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Full-fibre broadband: What is it and how does it work?

BBC Technology 30 Sep 2019 02:30
Young woman looking at smartphone while using laptopImage copyright Getty Images

The government is planning to spend £5bn on rolling out superfast full-fibre broadband to the most remote parts of the UK.

But what is full-fibre broadband and how fast will it be?

What are the government's plans for full-fibre broadband?

Chancellor Sajid Javid has said the £5bn investment would get full-fibre broadband to the hardest-to-reach 20% of the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said full-fibre broadband is needed to improve the UK's infrastructure and productivity. He wants full rollout by 2025. That target is eight years ahead of the government's original goal of 2033, a date Mr Johnson described as "laughably unambitious".

Last year, a government report estimated the cost of covering the UK with full-fibre broadband by the old deadline of 2033 would be about £33bn.

What difference could it make?

With more people using data-intensive streaming services, smart devices and video calls, we need more data.

It also said there could be several other benefits to consumers and businesses:

Faster connections make it quicker to download films, play online games or use streaming services.

Broadband is a term for high-speed connections carrying internet data and other types of traffic.

  • ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) uses copper cables to a street-level cabinet or junction box and on to the house
  • FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) uses a faster fibre optic cable to the cabinet, but then copper cable from there to the house
  • FTTP (fibre to the premises) uses a fibre optic cable to connect to households without using any copper cable

On the other hand, digging up and replacing copper with fibre optic cable to reach into people's homes is expensive and involves a lot of work.

How fast is full-fibre?

Ultrafast is defined as a speed greater than 100Mbps.

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There are other types of very fast connection as well. Virgin Media uses a different type of cable for the last section that comes into your house, which in theory can offer speeds of up to 10Gbps.

Where can you get the fastest connections?

In February, Virgin Media began a small trial of broadband in Cambridgeshire using fibre optic cable to give households speeds of 8Gbps (gigabits per second).

Last year, another company, Hyperoptic, tested speeds of up to 10Gbps in a home in east London.

Could 5G mobile offer similar speeds?

Three UK told the BBC last year that there would be enough capacity on 5G to match the speeds of the fastest fibre cable connections. Ofcom suggests that in time 5G could offer speeds of 20Gbps.

One advantage of 5G is that it uses a wireless link for the connection to your house, instead of cabling.

But some experts caution this may also be a disadvantage as the wireless signal would not be as stable as a fixed-line connection and could drop out at times.

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UKOfcomChancellor Sajid JavidVirgin MediaBoris Johnson