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Can I get Sky fibre broadband?

Dan Howdle
Friday, January 15th 2016

Sky is one of the leading suppliers of fibre broadband in the UK, and reaches over 22 million homes. Its fibre service is carried on the BT Openreach network and can reach speeds of up to 76Mbps, so let’s see if you can get it where you live.

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Sky fibre broadband availability

Sky Fibre is not available everywhere

Sky uses the BT Openreach network for its fibre optic broadband service, which is the most widespread in the country, although that doesn’t mean it is available everywhere. By early 2014 the network reached around two-thirds of the UK population, and the rollout is slowly spreading. However, there are still many people out of reach.

Sky Fibre isn’t necessarily available just because BT Infinity is

It’s worth noting that although Sky’s fibre network piggybacks BT’s Openreach network, it doesn’t necessarily follow that just because you can get fibre from BT (BT Infinity) you can also get fibre broadband from Sky.

That’s because Sky has to install its own equipment at your local telephone exchange in order to offer you its services. Not all telephone exchanges equipped for fibre are necessarily equipped for Sky, but most are.

What is Sky Fibre?

Sky Fibre is fibre optic broadband supplied by Sky. There are two types of Sky broadband widely available in the UK. Those are…

Standard Sky broadband (also referred to as ADSL or copper broadband)

This is broadband that is carried entirely on the UK’s national copper wire network – the wires that landline phone calls have always travelled through. It’s the slowest of the two types of broadband available in the UK, meaning it’ll take longer to download files to a computer, browsing the internet will be slower, and you may not be able to watch movies in high definition – depending on where you live.

When it comes to standard broadband, the further you live from your telephone exchange, the slower your broadband will be. The same is true of fibre optic broadband to some extent, but because fibre optic broadband is generally so much faster, the effects of living a long way from the exchange are going to be less noticeable. It’s most likely that you’ll still receive a service fast enough for your needs.

Sky Fibre broadband (also referred to as superfast or fibre optic)

Sky Fibre, unlike standard Sky Broadband, arrives at your home mostly via fibre optic cables. We say ‘mostly’ because the distance between the cabinet (those dark green things you see standing on street corners) and your home is still of the old copper phone line variety.

That means that while Sky Fibre is generally at least twice as fast as Sky Broadband – meaning you’ll be able to do more with it in less time – it still has to cover that last bit between the cabinet and your home (what the telecoms industry calls the ‘last mile’) via copper cabling.

Why’s this important? Well, it’s important because, like standard ADSL broadband, Sky fibre broadband is equally prone to slowdown due to distances.

How does Sky Fibre work?

Sky Fibre, like all ‘fibre’ broadband uses fibre optic cables to deliver data to remote locations – i.e. your home.

Fibre optic cables are actually made of glass. Glass, weirdly, takes on some rather unusual properties when it’s stretched into fine fibres. It’s flexible. It bends. These fibre cables are then formed into a network connected by cabinets and telephone exchanges, where data is distributed back and forth.

A true fibre network has fibre cabling at every stage of the process. No UK network, besides a few smaller providers who are steadily building their own, is currently fibre all the way. Fibre all the way is known as Fibre To The Premises (FTTP), and is exclusively offered by the likes of Gigaclear, Hyperoptic and small, community providers like B4RN.

The advantage of FTTP is one of speed. With no copper anywhere along the way, this handful of small FTTP providers can easily offer speeds of 1000Mb (1Gb) and beyond – that’s about 15 times faster than the fastest speed offered by Sky.

Arguably, though, a 1Gbps (Gigabit per second) broadband connection is more than one household needs by a long, long way. There is currently no consumer application in the UK that requires more than 25Mbps – the speed you’d need to watch TV in UHD 4K resolution. To make use of 1Gbps, then, you’d need to be watching different 4K content on 40 screens at once. It’s overkill.

When is Sky fibre coming to my area?

There’s no easy answer to that question. If you can’t currently get Sky Fibre, there are a number of different things you could do both to get a better idea of when Sky Fibre will become available where you live and to fill the service gap with a worthwhile alternative.

If you’re getting a Sky Bundle that includes Sky TV, you should…

Sign up to Sky’s standard broadband service. 17Mbps really is good enough for most people. On 17Mbps you’ll absolutely be able to enjoy Sky’s Box Set and on demand content in HD, as well as do all the other daily online bits and bobs that make your world go round.

It avoids having to get your broadband from another provider. Unless Virgin Media is available, you’ll get the same speed from an alternative provider anyway, so it’s sort of shooting yourself in the foot not to choose Sky broadband along with your TV. It also means that when Sky Fibre becomes available – and Sky will absolutely let you know when this happens as it will want you to upgrade – you can easily switch to the faster service.

If you want Sky Fibre because of a special, limited deal you’ve seen, you should…

Go for Sky Broadband (non-fibre) instead. Sky will let you upgrade as soon as it’s available, while most of the time Sky Fibre deals are also available on Sky Broadband packages. You can always console yourself with the money you’re probably saving while you wait, and though your broadband will be slower, it’ll likely be good enough for most things you’d like to throw at it.

