How to get the best fibre broadband deal
By Dan Howdle | Friday, December 28th 2018
In this guide
- Can I get fibre broadband?
- Do I need fibre broadband?
- What is fibre broadband?
- Which deal is right for me?
- Why choose fibre broadband?
- Which providers offer fibre broadband?
- Superfast, ultrafast or hyperfast?
- Frequent questions
Can I get fibre broadband in my area?
Fibre broadband is currently available to somewhere between 97% and 98% of UK households. It’s likely you’ll only find yourself in that narrow percentage who can’t get it if you live somewhere very rural such as a very small village or hamlet.
Nevertheless, availability between specific providers does vary. If you want to be sure of exactly what you can get in your postcode, use the checker at the top of this page.
Do I need fibre broadband?
You need fibre broadband if one or more of the following applies to your household:
- There a more than two people using the internet
- You have five or more devices (smartphones, TVs, computers, tablets etc.)
- You stream a lot of TV and movies (Netflix, Amazon, NOW TV etc.)
- You regularly upload photos and videos
- You download and play videogames on a console or PC
- You use your home broadband connection for work
- You use video calling services (Skype, Facetime etc.)
- You store files, photos and videos in the cloud (iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive etc.)
What is fibre broadband?
Broadband is a technology used to bring internet access to your household. It comes in two types: standard broadband (also called ADSL), and fibre broadband (also called fibre optic broadband).
The difference between ADSL and fibre broadband
- ADSL (standard) broadband – This is broadband where your copper telephone wire carries the signal from your house all the way to the telephone exchange. Copper cannot carry high-speed broadband anywhere near as well as fibre broadband can. That's why standard ADSL broadband is almost always considerably slower, and often a bit cheaper
- Fibre broadband – Fibre, or fibre-optic broadband uses light bounced long glass cables. The technology is complex and difficult to understand, but the upshot is not: Fibre broadband is much quicker. Where ADSL can carry a signal up to about 20Mbps over typical distances (more often around 10Mbps), with fibre the sky is the limit. Some Virgin Media fibre optic deals exceed 350Mbps
Not all fibre broadband is equal, however. There are actually two types: FTTC and FTTH. You needn't worry about this at the moment, since only FTTC is widely available. For the sake of thoroughness, though, here's a brief explanation.
The difference between FTTC and FTTH fibre broadband
- FTTC – Stands for 'fibre to the cabinet', and means your broadband uses fibre optic cables as far as the green cabinet (the ones you see on street corners), then uses your copper phone line the rest of the way
- FTTH (also sometimes called FTTP) – Stands for 'fibre to the home' (FTTH), or 'fibre to the premises (FTTP). Both mean the same thing. With FTTH the fibre cables run the whole distance, including from the cabinet to your home. The advantage of FTTH is that is can deliver a much faster broadband signal than FTTC, which still has to rely to some extend on copper cables
You do not need to worry about FTTC and FTTH when choosing a broadband deal, since all deals are currently FTTC, unless you are one of the 1-2% lucky enough to live in just a handful of locations.
How do I find the fibre deal that's right for me?
Finding the right deal comes down to a few difference factors: The needs of your household, your budget, if you have a preferred provider, whether you want to bundle it with TV and more. Once you have an idea what you're after in all of these respects, you can use our comparison tools (above). Here are some tips to help you decide what you want.
How to choose a fibre speed
There are lots of very complex ways to do this, but a good rule of thumb is to take 10Mbps for each person in your household who uses the internet, total it up, then use that number to guide your choice. There are a couple of additions to this formula you may need to consider:
- Gamers – If a member of your household is a gamer and regularly likes to download, play and stream videogames online, you should double their allowance to 20Mbps
- 4K (UHD) TV – For every 4K TV in the house you should add an extra 10Mbps. 4K is the latest high-definition television technology, so you should know if you have it. If you're not sure, ask or find out
Why choose fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband is at least three times faster, but it's still questionable whether every household actually needs it. Here are the reasons why you might:
Fibre is much faster
Surfing the web, using social media, using apps on your phone, multiplayer gaming (not downloading the games but playing them), online banking, sharing photos – all these activities and many others like them actually don't require a great deal of speed. If these are the sorts of things you do exclusively, then an old-fashioned ADSL connection will probably be enough.
However, if there are multiple people in your household and they enjoy streaming movies in high definition, downloading games and/or movies the speed you require quickly mounts up.
Fibre offers better value for money
There was once a clear separation between the pricing of fibre versus old-fashioned ADSL broadband. Fibre is much faster/better and what with it being the newer technology providers would price them accordingly, with fibre broadband costing anything up to twice as much. That's simply not the case anymore.
Here, at the time of writing in the middle of 2018, the cheapest fibre deals are a little over £20 per month, with ADSL packages hovering around a couple of quid a month cheaper.
Fibre broadband can cope with lots of devices
Have you noticed how you can connect practically everything to the internet these days? Most households have a computer of some kind – that'll need to be connected. If it has a printer manufactured in the last two or three years, that'll want to be connected. Your smartphone, tablet if you have one. In our household even our amplifier, DVD/blu-ray player and TV want to be connected to the internet.
Depending on how many of these devices your household has, if it's more than five or six, chances are you're going to have to opt for fibre broadband over an old-fashioned ADSL connection, which simply won’t be able to cope.
Essential for large households
It can be difficult to work out exactly the speed you need in your household. The more people you add, the more devices you have to factor and the more complicated this becomes. Generally we recommend allowing 10Mbps per each household member who is an active, regular internet user. If that individual downloads games and movies or streams video onto YouTube or Twitch, for example, you should double that.
