The internet is now a pretty sizable part of most people’s daily lives. Business relies on it heavily to operate, particularly now ‘Cloud’ based software is so common. In our personal lives, we can often find ourselves practically living online, with Social Media, online shopping and Google as the go to tool to answer pretty much any question. However, over the last couple of years, it’s become apparent our broadband just isn’t up to the job any more. It’s far too slow for the NetFlix, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer generation that now relies on a fast internet connection to allow us to consume their wares. Step up ‘Fibre Optic Broadband’. Hailed as the solution to our buffering connections, slow downloads and complaining kids blaming the “rubbish internet” for ruining their Xbox online gaming experience. So, what is Fibre Optic Broadband?.. How does it work?.. Do I need it and is it worth the money? All great questions, so let’s start from the top:
What is Fibre Optic Broadband?
It’s had a few labels, depending on which collection of marketing guys you are lucky enough to listen too… “Super-Fast Broadband”, “21st Century Network”, “Fibre Network”… all are the same thing and offer download speeds between 20mb & 76mb, depending on the package you purchase, the distance of your home from the street cabinet (we’ll come back to that later) and the quality of the cabling in your own home. To compare, most old-style Broadband services, known as ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), will have a maximum download speed of 17mb. However, if you’ve been able to get that, you must live next door to your Telephone Exchange, as speed decreases exponentially to your distance from the Exchange. Most will get between 3mb and 12mb, meaning Fibre Optic could improve your download speed 20 fold!
Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will offer two tiers of download speed and cost:
- Download speed up to 38mb (though BT have up to 52mb in their cheaper package)
- Download speed up to 76mb
Going for the larger faster service increases the cost by 30-70%, depending on your provider, but the more expensive option will often also include other benefits, such as online storage/backup or a larger download quota, so it’s worth looking at all the options.
How Does It Work?
The “Fibre” in “Fibre Optic” refers to bundles of tiny tubes, each of which is around the thickness of human hair. These bundles of cable replace the old copper cabling between your telephone exchange and the green street cabinet, which will usually be within 500 metres of your property. Data is transferred down the tiny tubes using light, which travels the length of the cable by bouncing off the inside of the tube. Light travels fast and doesn’t degrade in the same way a radio signal would in copper cable. As a result, even street cabinets that are beyond two miles of the exchange, can obtain the fast speeds advertised. However, that only gets the connection to the street cabinet. The last leg of your data’s journey is completed via the same copper cable as your ADSL internet connection uses. Since the distance to the street cabinet is usually quite short, the degradation of the signal is fairly minimal, but remains a factor in how close your speed can get to the maximum ‘up to’ speed quoted for the service you purchase. This type of service is known as “Fibre-to-the-Cabinet” or FTTC. If you home (or more likely, your business) to far enough away from your cabinet, you can choose to have the copper cable between the cabinet and your property replace with fibre, meaning your service would be classed as “Fibre-to-the-Home” or FTTH. This can proved to be very expensive and probably unnecessary for most home users. However, some businesses might see value in making such an investment, as there are additional gains for download speed to be had. In some cases, speeds up to 1gb (1000mb) can be achieved.
There is one other option, which isn’t available to everybody and that’s Cable. This is provided by Virgin media and is generally good value and fast… indeed, the basic option is faster than the Fibre Optic available from BT’s equivalent offering. Unfortunately, a sizable percentage of the properties will not have access to the Cable option, so we won’t expand on it further, at this stage.
Do I need it and is it Worth the Money?
This really depends on how you currently use your internet connection and what you’d like to use it for in the future. If your household has multiple internet users and devices, then in all likelihood, you are going to find using the internet less frustrating, if you’ve got a faster service. The faster your broadband – or to be more accurate, the more bandwidth you have, the more people and devices your internet can accommodate. Think about it like a busy road. A wider road, such a motorway, can accommodate more traffic than a single carriageway could.
If you want to utilise services like ‘Catch Up TV’ (iPlayer, ITV Player, Demand 5, All 4 On Demand etc) or subscription services like NetFlix or Amazon Prime Video, having a faster download speed will make watching a lot less frustrating. It ruins the experience of a film or TV programme, when it stops to buffer and if it keeps doing so, it can render it unwatchable.
If you or someone in your household, play online games, be they via a Games Console (Xbox, PlayStation etc) or PC, the improved service offered by Fibre Optic can change the whole experience and make a game playable online, when before it seemed like it was impossible to win, as updates just didn’t come through quickly enough to allow you to be part of the action.
Whether it’s worth the cost really depends on whether you can actually make use of the extra speed and bandwidth you obtain. If you’ve no interest in TV services, gaming and don’t often download music or other large files, you are probably fine to stick with your current ADSL service. If you are getting 5mb download speeds or better, all your casual usage will likely be fine and you may even be able to dabble is some of the other services mentioned, on occasion too. If you want to check your speed, you can do so via www.speedtest.net.
What do I do if I’ve Decided Fibre Optic is for Me?
First of all, speak to your existing ISP and see what deals they can do for you. Though most areas are now covered by the Fibre Optic network, there are still some locations yet to be enabled. Your current ISP will be able to advise you on whether your exchange & cabinet are ready and what packages they offer. However, don’t jump at that straight away… if you are out of contract with your existing ISP, you could leave for another provider and end up with a better deal, both on price and/or service. Bear in mind, at the time of writing, all Fibre Optic services are essentially the same root product, as sold by BT Openreach (BT’s Wholesale division). However, BT aren’t the only option, as other ISP’s can buy the wholesale product from BT and resell it to you for less, thanks to economies of scale. The levels of service from one ISP to another is also a factor to consider, as sometimes it’s paying a little more to get Customer Services that can actually help you when you need them. Do your research… websites like ‘www.broadbandchoices.co.uk‘ or ‘www.thinkbroadband.com‘ can be most helpful in finding the best deals by comparing like-for-like services.
When you do upgrade, you may find that you are simply mailed a new router, as all the upgrading is completed remotely or at the street cabinet. The router will hence be a self-installation, but don’t let this put you off. It’s fairly straightforward to swap the equipment over and the instructions provided are usually good. Of course, if you do have an issue, don’t hesitate to get in contact with Ridea Technology and we will happily help you get up and running.