If you aren’t yet sold on Sky, and it appears you can get Virgin Media where you live, you should…

Go for Virgin Media instead, especially if having the fastest broadband you can get is really important to you. Virgin offers the closest TV service to Sky’s you can get in terms of services and breadth of content.

Be warned, though, that it Sky suddenly becomes available where you live mid-way through your contract with Virgin Media, you won’t simply be able to jump ship. Virgin Media ties its customers into an 18-month contract, and whatever’s left on the contract, that’s going to amount to what you’ll pay for the privilege of leaving early.

If you’re only willing to get Sky Fibre and unwilling to choose an alternative in the meantime, you should…

Register your interest with BT. Sky Fibre operates on the BT Openreach network. That means that when BT Infinity arrives at your home, Sky will also most likely be available.

If you can convince your neighbours to also register their interest, it may add some weight and bump the time of its arrival up the queue. Don’t expect any hard and fast information on when it’s arriving, though. BT is notoriously impossible to pin down on switch-on dates.

How long does Sky Fibre take to install and activate?

Sky Fibre activation period

From the moment you buy your chosen Sky Fibre package on Sky’s website to the moment you’re up and running with it is usually two weeks. This may take longer if there are technical complications, or be a little shorter if the wind is blowing just the right way that day.

Sky Fibre activation does not require a visit from an engineer. Sky will post your your Sky Hub router and let you know exactly when your services will be switched on. On that day, at that time, all you need to do is plug in your Sky Hub and you’re away.

Sky Fibre installation time

The amount of time it takes to install your Sky Fibre broadband – provided it’s been activated and you’ve received your Sky Hub router – is exactly the amount of time it will take you to plug it into your phone socket and connect your devices either wirelessly or through an ethernet cable.

Limited versus unlimited Sky fibre packages

Sky Fibre 38Mb with a 20GB data limit

The range of Sky Fibre packages is a little odd in one sense. Sky currently offers a ‘limited’ fibre broadband package. A limited package is a package that will only allow you to download or upload a certain amount of stuff each month before either cutting you off or charging you more.

What’s so odd about that? Well, it’s odd because traditionally limited packages have never really found their way into the fibre market. That’s because fibre is fast, and so, if you chose it you probably download quite a lot of stuff, and you won’t want said stuff limited in any way.

It’s just pretty hard to fathom who exactly would choose fibre over standard broadband, and be happy to have what they can do with that new-found speed restricted.

Sky Fibre 38Mb Unlimited

This Sky Fibre package makes far more sense. You get the speed of fibre, but won’t have to worry about hitting any limits. All of Sky’s Fibre deals are ‘truly’ unlimited. There is a small, but important distinction between ‘unlimited’ and ‘truly unlimited’ – the former may still place restriction on your usage at peak times, while the latter absolutely won’t.

Sky Fibre Pro 76Mb Unlimited

Well, this was never going to be limited, was it? No. Sky Fibre 76Mb Pro is not only the quickest broadband you can get from Sky, it’s also truly unlimited.

One quirk of the Sky Fibre Pro 76Mb package you should be made aware of, however, is that Sky won’t let you buy it online. Weird, huh? No, you have to phone to get it. Here’s the number: 0800 840 5394.

Sky Fibre broadband line rental

If you want Sky Fibre, you must pay line rental

You may have noticed already – if you’ve been looking for a broadband deal for a while – that it’s hard – nay – impossible to find a deal without a £16.99 (or thereabouts) line rental slapped on top each month.

We’re sorry to report that Sky’s offering is no different. Just like every other provider, barring Virgin Media, if you want Sky Fibre, you’re going to have to cough up for line rental each month. There’s just no way around it – Sky Fibre comes, in part at least, down your old copper phone line, so whether you use a landline or not, you’re going to have to pay for that.

Sky does not offer broadband-only deals

Broadband-only deals are broadband deals that don’t require line rental. They are only available in the UK from providers who either…

  • Run their own fibre network (Virgin Media), or
  • Require you have a landline from someone else

And there are caveats to both those options.

Virgin Media absolutely does offer broadband without a phone line, but in what can only be described as an act of savage consumer mockery, only offers such deals at prices that equate to exactly what you’d pay if you did have a landline and were paying line rental. To this day we have no idea why Virgin Media would do this, but it does!

The second type of broadband-only deal requires you have a landline, though not necessarily from the provider offering the deal. Since most search for broadband-only deals because we want to get around paying for line rental somehow, this approach to broadband-only is about as useful as a parachute that opens on impact.

The fact Sky doesn’t offer broadband-only deals will annoy some, but Sky is no worse than anyone else in this respect.

38Mb or 76Mb – How to choose which speed is right for you

Sky Fibre broadband comes in two flavours: 38Mb and 76Mb, the latter, obviously, exactly double the speed of the former. But how do you know which speed is right for your household. There are a few strategies you can use to ensure you make the right choice…

Strategy number one: Get the 76Mb Sky Fibre Pro just in case you need it

If you’re both lazy and wealthy, this is absolutely the best option. You don’t care about saving money, and you don’t care if you’re not going to use all that speed. It’s as fast as it gets, so why not?

