Choosing Suppliers

15 confusing broadband terms explained

6 min read

02 April 2018

Gigaclear's Matthew Hare demystifies the 15 confusing broadband terms out there, and what they mean for SMEs.

According to a recent survey, 39 per cent of Brits admit to spending between 21 and 40 hours online every week, with 19 per cent saying they now use the internet for more than 41 hours – longer than the average working week! Yet for many of us, that uninterrupted connection isn’t a given.

In fact, more than half of households have complained about poor connections and slow speeds. With experts predicting that by 2025, the internet will become “‘like electricity’ – less visible, yet deeply embedded in people’s lives”, it’s time we got to grips with this “thing’ that connects us to the world around us.

So, if you’ve ever called to check your speed or change provider, and have become tangled in a jargon web full of fibre and megabits and superfast and ultrafast, we might just be able to help. We put together a list of the most commonly used terms and phrases, as well as a useful list of questions to ask a provider.

15 confusing broadband terms explained

Broadband – An internet connection, distinct from the old dial-up internet. Here’s an example if you’d like some nostalgia or are too young to remember!

Bandwidth – The capacity of a connection. E.g. high definition video streaming uses a lot of bandwidth.

Basic broadband – Up to 24Mbps service that comes from high-speed cable, satellite and wireless connections (ADSL). To download a 2hr HD film it would take 1hr and 47 minutes.

Superfast broadband – Above 24Mbps is the general definition of superfast, and most often refers to a Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) connection. To download a 2hr HD film it would take 37 minutes and 30 seconds

Mbps – short for megabits per second, a measure of data transfer speed (a megabit is equal to one million bits) for basic and superfast broadband. The higher the number, the faster the speed.

FTTC (part fibre) – Fibre-to-the-cabinet: the fibre optic cabling is laid to the cabinets, then uses century old copper phone lines to provide a broadband connection to the home. This is the most common type of “fibre” broadband advertised, limiting speeds to 24Mbps.

FTTP/ FTTH (fFull fibre) – Fibre-to-the-premises/ fibre-to-the-home: the cabling is laid to the cabinets, and then extended from the cabinet directly into the home. This allows ultrafast speeds of up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps). However, in the future this technology will allow for even faster speeds.

Gbps – Short for gigabits per second, often denotes a measure of ultrafast broadband and data transfer (a gigabit is equal to one thousand Mbps).

Fibre optic broadband – A method of transferring data using pulses of light sent along very fine glass fibre. Fibre optic data communications are fast, less prone to interference and deliver the same speed to users regardless of distance from the cabinet (this only applies to full fibre).

Ultrafast broadband – This is the category for broadband speed of 100Mbps and above, delivered by Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH). To download a 2hr HD film it would take  53 seconds.

Gigabit services – Broadband service capable of achieving connections of 1Gbps or higher.

WiFi – A facility allowing computers, smartphones, or other devices to connect wirelessly to the internet within a particular area. Note: your Wi-Fi speed will not be the same as your broadband speed.

Download speed – The rate at which data is sent from the internet to your computer. E.g. streaming music or tv programmes.

Upload speed – The rate at which data is sent from your computer to the internet. E.g. sharing images or video.

Router – Manages the local network traffic, sending information between connected computers. It may also direct traffic to a hard drive or printer. This is the box in your house where the internet password is generally printed/ attached.

What do you need to ask a provider?

  • What type of fibre connection do I have/ can I get?
  • Find out if you have a part or full fibre service.
  • Do you offer full fibre connections in my area?
  • If you currently have a part fibre connection and find your service is not meeting your expectations, then you may wish to investigate whether you can access a full fibre connection.
  • What kind of speeds are best suited to my usage?
  • Tell your provider what you use the internet for, how many people are in your home, and how many smart devices you use.
  • What speeds can I expect at peak times?
  • What is the minimum speed I can expect?
  • How can I check my speed?

Matthew Hare is the chief executive officer of Gigaclear.