Should you opt for fibre optic broadband?

Superfast broadband via fibre optic cables sounds good, but I’ve always wondered how much hassle it would be to upgrade, and I assumed it would be a lot more expensive than standard ADSL broadband down the phone line.

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In recent weeks, though, I decided I’d had enough of my slow, unreliable connection and that I was going to upgrade. Having been through the process this past week I can tell you first-hand that it’s well worth it.

What is fibre optics?

Fibre optic technology has been around for a long time – since the 1840s, in fact – and is now being used to give us much faster broadband – up to 100Mb (Megabits per second) in some cases.

To put that in perspective, you could theoretically download an entire film (around 1.5GB in standard definition) in roughly two minutes with a 100Mb connection. 

These kinds of speeds are well out of reach for standard ADSL broadband customers. In fact the average UK download speed is around 9Mb, which would mean a download time of around 25 minutes for the same file. The same download on a 3Mb connection would take 68 minutes!

ADSL broadband sends digital information over copper telephone lines, which is slow because of electrical resistance. And the further away you are from the nearest telephone exchange, the worse this problem becomes.

Fibre optic broadband sends digital information as pulses of light through glass fibres, which is faster because there is less resistance.

Fibre optic services (which can include digital television and telephone services) are only available in ‘cabled’ areas at the moment, but the government wants much greater coverage across the UK by 2015.

Under its current plans, the government wants 90% of UK households to have access to fibre optic broadband with speeds of up to 24Mb within the next three years.

Internet service providers (ISPs) who offer fibre optic broadband (Sky, BT, Virgin, Plusnet and others) often have tools on their websites that enable you to check if you live in a cabled area based on your landline number or postcode.

My ADSL angst

Where I live the words “I’ll unplug the router” had become a kind of catchphrase from an unfunny sitcom. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the connection been halfway decent, but with download speeds of less than 2 Meg the laughter track quickly became irritating.

YouTube videos constantly buffered, downloads took forever and catch-up TV services like iPlayer simply weren’t worth bothering with.

So, I announced, enough is enough, and we decided to switch from our old ISP to BT’s Infinity service, having been promised a ‘speed range’ of a massive 72.4Mb for downloads and an eye-watering 20Mb for uploads.

With a six-month discount on the monthly bill (£9 for six months, £18 thereafter), the possibility of much faster speeds and hopefully an end to the constant connection drops, we were sold.

Making the switch

Of course, I write about broadband a lot and know that you don’t necessarily get the headline speeds advertised by ISPs.

Expectations tempered, we were able to end the contract with our old ISP with relative ease and apply online for BT Infinity.

We arranged for a BT engineer to come out for installation and were told the equipment we needed would be sent to us in advance of the engineer’s arrival. The excitement was palpable.

Sure enough, we received a new wireless BT Home Hub router and various cables a few days before our installation was due. We were asked to ensure we had two power sockets available next to our master phone socket, or at least an extension cable available.

BT also said its engineer might need to install a small data extension kit and some extension cabling to get everything working.

The installation itself was relatively painless, taking around 20 minutes to complete. All the engineers needed to do was to install a small box on our master telephone socket and connect the OpenReach box and Hub to it.

BT did a great job of keeping us up to date with regards to delivery of the equipment and our installation appointment. We were told the engineers would arrive at some point between 1 and 6pm, and they arrived at 1pm on the dot.

Not everyone’s experience will be the same, of course, but we certainly have no complaints.

Was it worth it?

Before fibre optic, our speed was somewhere in the region of 1.5Mb. Now, broadband speed tests tell me we have speeds of around 30Mb – 20 times faster than our old connection!

Our monthly broadband bill with the old ISP was roughly £15 a month, which means that over the course of the first year the BT Infinity deal works out £18 cheaper once the six-month half price promotion is factored in (we were already paying line rental to BT, so that charge will remain the same).

Even in subsequent years, for broadband 20 times faster than we had previously, I reckon we’ll still be getting value for money.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MoneySuperMarkH

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