Strategy number two: Get the lower speed and upgrade if you have to

This is a better strategy for those not sure which Sky Fibre speed they need, and feel that with so many uses at different times by different people in their house they have no reasonable way of finding out. And it’s a good strategy, because for most households 38Mbps is plenty.

Strategy number three: Try to figure out exactly what your household uses

This is a good strategy, but there are a whole lot of fuzzy areas that will constitute pitfalls and might lead you to make the wrong choice. As a general rule, you want to budget for 10Mbps for each moderate-to-heavy user (a person with more than one device that watches video online frequently) and 3Mbps for each light user (a person who mainly uses the internet for browsing and social media).

Just bear in mind that this is not an exact science, and you still may find yourself needing more, or less, depending on whether any or all of these activities cross over at any particular time of day.

Sky Fibre upload speeds Q&A

What is an upload speed?

If download speeds define how fast you receive data from the internet, upload speeds are the opposite. An upload speed defines how fast you can send files from your computer to somewhere else on the internet, be that an email, photo, Skype call or sending something for storage on ‘the cloud’.

Why are Sky Fibre’s upload speeds so much smaller than their download speeds?

Most broadband in the UK is ‘asymmetric’ – a posh, techie way of saying that upload and download speeds differ. That’s simply because there are far fewer applications that require hefty upload speed than there are that require a hefty download speed.

In the real world, a smaller upload speed is absolutely fine. Sky Fibre’s upload speeds – 10Mb for the 38Mb packages and 19Mb for the 76Mb Fibre Pro – are actually some of the fastest in the UK. Even Virgin Media, whose top download speed of 200Mbps utterly trounces Sky’s, only offers a maximum upload speed of 12Mbps.

Do I need a fast upload speed?

Depends what you’re going to do with it. Yes if you use cloud computing services a lot, tend to send a lot of video and large files, or if you stream video to YouTube, Twitch etc.

If you don’t know what any of those things are, you can be pretty certain you don’t need an upload speed any faster than the comparatively excellent upload speeds Sky offers as standard with all of its fibre broadband deals.

Sky fibre router – Is the Sky Hub any good?

The Sky Hub router is the standard accoutrement to any and all Sky Broadband and Sky fibre deals. It’s small, functional and has a decent range, so the short answer to whether or not it’s any good is: on a day-to-day basis you’ll probably never even know it’s there.

What we like about the Sky Hub router

  • Small, discreet, inoffensive
  • Functional, good range, low power usage
  • Extremely reliable

To reiterate, you’ll plug it in, and it’ll work, and barely anyone will experience any problems with it – it is notoriously reliable.

What we don’t like about the Sky Hub router

  • Isn’t gigabit-ready
  • Lack of IPv6 functionality
  • Single band – no 5GHz channel

If you’re looking at these things and scratching your head as if you’ve just tried to decipher the Narmer Palette, you don’t need them. If you’re looking at them and sucking air between your teeth and muttering “Dear, dear, dear” you’re a massive geek (just like us), and you probably do.

Sky Fibre Pro (76Mb) – Why isn’t it available online?

Tried to get Sky Fibre Pro 76Mb and can’t find it online? That’s because Sky won’t sell it online. And that means…

Yes, you’ll need to phone Sky to get Sky Fibre Pro 76Mb

While you’re there, you can ask Sky why you had to phone. Sky is not actually making public knowledge out of the reasons behind its choice to put the Sky Fibre Pro 76Mb packages out of reach of online buyers.

We can theorise, though. It might be because broadband at that speed puts additional strain on the network locally. All those other houses and flats in your part of town are ultimately using the same cabinets and exchanges, and they have a maximum capacity. If, in theory, everyone in your neighbourhood opted for 76Mb broadband, and used it to capacity, things would almost certainly slow down for everyone.

The phone call, then, we believe, is so that Sky can double-check that such a fast connection won’t cause capacity problems in your local area. If you’re sure you want Sky Fibre Pro 76Mb, you should call 0800 840 5394.

Bundling Sky Fibre and Talk with Sky TV

The best way to experience Sky is with a Sky Bundle deal

If you have your heart set on a Sky Fibre broadband deal, you may be doing yourself a disservice in not opting for a Sky TV package to go with it.

TV is Sky’s true selling point. Sky’s Fibre broadband deals are great – that much is not in dispute – but it is in its TV packages that Sky is absolutely, unquestionably peerless, offering nearly twice as many channels as it’s nearest rival, as well as more free on demand Box Sets and movies than you could comfortably sit through in a lifetime.

The best Sky Bundle is the Sky Family Bundle

Okay, okay, the ‘best’ Sky Bundle is the Sky Complete Bundle (which adds Sky Movies and Sky Sports), but you’d have to be some kind of lunatic to pay a three-figure sum each month for more services than you could ever possibly watch.

No, the best balance is the Sky Family Bundle. It allows you access to over 400 channels, 300 Sky Box Sets (full TV series available on demand) and over a thousand on demand movies at any given time.

You will also need ‘at least’ the Sky Family Bundle to watch most of that content in HD. If you’re bundling TV, it’s a no-brainer.

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