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What is Full Fibre Broadband?

fibre cable

Increasingly popular among homes and businesses as a means to future-proof their broadband technology for decades to come, full fibre is the fastest and most reliable type of broadband available in the UK.

But what does the term "full fibre" mean, exactly? Read on to find out what is (and what isn't) full fibre, its aliases, what you can do with it, and why it's so useful.

What is full fibre broadband?

Full fibre broadband is a type of broadband connection that uses fibre optic cables from the telephone exchange directly to your home.

By contrast, other types of broadband on the market - specifically standard ADSL and fibre broadband - use copper telephone wires for either all or some of the journey from the exchange to your home.

Fibre broadband means that fibre optic cables are used from the telephone exchange to one of the green roadside cabinets. Then, from the cabinet to your home, copper cable is used.

What kind of download speeds are available with full fibre?

Entry-level average download speeds for full fibre broadband start at around 100Mbps and generally run up to between 900Mbps - 1Gbps (1,000Mbps) on top-end deals with providers such as BT, EE, Talktalk, Virgin Media, and Vodafone.

For even faster speeds, CommunityFibre - a London-based broadband provider that builds and operates its own network - offers a broadband plan with speeds of up to 3,000Mbps, while Tewkesbury-based provider YouFibre, advertises full fibre business broadband with speeds of up to an insanely-fast 10,000Mbps.

What can I do with full fibre speeds?

Whether it's 100Mbps or 1,000Mbps, a full fibre broadband connection is incredibly fast. As an example, downloading an SD film would take around 20 minutes with a standard broadband (ADSL) connection,  about 1 minute at 100Mbps and just 6 seconds on a 1,000Mbps full fibre connection.

Also, the faster your download speeds the more devices you can connect simultaneously and online activities you can partake in. As an example, for a seamless online gaming experience, it's recommended you have an average download speed of between 15Mbps and 20Mbps. For streaming films or TV shows in Ultra HD or 4K quality, Netflix recommends a minimum of 25Mbps. So, if you live in a household where these kinds of bandwidth-heavy activities are commonplace and happening at the same time across multiple devices, a full fibre connection will be able to handle this comfortably.

Will I always get the speeds as advertised by providers?

Even though full fibre broadband is the fastest and most reliable type of broadband available, the actual download speeds you get may not be as fast as those advertised by the providers. For this reason, it's always worth running a quote which will give you an estimate of the actual speeds you can expect from providers in your area.

The exact download speeds you’ll be able to achieve are contingent on other factors too, including the type of router you have and devices you’re using to connect to Wi-Fi. For example, an iPhone from 2013 will only be able to handle around half the Wi-Fi speeds of a more recent model.

It's also worth bearing in mind that using Wi-Fi rather than a cabled connection will always produce slower speeds.

Upload speeds with full fibre

Upload speeds determine how fast you’re able to copy or send content – such as photos or videos – from your device to other devices, cloud storage, or apps like YouTube or Instagram.

Generally speaking, upload speeds are almost always much slower than download speeds, but the faster the broadband package, the faster average upload speeds will be. For example, a standard ADSL broadband connection with download speeds of 10Mbps, will net around 1Mbps in upload speeds. Meanwhile, the top-level full fibre broadband package with Shell Energy - with average download speeds of 944Mbps - will give upload rates of 109Mbps.

Some specialist full fibre providers - such as Community Fibre, Hyperoptic broadband, and G.Network - even offer symmetrical speeds. This means that your download and upload rates will be the same.

How else is full fibre defined?

Broadband providers use a number of different titles and names when referring to full fibre. This can sometimes make it confusing to know the exact type of broadband you're getting.

The terminology most often used for full fibre broadband is as follows:-

  • Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)
  • Fibre to the Home (FTTH)
  • Ultrafast broadband
  • Gigafast:- The term used by Vodafone to describe their fastest full fibre broadband package with average download speeds of 910Mbps.
  • Gigabit-capable broadband:- Often used to describe both full fibre broadband and broadband that uses a mix of fibre optic cables and upgraded copper cables (coaxial cables).

Is there a difference between "Full Fibre Broadband" and "Fibre Broadband"?

Yes. You no doubt will have seen broadband providers advertising broadband packages with titles like ‘superfast’, or simply ‘fibre broadband’. However, this is not full fibre; it’s ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ broadband, or FTTC. Speeds for FTTC broadband are usually either 36Mbps or 67Mbps.

FTTC broadband uses fibre optic cables from the local telephone exchange to the green roadside cabinet. From there, copper cables are used to connect your broadband to your home. If the copper has degraded, or if you live a fair distance from the roadside cabinet, your connection will be slower and less reliable than advertised speeds.

In some cases, the term ‘fibre broadband’ might be viewed as misleading; many customers may expect that signing up to a fibre broadband package means they are future-proofing their broadband. However, the majority of FTTC broadband still relies on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network), which will be switched off by Openreach by the end of 2025.

Is Virgin Media broadband full fibre?

Virgin Media builds and operates its own fibre network and is the UK’s largest gigabit broadband provider - offering download speeds of up to 1.3 Gigabits (Gbps) on its fastest package.

Many assume that because of these speeds, Virgin Media must be a full fibre broadband provider. However, the operator’s network currently predominantly uses Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) technology. This means that rather than full fibre, Virgin uses a combination of fibre optic and multi-core copper – or DOCSIS 3.1 - coaxial cables to deliver its broadband.  In other words, Virgin Media uses an upgraded version of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) broadband.

However, Virgin has begun to upgrade its infrastructure, and aim to switch their entire network to full fibre by 2028.

Is full fibre broadband available to me?

Although more than a handful of broadband providers now offer full fibre broadband, only around 8.2 million households across the UK are currently able to make the switch to a full fibre connection.

However, the government has announced through its ‘Project Gigabit’ scheme that it aims to deliver full fibre coverage to 85% of the UK by 2025.

What if I can't get full fibre?

As a general rule of thumb, it's a good idea to allow 10Mbps for each member of your household. So, although speeds of up to 1,000Mbps might sound attractive, it's probably excessive for most households, and most will find fibre speeds to be more than adequate. Standard fibre broadband is the most popular type of internet connection in the UK - available to over 96% of the country - so it's almost guaranteed that you'll be able to get it.

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