Fibre broadband is now available to around 95% of UK homes. And with speeds up to 350Mbps now available with Virgin Media, fibre is getting faster and becoming more widely available all the time.
We tell you how to find out if you can get fibre in your area, and what the various options are if you can't.
The best way to check which fibre broadband providers and deals are available to you where you live is to use our postcode availability checker.
In most cases, installation requires a visit from an engineer; it isn't usually an upgrade which can happen automatically. You will need to subscribe to a fibre broadband package and have it installed. Some providers now offer easy self-installation for locations where services have been present in the past.
Depending on the position of your home relative to the road, an engineer may need to run a cable up to your property. While this isn't a problem for most home-owners, if you rent or live in a block of flats, you will need permission from the owner or freeholder before any work is done. The same will apply if the cable needs to cross a neighbour's property.
If your home hasn't had these services before, then the physical sockets for phones or cable connections will also need to be installed. The engineer will normally do this as part of the installation.
In most cases, the equipment (router, sockets, cables etc) is free, however there are usually various equipment, installation or activation fees attached to some packages. The fastest fibre packages invariably come with some sort of set-up fee.
Fibre has many advantages over standard broadband. First, it is more reliable, since fibre optic cables carry information intact from end to end. But the main advantage of fibre is its speed. Nobody likes waiting for things to download. Increased speed gives a much smoother online experience, allowing Netflix or iPlayer to get through a film or TV show without reverting to low-quality video or buffering for ages.
Standard broadband averages 10Mbps for downloads. Fibre broadband is significantly faster. While many entry-level packages offer download speeds averaging 36Mbps, faster deals reach speeds of up to 67Mbps.
The speeds mentioned above apply to most broadband providers, because they all use the Openreach network. However, much faster speeds are available from Virgin Media, which owns its own cable network. Virgin Media broadband, which is available to around 60% of homes, currently offers download speeds of 50Mbps, 100Mbps, 200Mbps and 350Mbps - and beyond. This makes Virgin Media's VIVID 350 (350Mbps) package the only ultrafast broadband which is widely available in the UK.
Uploading also benefits from faster, more reliable fibre optic cables. Upload speeds on fibre broadband can reach 20Mbps, though lower-end packages can be slower, falling in the 3Mbps to 12Mbps range.
Fibre optic broadband is already available to 95% of UK properties, although many users haven't switched yet. The pace of change however, is accelerating. If fibre hasn't reached you, it probably will soon. The UK's main fibre broadband providers have invested a lot in their networks over recent years, and this work is ongoing.
As mentioned earlier, there are two large fibre broadband networks in Britain: Virgin Media and the Openreach network. Covering around 95% of UK premises, the Openreach network is larger than Virgin Media's, though around 60% of UK premises can access Virgin Media.
The majority of broadband providers use the Openreach network, and as a consequence they offer the same or similar speeds. While the actual fibre broadband on offer is the same, there is an advantage to having a choice of providers. Some offer better equipment, while some are cheaper or bundle more extras in their packages. The standard of customer service varies too.
The Openreach website has a page dedicated to revealing its fibre roll-out plans. You just need to type in your postcode and you will be shown detailed information showing if your area has fibre, planned, under review or already up and running.
Virgin Media has different priorities when it comes to publicising its fibre strategy. Openreach sells its services to numerous broadband providers. So it has an interest in keeping the various providers informed about its fibre roll-out.
Virgin Media on the other hand, doesn't sell services to other providers. So perhaps it isn't in Virgin Media's interest to publicise where it will set up next. Indeed, doing so may hinder its plans by giving valuable intelligence to the competition. (This is all speculation on our part of course.) That said, you can try phoning Virgin Media, or go to its website to register your interest.
The answer to this question comes in two parts. First, we need to address speed. As mentioned earlier, the broadband speeds offered by Virgin Media far outstrip those from providers on the Openreach network. So, if speed is of prime importance, then Virgin Media has the better network.
On the other hand, the speeds available from BT, Sky and other providers on Openreach are still fast, especially in their top-end packages. Which brings us to the next point. Speed is important, but not much use if Virgin Media doesn't serve your area. As mentioned above, Openreach currently enables access to fibre broadband to 95% of UK properties, compared to around 60% from Virgin Media, So if simple availability is key, then Openreach has the better network.
In conclusion, Virgin Media is faster, but Openreach, used by BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet (and many others) is more widely available.
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