Phil Wilkinson-Jones | February 14th, 2023
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 still 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: you may just be in luck.
Gigabit broadband refers to speeds of 1Gbps (one gigabit per second) or faster, and is more commonly referred to as ultrafast broadband. 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 80Mbps.
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 have fibre broadband at home but this is likely to be fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), so-called because the fibre cables only reach as far as your local roadside cabinet; the final stretch from the cabinet to your home uses copper telephone cables. Or you might have a Virgin Media service, which runs on its own network of coaxial cables that can provided gigabit speeds.
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, which means the upload and download speeds are the same.
Good upload speeds are vital for online gaming and also for anyone that regularly uploads files – whether that’s sending photos by email or saving files to the cloud. A decent upload speed is also necessary for anyone using video-calling software such as Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom or Facetime.
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? You are more likely to notice the difference doing one of the following activities.
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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 – 80Mbps – is now getting faster on an annual basis however, which indicates that ever faster connections are now being rolled out, by both Openreach and Virgin Media.
So 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, the chances of getting gigabit broadband are increasing all the time, although, as ever with broadband, it is hugely dependent on where you live.
The chances are that right now, you probably can't get gigabit broadband where you live, unless you are in a Virgin Media area, in which case you will be in luck as Virgin now offers Gig1 to everyone. 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.
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 serve. If the big providers won't come anywhere near you, that's when Gigaclear might be your best bet.
Vodafone's uses both the CityFibre network and Openreach’s ultrafast network to supply its Gigafast service. It currently covers a large number of locations, including Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Edinburgh, Huddersfield, Leeds, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Peterborough, Southend-on-Sea and Stirling. Joining that list imminently are Barnsley, Bath, Bolton, Bradford, Crawley, Derby, Dewsbury, Gloucester, Harrogate, Medway, Middlesbrough, Nottingham, Reading, Sunderland, Weston-Super-Mare and Worcester.
TalkTalk offers gigabit speeds to around 60,000 properties in the York area courtesy of its Ultra Fibre Optic service. It also offers up to 500Mbps via the CityFibre and Openreach networks to Aberdeen, Bolton, Bournemouth, Doncaster, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Worthing, Ipswich, Inverness, Cambridge, Coventry, Stirling, Leicester and Leeds.
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.
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.
You can measure your speeds easily using Cable.co.uk's own broadband speed test.
Yes, gigabit broadband is as good as it gets right now, for domestic properties at least. Businesses can get speeds up to 10Gbps.
The Gigabit Voucher Scheme is available to homes and businesses 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.
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.