Ultrafast and Hyperfast Broadband

How fast is very fast? We explain marketing terms for the fastest broadband services.

From ‘high speed’ to ‘hyperfast’, you might see broadband being described using all sorts of different words that sound like they all mean ‘very fast’. So what do these terms actually refer to?

Standard Broadband

When broadband services over a telephone line were originally launched they supported speeds of only 0.5Mb (512Kb) using the ADSL protocol. Later, faster up to 8Mb ADSL Max services were launched and were the standard for many years.

All broadband capable telephone exchanges can at least achieve up to 8Mb services, although whether you'll be able to achieve these speeds will depend on how far you are from the exchange, with the longest phone lines having much lower speeds.

No providers sell an up to 8Mb service. They advertise high speed broadband services of up to 16Mb, then drop back to the slower ADSL Max speeds if high speed broadband isn't available at your exchange. You can use our broadband checker to see if your area has high speed broadband and what speed you'll likely get at your home.

High Speed Broadband

The current standard broadband service over a copper telephone line uses a technology called ADSL2+, which offered a significant boost to the up to 8Mbs services, theoretically allowing a maximum speed of up to 24Mb (or 20Mb in real world use).

As such, when it first launched, this service was marketed as ‘high speed broadband’. This term is still in use despite higher speed services now being available and represents a service that offers a maximum speed of more than 8Mb but less than 25Mb.

High Speed Broadband Availability

Not all areas have been upgraded from the old up to 8Mb limit, and some areas have been upgraded only by providers like TalkTalk or Sky putting their own equipment in the exchange. Even within a high speed area, your home may be so far from the exchange that the broadband has been slowed down by the length of copper cable covered.

You can use our checker to find out if your telephone exchange supports any high speed broadband services and whether you’re close enough to the exchange to enjoy a speed higher than 8Mb.

Superfast Broadband

The next speed tier up from ‘high speed’ services exceeded the speeds available over just a copper phoneline by making use of fibre optics as far as the street cabinet. This limited the distance covered using telephone lines or metal cables.

The first of these services was launched by Virgin Media on their cable service, initially offering speeds of up to 50Mb. There has since been an equivalent technology launched over BT telephone street cabinets and phonelines (known as FTTC or ‘fibre to the cabinet’) that initially offered speeds of up to 40Mb, but now offers doubled speeds of up to 80Mb. This was first exclusive to BT and sold as BT Superfast Fibre, but now many other providers such as TalkTalk, Sky and Plusnet offer equivalent FTTC fibre broadband with competitive prices.

As such, broadband marketed as ‘superfast’ usually represents part fibre services with speeds of more than 25Mb but not usually in excess of 80Mb.

Superfast Broadband Availability

In order to be able to sign up for superfast fibre broadband your telephone exchange needs to have been upgraded to support FTTC services and your green street cabinet also needs to have been given a fibre upgrade.

The speed you can achieve depends on your distance from the street cabinet. As there are far more cabinets than exchanges, most homes are closer to a cabinet than an exchange. With shorter distances to travel, faster copper broadband protocols can be used. Most FTTC connected homes have speeds of 30Mb or more with many being closer to the very maximum of 80Mb.

Our broadband checker can tell you whether 80% or more of homes in your postcode are fibre enabled. If we have your phone number we can also tell you estimated speeds. We'll also tell you if you’re able to receive a cheaper superfast service from an ultrafast or hyperfast provider such as Virgin Media or Hyperoptic.

Ultrafast Broadband

Ultrafast broadband represents the next step up in broadband technology from up to 80Mb fibre to the cabinet services, as such speeds are faster than this, usually 100Mb or more.

There are two ways of achieving ultrafast speeds, you can install fibre optics all the way to the home, or you can upgrading the technology used in existing part-fibre FTTC services to get faster speeds out of the same fibre optic cabling.

The most commonly available ultrafast service is Virgin Media’s part-fibre cable services which were upgraded to support a maximum speed of 152Mb in early 2014. Due to Virgin Media’s use of steel coaxial cable from their street cabinets to your home, most of their users can achieve the full advertised speed without significant slowdowns due to distance.

Meanwhile BT Wholesale has announced plans to upgrade their telephone exchanges so FTTC’s maximum speed doubles from up to 80Mb to up to 160Mb, but this has yet to roll out.

The most affordable form of full fibre broadband is provided by the hyperfast provider Hyperoptic, who lay fibre to the basements of apartment buildings in select urban locations then share their gigabit services to all connected homes within the building (see more on this in the Hyperfast section below). Although Hyperoptic's services are capable of gigabit speeds, they also offer a more affordable ultrafast 100Mb broadband service. This is symmetric so offers a full 100Mb upload speed, much faster than all competitors.

The other type of full fibre ultrafast broadband offered is a full fibre service where you pay to have fibre optic cables installed between your street cabinet and your home (known as FTTPoD or ‘fibre to the premises on demand’). This offers speeds of up to 300Mb but typically has considerably more expensive installation costs due to the need to lay new fibre optic cabling to support it. This type of broadband is sold by BT Broadband as their Superfast Fibre 3 and Superfast Fibre 4 products. Because this is a full fibre service there is no slow down with distance from either the telephone exchange or the street cabinet.

