With most of us working from home, fast and reliable internet connection is more important than ever.
This is especially important in larger households where several members of the family are competing for broadband bandwidth at the same time. Stress levels can rise quickly if the connection is slow or disconnected altogether.
When it comes to understanding cable broadband and whether it will be the answer to your internet needs, it’s important to first understand the wider options available.
Different types of broadband connections
The most common type of broadband connection was the ‘Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line’ or ADSL. It uses the same copper wires your home phone relies on.
The speed you get with ADSL will depend on the distance from the telephone exchange where you live. The further away you are, the slower your speed will likely be because the speed is lost over longer cable lengths.
In terms of speed, the maximum speed with ADSL2+ is about 24 Mbps (Megabits/sec), while ADSL1 is slower and the maximum speed is about 8 Mbps.
This type of connection uses fiber optic cables to transmit data and download speeds are much higher than ADSL.
Providers such as Sky, Plusnet, and TalkTalk all provide a fiber connection over Openreach’s fiber network. BT also provides fiber connectivity over this network (which it owns).
Fiber promises speeds of at least 30 Mbps. Speeds of 30 Mbps or more are defined as ‘superfast’ by telecom regulator Ofcom. According to his research, superfast broadband is currently available on 95% of UK properties.
Likewise, fiber broadband is offered by many providers to provide not only super fast but also ultra fast connections. (As a guide, Ofcom defines speeds over 300 Mbps as ‘ultra-fast’.)
Two different types of fiber connections
Fiber is a fairly broad term that applies to a service that uses fiber cable at some point in the link from the provider to your home. And there are two main types of fiber broadband that will confuse you.
With “fiber to cabinet” (FTTC), fiber optic cables provide broadband to street cabinets, but then copper wires bring it into your home. This makes it the slower of the two types of fiber.
To get the fastest broadband speeds of up to 1 Gbps (Gigabit), like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, you’ll need what’s known as ‘fiber to the building’ (FTTP).
Also known as “fiber to the home” (FTTH), this involves transmitting your broadband through fiber optic cables from start to finish. This includes both the connection from the switchboard to your street locker and the cable connection from the street locker to your house.
While the lack of copper wires means FTTP broadband can be lightning fast, it means it’s a more expensive option and only available in limited areas in the UK, as it involves running fiber optic cables directly to your home.
So where does wired broadband fit?
The third type of broadband is wired broadband.
It is a very different type of broadband connection to ADSL, offering potentially very different speeds. And while cable and fiber have a lot more in common (as both are capable of delivering the fastest broadband speeds), they’re still not quite the same thing.
Cable is associated with major providers such as Virgin Media that run its own network.
What is the difference between cable and fiber?
In wired broadband, as in fiber broadband, the lines between the switchboard and your street cabinet are fiber optic.
The key difference with cable is that broadband then travels from the cabin to your home via what’s known as a “coaxial cable” network. (These cables are also used to transmit cable TV).
By using coaxial cables, you get a much faster internet connection than old-style copper telephone line cables.
Pros of wired broadband
Cable offers higher download speeds than ADSL. Coaxial cables can send data much faster than standard phone lines and can provide speeds of at least 30 Mbps – although some packages can offer much higher speeds, up to 152 Mbps.
Likewise, top-of-the-line cable deals can even go beyond that. Virgin Media’s fiber optic product includes packages with average speeds up to 516 Mbps. It also upgrades the cable network so homes can have gigabit speeds.
Cable is much more reliable than ADSL, and broadband is much faster than FTTC broadband, although not as fast as a ‘full fiber’ connection (where all the connection is made of fiber optic cable).
This makes the cable a ‘happy medium’ between copper wires and fiber optic cables.
Prices for superfast broadband are falling while speeds are increasing. You can also use the savings offered by ‘bundling’ cable TV and phone in one package with your cable broadband.
Cons of wired broadband
While you don’t need to live right next to a telephone exchange to get the fastest speeds with cable, signal loss can occur over longer distances. In contrast, the fiber optic signal does not degrade over the distance it travels.
Also, while prices are falling, they are often higher than ‘standard’ ADSL broadband.
Availability of wired broadband
Cable is not as widely available in the UK as ADSL, so you may not have many options to choose from. However, the figures show that Virgin Media, which dominates the market, now covers around 60% of the UK and its reach is growing steadily.
While coverage is always improving, households unable to access fast connections via fiber or cable network will also include those in rural or ‘hard-to-reach’ areas.
Typically, these areas will continue to be on the ADSL broadband. The same is true even for certain pockets of certain cities. It’s easy to find out what type of broadband is available in your area with a zip code checker.
Can I get a fixed line with wired broadband?
While wired broadband doesn’t require a landline, you can choose to pay for a deal that will bundle other services like landline along with broadband. This can be more cost effective than using a second telecom provider.
Can I increase the speed of my cable broadband?
Your average broadband speed will depend on the region you live in. If your broadband speed drops below the speed sold to you, contact your provider to see if they can fix the problem.
You can also try increasing the speed of your home broadband:
using the internet outside of peak hours (19:00 – 23:00)
making sure you have the latest internet router
update your browser
installing antivirus software
positioning your device(s) closer to the router
ensuring that everyone in your household avoids being online at the same time.
What else should I consider before replacing it?
Your provider can provide you with equipment such as a new internet router to make your broadband work. It will instruct you on how to set it up. There may be a charge for delivery.
If you choose to cancel your plan before your contract expires, you will probably need to give your provider 30 days’ notice and pay a fee depending on whether you want to cancel only your broadband services or other services as well. You pay for the services and the remaining time on your contract.
Switching to a new connection type
While it is possible to switch from one broadband type to another, such as from ADSL broadband to cable broadband, you will be limited to the connection types available where you live.
Compare the best broadband deals on a comparison website to get started and learn more. After doing a search with your zip code, you will be able to see results for your area.