Woefully slow broadband is the bane of many households. A recent report from consumer group Which? identified 11 local authorities where broadband speeds do not reach a proposed legal minimum of ten megabits per second.
But for many, there is an answer. It is called fibre optic broadband, the latest evolution in broadband technology.
Where it is available, prices for this kind of superfast broadband are coming down while speeds are going up.
But not all fibre optic broadband uses fibre optic cables for the entire connection, with old style cables used for the ‘last leg’ right into a property. This can make a big difference to speed.
Connections will either be classed as FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) or FTTP/FTTH (fibre to the premises/home).
As the name suggests, the fibre to premises connections use fibre all the way from the telephone exchange into a home or office.
Fibre to cabinet connections end at the local telecoms cabinet – the green box at the end of a street – with a standard copper telephone wire providing the final connection to a home.
Only a small number of providers, such as Virgin Media, BT, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and Zen Internet, offer the full connections and even then only in certain areas. Virgin Media also operates a part-fibre arrangement where the last leg from the cabinet to the premises is provided via a coaxial cable rather than a copper wire.
Full fibre property connections offer the quickest speeds, but are less widely available. They can appeal because it allows customers to ditch their landline, while the cabinet version means they still keep a traditional phone.
Since last October, Advertising Standards Authority rules have required broadband providers to include line rental in advertised prices, which has made comparing broadband deals much easier.
Website SamKnows has an option to find the location of your closest telephone exchange, determine the connection types available and find out which broadband companies can offer you a service.
Alternatively, comparison website Broadbandchoices has a postcode checker to show what is available in your area.
Duncan Heaney, of Broadbandchoices, says it is not just heavy internet users who benefit from fibre optic broadband but any household using multiple devices.
He says: ‘It is important for families and shared flats or houses – the extra speed means loads of people can use the web at the same time, without the connection becoming unbearably slow.
‘It is also good if you have lots of gadgets. Many of us have multiple web-enabled devices – phones, tablets, games consoles, smart TVs, and streaming sticks, to name but a few.
Superfast fibre speeds mean you do not have to worry about disconnecting one to save speed for another, you can just use them as you want.’
Websites such as Broadbandchoices, uSwitch and MoneySupermarket are the best way to track down fibre optic broadband deals.
These internet services search for deals from providers offering fibre optic in your postcode. They make comparing offers simpler by calculating the average monthly and total first year cost, taking installation or set-up fees and discounts and cashback into account.
Heaney says: ‘Competition is fierce between broadband providers, with them regularly running offers, special deals, and throwing in extras like vouchers, cashback and reward cards. This is great for customers, as it means that fibre is now affordable for many people.’
As the table shows, the cheapest deals start at about £25 a month for 38Mbps fibre. In general, the faster the speed you want, the more you will pay. Some providers also offer the option to bundle fibre optic broadband with a TV service.
Emma Spencer, at MoneySupermarket, says: ‘Fibre with TV bundles see a slight price increase in upfront fees with the industry average of £38, compared to £31 without TV. This is due to the equipment and associated delivery costs.’
She adds: ‘But there are some great offers in the market which start from £25 per month for TV with fibre and unlimited data usage. TV is Freeview but does offer the pause and rewind function and the option to add additional paid-for channels and bundles in the future.’
As an example, Talk Talk offers up to 38Mbps fibre broadband and 80 TV channels for £25 a month with a £25 set-up fee. Rival Now TV offers up to 38Mbps broadband and 97 TV channels for £29.99 a month with a £22 set-up fee.
Alternatively, sports fans can get a BT deal including BT Sport, up to 52Mbps fibre broadband and weekend calls for £33.49 a month with a £69.99 set-up fee.
Customers normally have to commit to 12, 18 or 24 months when they take out a fibre optic contract. Spencer says: ‘Your new provider will make contact with your old provider – do not call up and cancel the old line if you are planning to keep your old telephone number.’