The different types of landline broadband
Did you realise that there are two very different types of fibre broadband service? Or perhaps you are wondering how your fibre broadband can be so slow?
Read on for a simple guide that will walk you through the differences between landline-based or wired broadband services and help you make the best broadband choice.
Very confusingly, the term “fibre broadband” is used to refer to two completely separate types of broadband service with very different performances – so it’s really important to be aware of this. Here’s the difference explained.
Full fibre broadband
Full fibre broadband is also known as “fibre to the premises”, or FTTP. It is the fastest broadband service currently available, being able to deliver speeds up to the Gigabit level (that’s 1,000 Mbps). So if it’s available where you are and it’s affordable, this is the one to get.
With full fibre, a special fibreoptic cable is run all the way into your home or business and a dedicated fibre router is connected up to that within the property.
But providing full fibre broadband is a major task. It involves very long runs of those special cables being dug in underground (or much more rarely, strung along overhead poles) to reach properties. So it takes a lot of time and expense – and those operators deploying full fibre (like BT and Virgin) are only going to look to make such significant investments in densely populated areas, where they can reach a lot of properties all at once.
So in more rural areas, where properties are much more widely scattered, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to access a full fibre broadband service any time soon (if ever).
"Normal" fibre-based broadband
These days, the broadband to which the majority of UK properties have access is a fibre-based broadband service, also known as “fibre to the cabinet”, or FTTC. The maximum performance of this service is around 75 Mbps, but most customers see about half that speed on average – see below for why.
With normal fibre-based broadband, fibreoptic cables are run into green streetside cabinets. But then, broadband is distributed down copper phone lines to the properties served by each cabinet.
The problem is that copper wire is not at all good for the transmission of high speed broadband. Something called attenuation degrades the broadband and reduces its speed – and the longer the run of copper wire, the more degraded (and so, slower) the broadband service becomes.
So if you live 1,000 metres or more from the green cabinet that your property’s connected to, your broadband speeds are going to be frustratingly slow – even if your cabinet has been fibre-enabled.
The only way round this would be for Openreach to put in a new fibre-enabled cabinet much closer to those properties affected in this way. But again, deploying a new cabinet costs tens of thousands of pounds, so if doing that is only going to improve broadband for a handful of more rural properties, this won’t be seen as an expense worth going to.
There are still areas of the UK where no part of the connection between properties and their local exchange is fibre-based, instead entirely consisting of copper wiring.
The only type of landline broadband deliverable in these situations is something called ADSL (well, actually ADSL-2 these days). This has an absolute maximum theoretical speed of 24 Mbps, but in the real world, the speeds that homes and businesses stuck with an ADSL-2 broadband service see are the slowest in the UK, They’ll typically get broadband speeds as low as 1 or 2 Mbps.
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