Fibre broadband generally has better routers
For example, if you take out ADSL (non-fibre) broadband with BT it'll supply you with a BT Home Hub. It's an okay router for light use, but if you're planning to get 5+ devices running on it you're likely going to start experiencing problems before long. Moving up to BT's fibre packages you now get the BT Smart Hub – it is leagues better than the Home Hub. You're unlikely to run into problems even when you add the 20th device to the mix.
Some providers such as Virgin Media offer the same router no matter what package you get. If you're umming and ahhing between fibre and ADSL it is definitely something you should consider, and check, on a case-by-case basis.
Essential for 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) streaming
You're going to need around 8Mbps per HD stream and 25-50Mbps per UHD (4K) stream. And these requirements are of course exacerbated by the fact that household members typically watch TV at similar times of day. If you have more than one streamer in the house, you absolutely need fibre. If they are doing their streaming in 4K and downloading games and movies to a device, you should probably opt for the fastest connection you can get.
Essential for gamers
At the extreme end, a game like Final Fantasy XV or Forza Motorsport 7 on PC or Xbox One X can clock in at a staggering 120-150GB. If you have no idea how significant that number is 150GB is the same as roughly 30 HD movies or 43,000 songs. It's big. really big. And would take a typical old-fashioned ADSL connection 36 hours to download. That's a long wait. If you were on Virgin Media's 362Mbps fibre, meanwhile, you'd only be twiddling your thumbs for about an hour.
Which providers offer fibre broadband?
- BT – BT is the UK's most popular provider, with both ADSL and fibre broadband packages aplenty. It's also, outside of sale time, on the more expensive side in the grand scheme
- EE Broadband – EE, famed for its excellent mobile network, has been in the broadband business for nearly four years, and offers some good fibre deals, especially if you're an EE mobile customer
- First Utility – Still a relative newcomer, and still also an energy provider, First Utility offers fibre broadband deals to those with an eye for a bargain. Cheap, no-frills, and without sacrificing reliability
- John Lewis Broadband – Most will be familiar with the John Lewis brand. Catering to the more well-heeled end of the market, John Lewis broadband is a prestige brand, offering a decent service for those who care about such things
- Plusnet – Plusnet has won countless awards for its fibre broadband offerings, especially in the area of customer service. It's now owned by BT, but continues to provide the service it is famed for
- Post Office Broadband – Post Office Broadband offers both ADSL and fast fibre to anyone who wants it. It's a no-frills service, and one aimed especially towards the older generation
- Sky – Sky offers a premium fibre broadband service notable both for its exceptional reliability and the fact you can bundle it up with possibly the best subscription TV service available in the UK
- SSE – SSE was and still is an energy provider. However, it's been doing a pretty good job these last couple of years offering both ADSL and fibre broadband packages at low prices to anyone who wants them
- TalkTalk – It's been a rough few years for TalkTalk with its much-publicised data breaches and poor customer service record? Things do seem to be improving, however. Its promise of no price hikes during your contract is welcome, and its prices are low and often come with free gifts or cashback
- Virgin Media – Virgin Media has, hands-down, the fastest widely available broadband service in the UK. Its top speeds are nearly eight times that of its nearest rival. It's also the UK's most reliable broadband
- Vodafone – We really like Vodafone broadband. It offers only fibre packages (none of that ADSL tat), has a great router, great customer service. Its deals also tend to be very good value for money
What’s the difference between superfast, ultrafast and hyperfast?
Broadband providers love using these words, sounding as they do all whizzy and space-age. But what do they really mean?
'High-speed' broadband has no official definition, with what it is specifically referencing changing over time. Ten years ago 'high-speed broadband' might have referred to 8Mbps ADSL. Today, it more likely refers to fast fibre of some kind.
Superfast fibre broadband
‘Superfast’ refers to any broadband connection with a download speed of more than 24Mbps and less than 300Mbps. Speeds within this range are what most households should ideally shoot for.
Ultrafast fibre broadband
‘Ultrafast’ refers to any broadband connection with a download speed greater than 300Mbps and less than 500Mbps. Only Virgin Media offers a widely available package in this range. Speeds like this are suited to large households with extreme streaming and downloading requirements.
Hyperfast or ‘gigabit’ fibre broadband
Also referred to as 'gigabit' broadband thanks to the tendency of these packages to off 1Gbps (one gigabit per second, or 1000 megabits per second), ‘hyperfast’ broadband refers to any broadband connection with a download speed faster than 500Mbps. Such connections are only available to a couple of percent of the UK population and, arguably, never needed.
Frequently asked questions
What's the cheapest fibre broadband deal?
It changes all the time. To find out what the absolute cheapest is today, visit our cheap broadband comparison page – the deals are listed in price order, so whatever's at the top.
How long are fibre broadband contracts?
It varies. Most are eight 12 or 18 months, and you'll be tied in for that length of time, barring a few exceptional circumstances. A few deals offer a rolling one-month contract, but you'll almost certainly be paying more upfront for the privilege. If you don't want to pay anything upfront, check out our list of deals with no upfront costs.
Should I get limited or unlimited broadband?
Barely any data-limited or data-capped (same thing) deals exist these day. If you do happen across one, you won't be saving much money, if any, opting for it. And then you'll have to worry about whether you hit that limit each month. Save yourself some hassle and just go for an unlimited deal. No matter your circumstances it's always the best choice.