How is ‘full fibre broadband’ defined?

The definition of full fibre broadband is a mystery to many consumers, despite Ofcom’s attempts at clarifying it

Monday, 16 October, 2023

We start this article with two questions. Firstly, how fast is your current home internet connection? Secondly, is it full fibre broadband?

If your inability to answer those two questions comes as a surprise, you’re not alone.

The broadband market is a mysterious place, full of words like ‘ultrafast’, ‘hyperfast’ and ‘superfast’. Then there’s full fibre, part-fibre, Fibre to the Cabinet…

No wonder consumers are confused. And no wonder Ofcom is currently consulting on whether to narrow the definition of the term ‘full fibre’.

For now, the ongoing terminology debate rumbles on without a definitive answer from the regulators.

Here’s how most agencies – including BroadbandDeals – define full fibre broadband.

Optic nervous tension

Until the advent of fibre optic cabling, internet data was carried into our homes along the same copper lines used for telephone calls.

That’s why, in the 1990s, going online involved dialling into the internet while tying up the house phone.

By contrast, fibre optic cables are purpose-made for transporting the binary bits of data that comprise all internet content and communications.

Those cables typically start out at data centres and servers, extending cross-country or along the seabed towards local pavement-mounted exchanges.

These exchanges may transfer data to copper phone lines, resulting in moderately fast connections known as Fibre to the Cabinet, where speeds average between 30 and 65Mbps.

(Mbps is an abbreviation of megabits per second, or million bits per second).

Some ISPs would describe this as ‘fibre’ broadband, or ‘hybrid fibre’, or ‘part fibre’. That’s factually accurate, yet it infers a speed that’s often lacking in reality.

That’s especially true when you remember FTTC connections are asymmetric; data downloads faster than it uploads.

This is a problem if you regularly create digital content, send large emails or rely on cloud-hosted storage services like Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox.

Plus, the lack of server-to-screen fibre cabling means it’s basically incorrect to describe these slower connections as fibre broadband.

Are you full?

Ofcom is proposing that the only broadband services which can be called full fibre broadband should be those where fibre optic cables extend directly between exchanges and homes.

Needless to say, some of the UK’s larger ISPs are unimpressed by this suggestion.

Ofcom’s conclusions will be published imminently, but there is likely to be strong pushback against any attempts to include an implementation period of less than six to nine months.

In the meantime, consumers on FTTC connections may continue to believe they already have full fibre broadband, even though there might be connections 30 times faster available to them.

That’s not significant if you’re a light internet user, but FTTC contracts often struggle with larger family units, 4K streaming, HMOs, immersive online gaming and regular uploads.

Changing permitted advertising definitions to exclusively cover to-the-premises fibre internet would improve consumer understanding of this unnecessarily complex industry

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!