Full fibre to the home products are also offered in select new build estates and premises that have been connected by Independent Fibre Networks also know as IFNL. In this case fibre-optic cables were installed at reduced cost around the newly built streets while they were under construction, so connecting new customers is only a case of connecting them to existing fibre passing their home. This service may be offered at a discount rate as part of your home rental or may be sold by an internet service provider. Currently IFNL fibre to the home is sold to consumers by Direct Save Telecom who offer speeds of up to 300Mb download and up to 30Mb upload, as well as a range of cheaper products with slower speeds. A £70 connection fee applies if you've not yet been connected to IFNL's fibre, or £25 if you've been connected in the past or are switching from another IFNL supplier.

Ultrafast Broadband Availability

Virgin Media offers up to 152Mb speeds in all their cable areas, this represents 65% of UK households. Most Virgin Media households can achieve the full advertised speed. Cheaper ultrafast up to 100Mb services are also available, as are superfast up to 50Mb services. IFNL's fibre to the home products have been installed in various new builds in more than 40 English cities and towns with more coming in the future. Our checker can tell you if you live in a Virgin Media, Direct Save IFNL or Hyperoptic fibre area.

FTTPoD products are sold as the up to 200Mb BT Superfast Fibre 3 and the up to 300Mb BT Superfast Fibre 4. As with FTTC, both your telephone exchange and street cabinet need to be upgraded before you can sign up. The FTTPoD system uses the existing FTTC link to your street cabinet and only requires the installation of new fibre from the cabinet to your home, reducing some of the costs of full fibre, but installation is still usually expensive and costs more the further you are from your street cabinet. Not all homes and FTTC street cabinets will be eligible for FTTPoD installation. The BT Superfast Fibre checker can tell you if you can apply.

Hyperfast or Gigabit Broadband

Hyperfast broadband might be used to describe speeds of 500Mb or higher, while gigabit broadband refers to services capable of achieving connections of 1Gb (1000Mb or 1 gigabit) or higher. While no national providers currently offer services of these speeds, some smaller local providers are already offering extremely fast full fibre optic broadband with the capacity to reach speeds of up to 1Gb.

Hyperfast broadband is most often installed in narrow urban areas with large numbers of office buildings and apartment blocks, but it may also be offered in rural areas where BT and Virgin Media never provided superfast options and so a local company or community initiative stepped in to fill the void with a full fibre solution.

Hyperfast broadband tends to come in two different varieties, both of which deliver a full fibre optic connection direct to the building. Laying fibre is expensive, especially if you’re having to run cabling all the way to every individual home you connect, so an approach is needed to make this economically valuable for residential customers.

A common model is to install fibre optics along certain streets, allowing anyone on the street whose home is ‘passed’ by the service to sign up for an affordable installation price - the cost of joining the home to the passing fibre optic cable. Where fibre is laid may be decided based on which areas are judged to be likely to have high uptake, alternatively it may simply be because someone else nearby has already paid the high installation costs to get fibre run along the street. This type of installation is called FTTP, aka ‘fibre to the premises’.

Another model for economically viable hyperfast broadband is to select large residential buildings, perhaps high end apartment blocks or new build blocks of flats, and run a full fibre connection to the building’s basement that is then shared among the flats using a high speed wired ethernet network, local fibre network or wireless access point. Residents would then be able to pay for a subscription to connect to their building’s hyperfast broadband service for a low installation cost, especially if a network faceplate is already installed in their home. This type of installation is called FTTB, aka ‘fibre to the building’ and is currently offered in select urban areas by Hyperoptic.

Hyperfast Broadband Availability

Gigabit fibre to the building services are currently available in more than 250 London postcode areas and selected parts of Bristol, Cardiff,  Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Reading, in apartment buildings connected to Hyperoptic’s hyperfast fibre network offering symmetric 1Gb downloads and uploads.

You can use our checker to find out if Hyperoptic is available in your area. You can also go straight to the Hyperoptic website to register your interest or you can tell your landlord or property manager, increasing the likelihood that Hyperoptic will come to your building.

Gigaclear provides rural communities with 1GB FTTP Fibre services and is expanding its network continuously across the UK. There are a range of price packages offering different speeds of service up to the 1Gb package.

Ultrafast and Hyperfast Broadband Deals


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Upload Speeds

Most of the sections above have talked about download speeds, while upload speeds barely get a mention, and this reflects how most providers advertise their products.

If you’re serious about uploading, creating videos, making video calls or storing lots of files in the cloud, then you’ll want to have the highest upload speed you can get. In some cases you may find that your download speed is more than enough but that your upload speed lags behind causing more of a bottleneck.

Most broadband is asymmetric, meaning that download speed is much faster than upload speed. For high speed broadband, a download speed of up to 20Mb would only have an upload speed of up to 1.5Mb. For superfast FTTC, the maximum download speed is up to 80Mb while upload is only up to 20Mb. For ultrafast fibre, Virgin Media’s 152Mb broadband has only 12Mb upload speed, Direct Save's IFNL FTTH has a maximum upload speed of 30Mb, while BT Superfast Fibre 4 still only has up to 20Mb upload speed.

For ultrafast or hyperfast upload speeds you need a symmetric broadband connection where your upload speed is as fast as your download speed. Currently this is only offered by full fibre providers like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear. Both of these offer hyperfast symmetric gigabit broadband with 1Gb available both ways, but if you only need ultrafast speeds they also offer symmetric 100Mb services offering 100Mb uploads for a more affordable monthly price. Gigaclear also offers 50Mb and 200Mb options so you can choose the price and speed that suits your needs.

If upload speed matters to you, be sure to write to your asymmetric broadband provider and let them know that there’s demand for faster upload speeds and there’s more to ultrafast broadband than simply downloading.