There are a few different ways you can access the internet from home in the UK. If you live in a more rural area, you may find that there are only a couple of options open to you. If you live in a major city, you may find that there are a whole host of connections and speeds to choose from. The technology each type of connection uses is different, so the speeds a user is able to access will vary too. Some connection types are also more expensive than others, often due to the infrastructure involved. In this article, we explain the different types of broadband connection offered in the UK and which setup will suit high, average and low internet users. Once you know the basics, you can tackle the broadband provider jargon and get your home up to speed.
Standard broadband (ADSL)
Standard broadband, also known as ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) broadband, connects your home to the internet using the UK’s existing network of phone lines. As UK phone connectivity is so wide-ranging, this is the most commonly available type of broadband. It is quick and easy to set up and many cases will not require an engineer to enter your home. You can find out more about broadband installation in our article 'How is broadband installed and how long does it take?'. Unfortunately, ADSL is also the oldest and the slowest type of connection.
Copper cables, which the phone network consists of, are not the most effective way of transferring digital signals. The signal also weakens over long distances, so if your home is a long way from the exchange cabinet in the street, your internet speed will suffer. Some of the UK’s copper wiring network is also very old or damaged, which will affect how fast it can send data.
Standard broadband can reach speeds of 24Mbps (Megabits per second), but some connections may only be able to reach 8Mbps. This is why fibre technology is being introduced to the UK network. You can find out more about broadband speed in our article 'What broadband speed do I need?'.
High-speed fibre broadband is now the most popular way for UK households to connect to the internet. A full-fibre connection replaces copper wiring with fibre-optic cables. These use clusters of cables – each thinner than a human hair – to transmit digital information through pulses of light. The download speed is therefore much faster than what is possible with standard broadband.
In most cases, copper phone wires still connect your home to a cabinet in the street, with the fibre-optic cables then covering the rest of the connection. This fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband can offer speeds up to 38Mbps or 76Mbps, depending on your package.
For some homes, the entire connection can be covered by fibre-optic. This fibre-to-the-premises broadband, or ‘full fibre’, is much faster, sometimes offering speeds up to 1,000Mbps.
It may be necessary to have a phone line installed in order to access fibre broadband. We explain more in our article 'Do you need a landline for broadband?'.
Cable networks do not use the existing lines at all and instead connect your home to the internet using new cable infrastructure. This system is mostly associated with Virgin Media and uses coaxial cables, which share some properties with fibre-optic cables, to connect your home to a street cabinet.
Speeds can be as high as 152Mbps and will not be affected by how far your home is from the street cabinet.
Mobile broadband connects your devices to the internet in the same way a mobile hotspot would. A mobile broadband router connects to the 4G or 5G network and sends out a Wi-Fi signal for your household to use.
You may find that this option is currently only available for people living in major cities, as the technology has not yet been rolled out nationwide. If it is available to you, it can be a speedy option. 4G speeds can reach 30Mbps, while 5G can go as fast as 1,000Mbps.
You can find out more by reading our article 'What is mobile broadband?'
Satellite broadband is the newest product on our list and the least likely to be available to your household. While the technology of connecting to the internet directly via a satellite is not in itself new, the idea has recently grown in popularity as a way to reach more remote users.
Prices for satellite broadband are currently sky-high, but it might be something to keep an eye on as a way to connect your home in the future. If you are exploring remote broadband options, we have more detail in our article 'How to get fast rural broadband in the UK'.
Which broadband should I get?
The right type of broadband for you will depend on how much you use the internet. You may find that you are limited by where you live and the infrastructure around you, but these factors are likely to be out of your control. What you can control is how much your household uses the internet and what speeds you are paying for.
Standard speeds of less than 30Mbps will suit some homes, while others will need superfast speeds or even ultrafast. The key is to make sure you have fast enough broadband while only paying for what you use.
The best broadband in terms of speed is likely to be more expensive than a slower alternative that still offers the speed you need. The best broadband in terms of price might not offer the speed and reliability you are looking for. Work out what kind of user you are and which connection would work best for your budget.
Low broadband users
Households with low broadband usage generally do not use the internet on multiple devices at once or download large files regularly. The internet is mostly used for checking emails, social media or otherwise browsing the web, rather than video calls or online gaming. They might stream movies or TV, but not in 4K and only on one device at a time.
A standard internet connection – with speeds of around 10-11Mbps – is likely to be able to handle this sort of behaviour, but it is worth checking if you can get a better price with a fibre broadband deal.
Average broadband users
Ofcom calculated that the average UK home broadband download speed was 65.3Mbps as of September 2022. This means that the average home has a superfast connection. If your household relies on video-calling services, online gaming, or uploading or downloading large files, you should be looking for a superfast connection with speeds of a minimum of 30Mbps.
If you find yourself regularly streaming film or TV at the same time as someone else on the same broadband, you will likely need faster speeds than standard connections can offer. Standard connections are also limited by the copper wiring that makes up the network, so you might need the boost of a superfast connection to get you up to the right speed.
The most widely-available connection that can deliver superfast speeds will be a fibre-to-the-cabinet option.
High broadband users
You might need to shop around for ultrafast broadband – with speeds of 300Mbps or more – if you are a high user. High usage could be because you like to download new-release games to a console, download movies or you live in a household with lots of users. Ultrafast broadband might be overkill for one video chat, but if you live in a big household with multiple users working from home or using separate devices at once it could make a big difference.
The parts of the UK served by ultrafast broadband – delivered through either full fibre, cable or mobile broadband – are increasing, so make sure to check what is available before you renew your existing deal.
For households that claim certain benefits, you may find you can access social tariffs. Social tariffs are broadband and calls deals offered at a reduced price, or with a certain number of months free, to households who might otherwise struggle to meet the cost of the speeds they need. You can find out more about social tariffs in our article, 'What is a broadband social tariff and how much can you save?'. Make sure to compare these deals with standard offers though, as you may find one at a better price.
Best UK broadband providers
Once you have identified the right type of broadband for your home, the next step is to find the best company to provide it. The best UK broadband providers will not just be the companies that offer the right speed at the right price, but also the ones that ticks other boxes. That might mean it has a fair cancellation policy, a flexible contract or protection against price rises. Customer service is also important, as it's likely you will need to reach out at some point to discuss an issue.
If you rent your home, a provider with a short minimum term contract might work out cheaper in the long run. If you own your home, you might benefit from taking out a longer contract to access the best price per month. Households that use music or entertainment streaming services, rely on a landline or watch live sport may find a good deal bundling multiple subscriptions with one broadband provider.
Whatever your situation, make sure you are choosing the provider that offers you the speed, the price and the service that you need.
Find out what we think the best options are by reading our article 'Who is the best broadband provider?'. We also explain how to get the best deal out of your existing provider or a new one in our article 'How to haggle to get a better broadband deal'.