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Cable broadband: a guide

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Our handy guide explains what cable broadband is and gives details about why it's different to ADSL and whether or not it's a better option for you.

What is cable broadband?

Cable broadband describes the last part of a fibre broadband connection with a key difference – rather than using BT’s copper wiring to connect your home to the local cabinet, it uses Virgin Media coaxial cables. It’s not as commonly available as ADSL broadband, which uses the copper wiring infrastructure, but it’s generally faster.

What other types of broadband are there?

The other types of broadband you can look for are:

  • Fibre: Alternative fibre connections would be those that use copper wiring from the cabinet to the home (fibre-to-the-cabinet or FTTC), or those that are fibre throughout (fibre-to-the-premises or FTTP)
  • ADSL: ADSL, or asymmetric digital subscriber line, uses the copper wiring structure of BT’s phone line to provide your connection. It’s the most commonly available as well as the cheapest, but also the slowest of all the options

How does cable broadband work?

Cable broadband is essentially a fibre broadband connection, but rather than the last leg of the journey either being made through copper wiring (like many FTTC connections) or continuing through fibre (like FTTP connections), it completes the last step through coaxial cables.

This offers a faster connection than ADSL broadband, which uses copper wiring throughout, and also faster than FTTC fibre broadband, but not quite as fast as FTTP fibre.

How fast is cable broadband?

Cable broadband speeds can range from 35Mbps to over 300Mbps, depending on the provider and package you choose – however there are a number of other factors that can affect your overall connection speed.

Do I need unlimited broadband?

If you’re a heavy internet user, you may want to think about an unlimited downloads broadband deal. This is a standard feature of many broadband products, but not all of them – so be sure to keep an eye out that you don’t hit a download cap when you’ve still got browsing to do.

What affects my broadband speed?

As well as the actual type of broadband connection you have, you’ll find download speeds are also likely to be affected by other factors, including:

  • People or devices using your connection: Your connection is likely to get slower the more people or devices you have connected to your broadband – as they’ll be eating up your bandwidth
  • Electrical devices in your home: Electrical devices, even if they aren’t wi-fi enabled, can often cause interference with your router – so try to keep these as far away as possible
  • Quality of hardware: Old or worn routers and cables can also affect your download speeds – it might be worth asking your provider for an upgrade if it’s available
  • Viruses and malware: Your computer might be slow in browsing the web if it’s got a virus or malware installed – try scanning your computer with anti-virus software
  • Weather conditions: Severe weather conditions can affect phone lines, while underground cables can be damaged in cold temperatures
  • Time of day: During peak internet use hours, usually between 6 and 11pm, it’s normal to see slower broadband speeds

MoneySuperMarket also offer a broadband speed checker tool, so you can see what kind of download speeds you’re getting and whether they match what your provider has promised.

Can I get cable broadband?

Not all types of broadband are available in all areas of the UK, and cable is probably the least common of them – so when you compare broadband deals with MoneySuperMarket we’ll ask for your postcode. This way we’ll be able to show results based on what’s available in your area.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need any special equipment for cable broadband?

Depending on where you live and the type of connection already present in the property, you might need new equipment to be installed in your home. Your provider will be able to tell you if this is needed and what you’ll have to do.

Does cable broadband use a phoneline?

Cable broadband doesn’t use a phone line, it uses Virgin Media’s coaxial cables to provide a connection to your home – though it often will come with a landline.

Is cable broadband enough for HD and 4k streaming?

Cable broadband is likely to be enough for 4k streaming, but you might want to consider higher-end packages if you’ll be doing a lot of this, or if there are more than one of you streaming.

Can I cancel my cable broadband?

You’ll usually be able to cancel your broadband early or switch providers before your contract finishes, but this will often involve paying a cancellation fee.

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