Author: Edd Dawson
Fibre Optic Broadband Buyers Guide
Fibre optic is the latest buzzword in broadband provision in the UK, we keep being told it's the future and that we all should want it. But for many people the term "fibre optic" itself means nothing. This short buyers guide aims to get you up to speed with what it is, why you should want it and how to go about getting it.
What is fibre optic broadband?
At its simplest level it's just a broadband supply that's delivered to your house by means of a fibre optic cable, rather than over your older copper BT telephone line.
A fibre optic cable is made up of very thin strands of glass which laser light is beamed down at incredibly fast speeds (quite literally the speed of light!) to carry data to your house. Unlike broadband that is delivered over copper telephone line fibre optic broadband does not get slower the further away from your exchange.
So it really is down to the type of cable that hooks your house up to the internet.
What are the different types of fibre optic broadband?
Now, though we said above that it's just about having a fibre optic cable rather than an old copper telephone line to get your broadband, as always with technology, it's not quite that simple.
Some fibre optic services don't quite get the fibre optic cable all the way to your house, to do so for every house would mean digging up an awful lot of the UK, so some get very close to your house with fibre optic cables and then use older cables that are already installed for the last few yards.
There are two main types of fibre optic provision in the country at the moment:
- Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) - This is where you actually have a fibre optic cable all the way into your house and you use a fibre optic router that can read and send signals using laser light. This is actually a very rare type of broadband provision in the UK at the moment, and is only available in a very few areas. As the fibre comes right into your property there are no problems with loss of speeds at all, and some FTTP broadband providers can offer speeds of up to 1Gbps which is incredibly fast, and on a par with the very best broadband networks in the world.
- Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) - This is where the fibre optic cable does not quite make it all the way to your house, but instead reaches as far as your local street cabinet. You've probably never noticed your local street cabinet, though they are incredibly common, they are usually green or gray (though confusingly some may also be underground, but this is rarer due to the flooding risk) and there will be one within a hundred yards or so of your home. Between the street cabinet and your house the broadband supply will use your old BT copper telephone wire (or in the case of Virgin Media customers will use coaxial cable). As the last section is not on actual fibre optic cables there will be some loss in speed compared to FTTP services. Current maximum speeds on FTTC fibre optic is 100Mbps for Virgin Media (though they are trialling 200Mbps) and around 80Mbps for BT telephone line based suppliers. However these maximum speeds will probably rise in the future. The vast majority of current fibre optic broadband customers are on some kind of FTTC fibre optic supply.
The advertising governing body (the ASA) has deemed that all type of FTTP and FTTC broadband can be collectively described as "Fibre Optic Broadband" and for the rest of this buyers guide we will use the term for both types.
Can I get fibre optic broadband?
At the time of writing around 65% of the UK has access to some form of fibre optic broadband. If you live in a city or large town then the chances are good that there will be some availability. The less urban and more rural you get the chances decrease considerably.
We have detailed information on fibre optic availability in our broadband postcode checker, just give us your postcode and your phone number and we can let you know for sure what is available from which suppliers in your area.
Who supplies fibre optic broadband?
There are more and more suppliers coming on stream with fibre optic deals all the time. The major players are:
- Virgin Media - The pioneers of fibre optic broadband in the UK, Virgin are probably the single biggest fibre optic broadband provider. They have the luxury of having their own fibre optic network that they use exclusively. Their network does not provide FTTP, but is a FTTC style network with the last few yards completed with coaxial cable which is superior to copper cable. As such Virgin Media can offer higher speeds with more stability than other FTTC suppliers.
- BT Wholesale - After Virgin the second largest fibre optic network provider in the UK. The vast majority of their network is FTTC with last few yards being completed with existing BT copper telephone wires. A smaller amount of provision is FTTP. They are currently growing their network and will before long be the largest fibre provider in the UK. BT Wholesale do not supply connections directly but instead rent the usage of their network to other providers. Current suppliers using BT Wholesale include BT Infinity, TalkTalk, Sky, Eclipse, Plusnet and Zen.
- Regional and Local Suppliers - There are a number of much smaller fibre optic broadband suppliers who have small regional or local networks and are usually FTTP networks. Providers include Hyperoptic and H2O.