. Just make sure when you carry out the test that your device is plugged into the actual router. Wifi should not be trusted when it comes to these measurements.
What's the fastest standard/ADSL broadband?
The fastest advertised ADSL in the UK averages 11Mbps. However, if you live particularly close to your nearest cabinet you can expect your speed to be significantly higher. Only operators on the Openreach network offer ADSL (everyone but Virgin Media).