How your broadband is installed will depend on what type of broadband you choose. There are multiple broadband options in the UK – though most homes are now on the fibre network – and how long the installation process takes can vary. You may just need a router delivered, or you may need to wait for an engineer to visit and fit a new cable network. In this article we explain the features of the different types of broadband in the UK, how they are each installed and how long you can expect to have to wait for access to the internet.
The different types of broadband
There are a few main types of broadband connection used in the UK, though most are available through multiple providers. This means that an intensive installation may not be required if you are only moving from one internet service provider to another and not changing the type of broadband you receive. We have more on switching broadband in our article ‘How to switch broadband provider’.
Here are the main types of broadband used in the UK:
Standard broadband (ADSL)
Standard broadband, also known as ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) broadband, uses the UK’s existing network of phone lines to connect your home to the internet. This is the most widely available type of broadband in the UK, as the landline network is so wide-ranging. Unfortunately, the technology is both old and slow. The phone network is made up of old copper cables, which are not the most efficient, prone to damage and less effective over long distances.
This is now the most popular type of broadband in the UK. Its two main forms are fibre to the property (FTTP), also called full fibre, and fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), also known as standard fibre. FTTC uses the existing phone wires to connect your home to a data cabinet in the street, but modern fibre-optic cables to complete the rest of the connection. FTTP uses fibre-optic for the whole connection. Fibre-optic technology involves clusters of cables thinner than a human hair transmitting digital data through pulses of light. The line speed is much faster than the speed copper cables can produce.
Cable broadband is most associated with Virgin Media, which uses coaxial cables to connect your home to a street cabinet. Coaxial cables share some properties with the fibre-optic cables used for fibre broadband. The cable system does not rely on existing phone lines or fibre infrastructure and is currently the way to get the fastest broadband speeds in the UK.
A mobile broadband connection will use a mobile router or dongle to connect to the 4G or 5G mobile networks. This is the same way the mobile hotspot on a smartphone would connect other devices to the internet. Once the router is connected to the mobile network, it can send out a Wi-Fi signal for your household to use to connect to the internet.
You can find out more about mobile broadband in our article ‘What is mobile broadband?’.
Satellite broadband involves a dish attached to your home connecting to a satellite, with a wired connection taking the signal from the dish to a modem inside your home. The concept of connecting to the internet directly via a satellite is not in itself new, but the idea has grown in popularity as a practical way to reach more remote broadband users. It is not currently a widely-available option in the UK as of 2023, partly due to many of the operating costs involved.
You can find out more about the different types of broadband available in the UK in our article ‘Which broadband is best?’.
Many broadband suppliers – including Sky, BT, Vodafone and Plusnet – use the BT-owned Openreach network to provide the infrastructure for standard and FTTC broadband packages. This means that if you move from one Openreach-powered deal to another, you can ‘self-install’ your broadband. It is a very simple process that involves the new provider telling you the activation date and sending your router in the post. On the relevant day, all you need to do is plug the new router into your phone socket and switch it on. The router may take a bit of time to connect, so you could have up to an hour of internet downtime while your connection switches over.
If your existing broadband connection is not through the Openreach network, you may need to have your phone line activated – which can be done remotely – or a new one installed. A new phone line will involve an engineer visit, which some providers will charge for.
How long does an Openreach installation take?
If you already have an active phone line then it will take practically no time at all. Wait times for an engineer to install a new line or reactivate an old one will depend on where you live, but could be less than a week. The process of fitting a new line is usually less than a day, while reactivating an old one is even quicker.
Moving from one Openreach-powered connection to another with a different provider? You won't even need to tell your existing provider that you are leaving. We have more information on switching broadband in our article 'How to switch broadband provider'.
Cable broadband (Virgin Media) installation
Cable broadband installation – most commonly through Virgin Media – is much smoother if your home has previously had a cable connection. Your home will need to be connected to your provider's network by its own cable system, so this will have to be installed if it is not there already.
If you, or a former resident, are a previous customer you should be able to ‘self install’ your cable broadband. For example, Virgin Media’s QuickStart system involves your equipment being sent to you, which you can then install using instructions from an app. The setup process only consists of plugging cables into ports, so should not be too challenging for even the least tech-savvy user.
If your home has not previously been connected to the internet by your chosen provider, you will need an engineer to install the necessary cables. The engineer will run an external cable to a box mounted on the outside of your home. This cable may need to go under your garden or driveway. You can then have multiple connection points fitted around your home, connected to the original box fitted outside. The engineer will set up your router and make sure the whole system is working as it should. The whole job will likely take less than a full day, but that will depend on where you live and the type of property you live in.
How long does a Virgin Media installation take?
If your home has previously been connected by your chosen provider, the whole signup to up-and-running process can be done in a few days. For customers needing new cables installed, the wait will depend on engineer availability in your area. The work itself will likely take less than a day to complete.
You can find out more by reading our independent 'Virgin Media broadband review'.
Full fibre installation
Switching from one full fibre service to another will not require much installation at all. You can complete a ‘self-install’ process with your provider that will essentially involve you plugging in your router on your allotted activation date.
If your home does not already have the full fibre infrastructure set up, an engineer will need to install your broadband for you. Some providers will charge you an increased installation fee for the work.
The process involves an engineer running a fibre-optic cable to your home from an access point in the street outside. They will need to drill a hole – usually about 1cm in diameter – in the wall near your front door to feed the cable through. This cable will run to a fibre socket in your home that your router will be plugged into.
The engineer will make sure the system is up-and-running before they leave, so there should not be much for you to do.
How long does a Full fibre installation take?
For homes with no existing full fibre connection, the required engineer visit itself should not take more than a couple of hours. The main delay will be waiting for a free time slot for the work to be done. The whole process should take less than an hour for homes that already have a full-fibre connection.
Mobile broadband installation
Mobile broadband is usually very easy to install. You can connect your mobile router to the internet by plugging it into the mains (if necessary), inserting the SIM sent to you by your provider, then connecting your chosen device to the Wi-Fi. With some providers, you may also need to load a browser and fill out the registration form that should automatically appear.
Make sure to place your mobile router near a window or in an unobstructed location to get the best possible signal.
How long does Mobile broadband installation take?
Once your router arrives, you should be online within an hour.
Satellite broadband installation
Installing satellite broadband involves an engineer fixing a satellite dish to your home, much like what you would need for traditional Sky TV. This dish will connect wirelessly to the satellite and through a wired connection to a modem inside your home. The modem and the required wiring will need to be installed too.
How long does Satellite broadband installation take?
The whole job should not take more than half a day. It is now a quite common and streamlined process in the UK, due to the popularity of satellite television. Waiting for a free slot for an engineer to do the installation is another matter. Availability will vary by area, so it could be anything from a few days to a couple of months.