Can I get full-fibre broadband in the UK?
Full fibre broadband deals represent the latest evolution of home broadband connectivity, and it’s currently the fastest way to pipe the internet into a property.
Using fibre-optic cables to transmit digital data packets at almost the speed of light, these dependable connections represent the industry’s gold standard.
Yet only 5.1 million residential premises in the UK have full fibre connections, according to Ofcom statistics – less than 20 per cent of the nation’s homes.
That’s especially disappointing when you consider countries like Singapore, Portugal and Latvia have provided full fibre broadband to over 95 per cent of their populations.
Admittedly, the UK has an unevenly-dispersed population spread across 135 islands, but it’s still frustrating that full fibre rollout has been so sluggish and inconsistent.
And inevitably, the Government’s pre-election pledge that every home would have gigabit connectivity by 2025 has been quietly dropped.
But what is full fibre broadband? Why is it so desirable? And how can you get hold of a full fibre deal in your home?
What does full fibre actually entail?
Full fibre broadband is known by many names, including FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) and FTTH (Fibre to the Home).
Regardless of the chosen title, it involves fibre optic cabling extending from regional data centres directly into your home.
This is different from Fibre to the Cabinet connections, where fibre cabling ends at a pavement exchange box and slower ADSL connections complete data’s journey into the home.
ADSL has been the default connection method in many UK homes over the last 15 years, but it’s hobbled by upload speeds of just 1Mbps.
Download speeds are typically ten times faster, though still only suitable for homes with modest data requirements.
By contrast, full fibre will support activities as diverse as online FPS gaming, 4K streaming or multiple simultaneous video calls.
It’s future-proof, ready to support forthcoming technologies like 8K broadcasting which would overwhelm today’s FTTC connections.
And critically, it’s capable of supporting home workers who may be heavily reliant on intranet access and Teams to do their jobs.
With little enthusiasm among employers or staff for a full return to the office, millions of service sector employees are expected to continue working from home at least part-time.
Open’ all hours
Many homes around the UK receive full fibre broadband services courtesy of Openreach.
This former offshoot of BT handles telephone line installation and telecommunications infrastructure throughout the country.
Openreach is also primarily responsible for rolling out the infrastructure necessary to support high-speed internet, as mandated by the UK Government and the devolved administrations.
Openreach’s status is unique. As the arms-length infrastructure wing of former national monopoly holder BT, they provide services no other ISP or broadband firm is allowed to.
This includes the installation and maintenance of telephone lines which aren’t bundled into fibre connections – Virgin Media’s twin-core coax cable carries phone and data at once.
Yet Openreach isn’t customer-facing, dealing instead with ISPs and housebuilders. Its network faces competition from dedicated full fibre firms, and it’s still closely tied to BT. You can check your postcode on Openreach’s site to see if they have plans to extend the full-fibre broadband network to your address any time soon.
Its network is also a mess, with line speeds ranging from 1Mbps to 1Gbps across the UK.
However, if you have a working Openreach line capable of delivering full fibre broadband, you can choose from a wide variety of ISPs.
You’re not committed to using the hardware or services of one company, giving you the freedom to choose a new broadband provider at the end of a contract.
Playing one ISP off against another can drive down already-competitive introductory offers made to new customers, and it’s one of the reasons the UK broadband market is so healthy.
You might even find some ISPs offer services well below the achievable line speed in modern homes, because their infrastructure isn’t fast enough to fully exploit the latest connectivity.
Who else provides full fibre broadband?
If you want to look beyond the various companies reliant on Openreach infrastructure (including industry giants like Sky and Plusnet), these firms may be in your area:
- Virgin Media. With a complex legacy network partly inherited from Telewest and ntl, Virgin now deliver cable broadband, with comparable speed to mid-range FTTP services to 53 per cent of the UK.
- Gigaclear. Offering a variety of home and business broadband contracts, Gigaclear’s full-fibre deals are available in over 200 communities from Devon to Essex.
- Hyperoptic. Hyperoptic has partnered with most of the UK’s major housebuilders across 40 towns and cities. It also created the UK’s first gigabit residential broadband service.
- Grain. Carlisle-based Grain Connect is an example of a regional full fibre firm. They offer hyperfast connections featuring symmetrical 900Mbps uploads and downloads.
- Community Fibre. Community Fibre offer a range of FTTP broadband offers in 23 London boroughs.
- KCOM. There’s no Openreach or Virgin Media in Hull and parts of the East Riding. KCOM has exclusive rights here, and remarkably, it’s already achieved 100 per cent full fibre coverage. KCOM are now expanding into other nearby areas, so even if you’re not in Hull, you may be able to get online.
What if full fibre broadband isn’t available in my area?
If it’s not available now, there’s a good chance it will be soon.
The UK Government’s self-imposed deadline for national full fibre rollout keeps slipping, but firms like Openreach have been tasked with achieving it nonetheless.
Densely populated inner cities tend to be the first to receive full fibre, before it extends to more affluent or newer suburbs and then larger towns.
That inevitably means villages and rural areas join the full fibre party later. Because the profit margins are lower, there’s less incentive for ISPs to become active in these areas.
If you live in a hamlet and are tired of sluggish download speeds, there are options while you wait – and campaign – for faster internet connections.
Rural residents could investigate a community fibre partnership, splitting the cost of broadband cabling between multiple households.
Homeowners tap into a newly-laid central trunk connection, whose cost may be partly offset by a combination of grants, voucher schemes and council funding.
There’s also mobile broadband to consider, across the UK’s 4G (or ideally 5G) mobile networks.
As with full fibre broadband, coverage is patchy. However, the portability of a MiFi dongle is highly appealing, and 5G services have a lot to commend them, as we recently discussed.
Your final option is satellite broadband, which is diminishing in price and increasing in popularity as new brands enter the market and Low Earth Orbit satellites slash latency.
Does every home need full fibre broadband?
Absolutely not. In some cases, it might be superfluous.
Imagine a single-person household where the internet is only used for online shopping, social media and the occasional standard-definition catch-up show.
Gigabit connectivity here would be utterly pointless – and unnecessarily expensive. It’d be like owning a Ferrari when you only ever travel half a mile to your local corner shop.
Conscientious ISPs won’t oversell an internet package, working with consumers to establish what level of connection is optimal for that household’s use.
If line speeds support faster connectivity, it can always be upgraded as circumstances change. But if you don’t need it, it’s pointless to pay full whack when there are many cheap and affordable broadband deals to suit lower-bandwidth households.