By Phil Wilkinson-Jones | Tuesday, September 22nd 2020
Gigabit broadband has been talked about with the industry for years. But it will still be an unfamiliar term to most people. Not least of all because in the UK it is very, very hard to get hold of. It's a lottery.
In this guide we'll explain exactly what gigabit broadband is, what it allows you to do and whether it's something you can even get. Spoilers: Likely not, but that is changing.
What is gigabit broadband?
Gigabit broadband refers to speeds of 1Gbps (one gigabit per second) or faster. A gigabit is equivalent to 1,000Mbps (one thousand megabits per second) and is, to put it simply, very fast indeed. To give those numbers a bit of context, Ofcom says the UK's average broadband speed is 64Mbps.
These gigabit speeds are delivered using a technology called fibre to the premises (FTTP). This is when fibre cables are used for every part of the journey between the telephone exchange and your home. You may well already fibre broadband at home but this is likely to be either fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), which still uses traditional copper telephone wires in places, or Virgin Media's coaxial cables.
As well as the extremely fast download speeds we've already mentioned, gigabit internet also means fast upload speeds. Some gigabit broadband packages are symmetrical – the upload and download speeds are the same.
Good upload speeds are vital for gaming online and are only going to get more important. With more of us working from home, the demand for high quality video calls and the need to upload large files increases all the time.
What can I do with gigabit internet?
As a pure demonstration of the speed, a gigabit fibre connection would allow you to download a two-hour HD movie from Netflix in 30 seconds. But honestly, how often do you actually download a movie? The following is where you might actually notice a difference.
- UHD streaming – While you may not download films that often, the chances are you do stream most of your TV over the internet. A superfast fibre broadband connection will almost always be good enough to stream the likes of Netflix or iPlayer, but with more live 4K/Ultra HD content being produced, gigabit broadband would make future-proof you against buffering
- Gaming online – There's nothing more frustrating than a poor connection letting you down just as you were about to finally beat that annoying 11-year-old who keeps destroying you on FIFA. Gigabit broadband promises reduced latency and those crucial speedy upload speeds you've been crying out for. But even more emportant, downloading hefty new titles is quick and breezy
- Sharing big files – Whether we like it or not, working from home is fast becoming the norm. Many of us are already familiar the pain that comes from trying to transfer giant files as a deadline approaches. A gigabit broadband connection would ensure the problem isn't at your end
- Immersive media – Ok, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) haven't quite taken off as they were expected to in the past couple of years. But these are still new technologies with the potential to get bigger. They'll although eat up a lot of bandwidth, so quick broadband will be a must
- Reliability – It's not just the increased speed that will make gigabit broadband more reliable. The fibre technology used to deliver it is less prone to degradation or interference than pretty much anything else out there
What providers offer gigabit broadband?
It's fair to say we're still a few years away from gigabit speeds being found in the average household. That average UK speed we mentioned earlier – 64Mbps – is plenty good enough for most people and there are a number of fibre broadband providers that will offer you a great deal on those kind of speeds.
That said, if you want to future-proof yourself, if you are running a business from home or if you just like bragging about your broadband speeds, there are a handful of options, although it's hugely dependent on where you live.
- Virgin Media – Virgin is rolling out a gigabit service called Gig1, which promises average download speeds over 1Gbps, upload speeds of 56Mbps and no traffic management. Before you get too excited, bear in mind that Virgin's network doesn't cover the whole of the UK anyway and the rollout of Gig1 is still at a relatively early stage. It will eventually reach 15 million homes though, so long-term this could be your best bet for gigabit connectivity
- Hyperoptic – Hyperoptic specialises in supplying broadband to large apartment buildings and new-build housing estates. It's gigabit package offers average download and upload speeds of 900Mbps
- Gigaclear – Gigaclear provides full fibre services to rural communities. Like Hyperoptic, it's top 900Mbps is symmetrical, offering the same average upload and download speeds
- Vodafone – Vodafone offers gigabit, well 900Mbps, broadband in a limited number of cities thanks to previous rollouts by infrastructure provider CityFibre. Voda's offer also includes 900Mbps symmetrical upload speeds
- TalkTalk – TalkTalk offers gigabit broadband on the UFO (Ultra Fibre Optic) network in York, the result of a joint venture with Sky and CityFibre in 2015. Around 40,000 homes in the city should be able to take advantage of the service.
Can I get gigabit broadband in my area?
The chances are that right now, no you probably can't get gigabit broadband where you live. But with a number of rollouts taking place, there's a good chance that a full fibre network will be coming to your area in the coming years. For now, these are the locations the providers say you can get gigabit broadband, but if you're serious then you should certainly use their postcode checkers to find out for sure.
Virgin says its Gig1 service is available in nine city areas - Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Reading and Southampton. Drop-down menus on its website show more specific locations but you'll need to pop your postcode in to see if Virgin has reached your street yet.
You may be fortunate enough to live in an apartment block or housing estate already served by Hyperoptic. If not, you'll need to get enough of your neighbours to request a connection for Hyperoptic to be able to bring its services to you. Big blocks of flats in city centres, particularly those in London, are the most likely to be successful with this.
The rural specialist currently serves more than 200 communities, but these are in remote locations that in most cases, BT doesn't dare to go. If the big providers won't come anywhere near you, that's when Gigaclear might be your best bet.
Vodafone's Gigafast network currently extends to the places branded as GigaCities by infrastructure specialist CityFibre. They are Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Cambridge, Coventry, Edinburgh, Huddersfield, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Peterborough, Southend-On-Sea and Stirling.
If you live in York, it's worth checking whether you can get gigabit services from TalkTalk on its UFO broadband (Ultra Fibre Optic) network.
Frequently asked questions
Is gigabit internet the same as ultrafast broadband?
No, they're not the same although they are both very quick. Ultrafast broadband is defined as a connection offering speeds above 300Mbps but less than 1Gbps. Gigabit services offer speeds above that 1Gbps or 1,000Mbps mark.
Would I really get speeds of 1Gbps across my devices?
As with all broadband services, you're only really going to see the very top speeds on a wired connection. It's safe to say, though, that a gigabit broadband connection would give you some pretty speedy wifi.
How can I measure my broadband speeds?
You can measure your speeds easily using Cable.co.uk's own broadband speed test.
Is 1Gbps internet the fastest home broadband available?
Yes, gigabit broadband is as good as it gets right now. How fast do you want your broadband to be?
What are gigabit vouchers?
The Gigabit Voucher Scheme is available to homes and business in rural areas of the UK with speeds of less than 100Mbps. Households can get up to £1,500 towards the cost of a new connection.
Is gigabit the same as hyperfast broadband?
These two terms have been used interchangeably in the past, but hyperfast now tends to refer to broadband speeds above 500Mbps, with the term gigabit used for speeds above 1Gbps.