Is fibre broadband worth it?

Monday, 30 July, 2018

In the days of dial-up internet, connection speeds were fairly democratic.

Modems typically connected at 56Kbps, and users could expect to receive transfer speeds of roughly ten per cent of this.

Then broadband emerged, bringing a divergence of delivery methods alongside huge variations in line speeds.

And since broadband providers used to quote maximum line speeds their customers couldn’t hope to achieve, it’s been difficult for consumers to know which sort of line to choose.

Fibre broadband has traditionally been heralded as the optimal choice, but is that really the case?

Below, we consider whether fibre still deserves to be regarded as the best option.

Runners and riders

The UK has three main types of broadband.

There’s the asymmetric digital subscriber line provided by BT offshoot Openreach, better known as ADSL and used by roughly half of the population.

Then there’s fibre, named after fibre-optic cables used to transfer data at 70 per cent of the speed of light.

The third option is 4G broadband, transmitted from cell towers by mobile network operators.

Plug-in 4G dongles power a single device via USB, while larger units resembling a compact broadband router create local WiFi networks.

These devices are susceptible to fluctuations in signal strength, making them a niche choice.

Of the hardwired options, ADSL divides your copper phone line into separate channels for data and voice calls – eliminating the phone-or-internet dilemma of the dial-up era.

However, maximum speeds hover around 17Mbps, which is acceptable rather than impressive.

By comparison, Virgin Media’s latest fibre broadband cables have a theoretical throughput of 360Mbps. In real world conditions, they’ll dramatically outperform ADSL.

Fibre is also a far better material for transmitting data than copper, and forthcoming fibre connections could achieve a theoretical top speed of 1Gbps.

It’s worth noting other broadband companies supply fibre as well as Virgin, though the latter’s bespoke cables extend right into your home.

This is preferable to the final stage of web data’s journey being carried on copper cables from your nearest exchange (Fibre to the Cabinet, as opposed to Fibre to the Home/Premises).

So is fibre broadband worth the money?

It’s hard to think of a scenario where ADSL outperforms fibre – even in cost.

Admittedly, a standard ADSL connection ought to be sufficient for modern-day activities like watching standard definition Netflix programmes or sending work-related emails.

Nonetheless, forthcoming processes like AR gaming or 4K streaming will simply be beyond ADSL’s capabilities.

Fibre connections are rapid and stable, though FTTC still experiences some drop-off during the copper stage of data transfer compared to FTTH.

Prices have dropped for fibre connections, bringing entry-level packages into line with ADSL.

Indeed, some providers are dropping ADSL entirely, to focus exclusively on fibre services.

Since our data requirements are increasing at an unprecedented annual rate, fibre broadband represents the most future-proof solution currently available.

If you don’t have a family of Netflix addicts, a 30Mbps fibre line should be perfectly sufficient.

Image: BwanaHewa

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!