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Standard broadband vs fibre broadband

Luke Thompson
Monday, December 11th 2017

If you’re looking for a new broadband deal, you’ve probably come across the terms ‘standard’ and ‘fibre’ and maybe wondering what it all means and which one you should go for.

In essence, fibre broadband is a lot faster than standard broadband, and not necessarily much more expensive.

At a glance

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Speed

Standard broadband

Standard broadband (also referred to as ADSL) offers download speeds of up to 17Mbps. However, actual download speeds vary by provider, and it’s very rare that you’ll actually get 17Mbps. Ofcom’s latest broadband speed report found that standard broadband customers were on average getting speeds of around 9.5Mbps.

Fibre optic

In comparison, fibre optic broadband can provide download speeds over five times the maximum standard broadband rate. The fastest and most widely available download speed is from Virgin Media’s Vivid 300 package – but, as with standard broadband, actual speeds vary.

However, due to the fact that Virgin Media runs its own network, its lines are not as highly contested as Openreach lines, which are shared by multiple providers. This means that, in general, you are more likely to receive closer to the advertised speed with a Virgin Media connection than you would be with another provider.

The latest Ofcom broadband speed report found that fibre broadband customers were receiving average download speeds of around 56.8Mbps (observed across connections with headline speeds of up to 38Mbps and above).

Price

Standard broadband

This is the cheapest widely available form of broadband, also known as ADSL. Prices start from £17.95 per month, including line rental, but start to creep up as the packages come with more extras.

You can compare standard broadband packages on our broadband comparison page for a sweeping look at what’s available.

Fibre optic

Fibre broadband is far faster and more advanced than standard broadband, so you should generally expect to pay more for the service it provides. However prices are now coming down and in many cases you can buy a fibre package for around the same price as a standard broadband deal. Prices start from £20 per month, including line rental. A range of speeds are on offer - from the minimum 38Mbps to the top flight 300Mbps – exclusively with Virgin Media.

To see what other fibre packages are available – including prices – take a look at our fibre comparison page.

Availability

The coverage of each service is key, as it will determine what broadband services are available in your area. Standard broadband is available to roughly 99% of the population, but the rollout of fibre over the past few years means that now covers around 95% of the population. You can use the postcode checker below to check whether fibre broadband is available where you are.

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There is a wide choice of internet service providers

Most ISPs now offer both standard and fibre optic broadband, with the exception of Virgin Media, which does not offer standard broadband. Otherwise, your choice of provider will come down to what is on offer in your area, how much you want to spend, and whether you want a bundle with TV or not.

Usage

Whether you’re sending an email, uploading a photo or downloading music, all online activity consumes data, which is measured in megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). Some broadband providers place usage caps on their broadband plans, limiting what you can do within a specific month. However, increasingly, an unlimited broadband plan is becoming the norm. Our demand for data is growing continually and for most people, a limited plan is no use.

Just watch out for what is known as traffic management on some packages. This is where providers either control the download speed at certain times of day or slow it down for certain types of online activity. Packages that come without any usage limitations at all are known as 'truly unlimited'. It's worth remembering though, that even an unlimited package with traffic management probably won't cause the average user any problems at all.

Don’t forget, Cable.co.uk now produces in-depth broadband reviews of every major UK broadband package, so check them out if you need more information.

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