What types of broadband are available in the UK?

representational image depicting network service outage
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If you take a look through all the latest broadband deals, you'll see a variety of different broadband types being listed, often with lots of different information about their respective download speeds and how they work. Without the right knowledge, this can be confusing. 

Whether it's getting muddled up by the uses of 'fibre' and 'Full Fibre' or trying to work out why some tariffs cost more or give you different Mbps figures - it can be a minefield.

Ultimately, you'll always want to pick the option that's right for your needs, so knowing what you're signing up for really helps. This is where our guide can get you up to speed - so to speak - as we've explained all you need to know about the different broadband types that are currently available here in the UK.

Broadband types explained...

Before we get into which broadband type is which, it's important to remember that the availability of each option varies across the country. 

This is usually down to the simple fact that a certain broadband network may not have been rolled out in a particular area yet. Unfortunately, it also means that you won't necessarily be able to access all of the options below. 

However, on a general level, here in the UK we are blessed by the fact that a multitude of options are available. So, while your property might not get certain ultrafast options right now, you're still likely to have some good speeds available. 

Here's what's on offer:

ADSL broadband

ADSL - or 'Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line' - is widely available, but is the slowest and oldest broadband type you can get. 

It's run through a fixed-line network of copper telephone cables that come from your nearest exchange, into your street's cabinet and then across into your property. Due to this, the typical download speeds are on average about 8Mbps, as the copper cables can only transmit a limited amount of data. The speed can also be affected by any damage or just wear and tear on the line.

However, these speeds can be slightly higher or slightly lower depending on how old they are and how far away your home is from the exchange - the newer and closer they are, the better. 

A benefit to ADSL though is that its slower speeds often mean providers sell them as cheaper broadband deals. That said, the existing ADSL network is currently in the process of being upgraded and the main operator of it, Openreach, is planning on retiring the old copper lines in the coming years

So, although it is widely available, most providers will now place you on their faster fibre connections and only tend to offer ADSL to remote locations that have yet to get access to faster broadband speeds.

Fibre (or FTTC) broadband

Fibre - or 'fibre-to-the-cabinet' - is the most popular and widely used broadband type in the UK right now. It's much faster than ADSL and gives a selection of speeds to choose from that can range from 30Mbps up to 70+Mbps. 

It's faster, because rather than running from the broadband exchange to the street cabinet along the older, copper cables, the fibre network uses fibre-optic cables. The rest of the connection runs from the cabinet to your property - hence the name 'fibre-to-the cabinet' and why some providers refer to it as 'part fibre'. This fibre-optic tech is able to send more information through and subsequently deliver these improved speeds. 

Openreach currently says that 'fibre broadband is already available in more than 96.59 per cent of the UK' - as such, if you're currently using ADSL, it might be the case that you're now able to upgrade to a faster fibre broadband deal.

Full Fibre (or FTTP) broadband

'Full Fibre' - also known as 'fibre-to-the-premises' - can give you some of the fastest broadband speeds on the market, as it essentially (and as the longer name suggests) takes the fibre-optic line straight into your home.

The speeds you can get are also huge and range from 100Mbps to just over a mighty 1Gbps. This is because fibre-optic cables use light pulses to send information, so the lines are ultrafast because they're sending the data at light speed. 

The downside is Full Fibre is often more expensive and it hasn't been rolled out across much of the country just yet. Openreach plans to provide it to 25 million homes and businesses by 2026. As of April 2023, around 10 million homes can access Full Fibre connections. 

Fibre optics

(Image credit: Daniel Chetroni / Getty Images)

Cable broadband

Cable broadband is a similar broadband type to 'Full Fibre' in that it can deliver speeds from 50Mbps to in excess of 1,000Mbps. However, the way its network operates is slightly different. 

If we take the UK's main provider of this broadband type - Virgin Media - we can see that they also use fibre-optic cables from the broadband exchange to the street cabinet, but they then run a different cable from the cabinet into your home. 

This particular piece of tech is a 'coaxial cable'. These are capable of transferring large amounts of data at ultrafast speeds, as well as phone and TV services, too. What's more, they are said to be more durable than fibre cables and less likely to suffer issues or connectivity problems.

The big choice of speeds and the reliability of the network is what makes this broadband type very popular. Again though, the faster the speeds, the higher the price. Plus, cable broadband isn't as widely available as fibre. That said, Virgin Media has pledged to upgrade its network so that it reaches over 20 million homes by 2026. 

If you're interest in independent cable broadband, then you may also want to look at similar deals offered by some of the smaller providers that are up-and-coming, such as Hyperoptic

Satellite broadband

Satellite broadband is a broadband type that's now available anywhere in the UK. 

As you might have guessed, it works via satellite transmission. This essentially beams your broadband connection down to you from orbiting vessels above. As a result, you also need to purchase and install a receiver and dish to use this type of connection.

It was historically quite slow and something that was only really used by properties and businesses in remote areas that had no connection to physical networks. But now - and primarily thanks to new providers like OneWeb and Starlink - it can be used by anyone, anywhere and can even give speeds of up to 500Mbps.

However, what you need to consider with this broadband type is the cost. It's still quite a new technology and it is on the pricey side. Plus, lots of tariffs have data caps. Having said that, this type of technology will be subject to change, upgrades and regulation in the future that could make it more affordable and flexible for customers. 

Mobile (or 4G/5G) broadband

4G and 5G broadband are alternatives to fixed line broadband that are becoming increasingly popular. We've explained more about this broadband type in our comprehensive guide to 5G broadband, but it essentially allows you to connect to a provider's 4G or 5G mobile network to power your internet. 

The installation is hassle-free too. All you need is a router, which once you've connected it to the mobile network, will start sending out a WiFi signal for your devices to connect to and use. 

You can find 4G and 5G broadband tariffs from the likes of Three, Vodafone and Virgin Media. Others such as BT have said they will soon start rolling out this service. 

Some 4G and 5G broadband deals can also be quite cheap when compared to standard fixed broadband, but the downside is you can of course only get these if you have decent mobile coverage in your area. 

A 5G-enabled smartphone

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Different speed descriptions for different broadband types

Now we've covered the different broadband types, another area it's worth looking at is the terminology some providers use when describing the speeds they offer with their tariffs - as these can also be confusing at times. 

  • 'Standard' - often used to describe slower ADSL speeds of up to 15Mbps.
  • 'Superfast' - refers to fibre connections with speeds between 30Mbps and 70Mbps.
  • 'Ultrafast' - most providers associate this term with speeds of 100Mbps and upwards.
  • 'Gigafast' - some providers use this to refer to speeds of 1,000Mbps/1Gbps and above.

What broadband type can I get?

Hopefully it's now clear that in the UK we have plenty of choice when it comes to broadband types. However, the fundamental thing to remember is what you can get in your home or business depends on what's available in your area. 

Although, as we've also already mentioned, you might now be in a location where faster connections have now been rolled out without you realising - so there's the potential for you to enjoy an improved broadband package. 

We can help you with this with our widget below. Simply enter your broadband into it and we'll show you the best deals in your location. You can then use these to get a better idea of what options you have available. 

A final tip if you're considering an upgrade is to run a broadband speed test to help determine your current broadband type. This'll show you the download speeds you're getting and you can simply match these to the broadband type we've described above. 

Richard Hart

Rich is a freelance copywriter and content strategist with over 10 years' experience. His career has seen him work in-house and in various agencies, producing online and offline content marketing campaigns and copywriting for clients in the energy industry.