You might feel like it's magic bringing broadband into your home but a whole range of innovative technologies have to successfully combine to ensure you can surf the internet, do your online shopping and chat or game with friends and family across the world.
Many people aren't aware that at the heart of the UK’s broadband network are two very different types of wire/cable; both are used to deliver the signals that determine the speed and capacity of a connection to your home or business.
Now whether yours is using copper wire or fibre-optic cable (usually referred to simply as fibre) will depend on a number of factors, including where you live, the age of your property and who your supplier is.
The history of copper for broadband
It's hard to imagine but hidden beneath your feet, under roads and pavements, are tens of millions of miles of copper wire that make up the UK’s telephone network – some of it more than 100 years old. Before the internet, this is how phone signals were carried around the country.
Its arrival and growing popularity meant companies such as BT, who once owned the majority of the network, had to utilise it while finding new ways to carry the masses of electronic data generated by the World Wide Web into, and out of, each property.
But copper has always been less suitable for this purpose because it is slower to move large amounts of data through it. This is normally referred to as bandwidth.
The introduction of fibre for broadband
As homes around the country became increasingly reliant on broadband, billions of pounds of investment was ploughed into developing new networks using fibre-optic cables instead.
These allowed for a much greater amount of bandwidth as they could carry far greater amounts of data at far faster speeds. The internet actually works worldwide thanks to huge fibre-optic cables running from country to country across the seabed, all laid by special ships. How amazing is that!
On a much smaller scale, these fibre-optic cables are now found running throughout the country between each of the different telephone exchanges and have become the backbone of the UK’s internet infrastructure.
The copper/fibre hybrid problem
Given it would be ridiculously expensive to dig up every pavement and road to replace the copper wire that runs from every telephone exchange to the front door of each existing property around the UK, most suppliers are now reliant on a mix of fibre-optic cable to the telephone exchange (called fibre-to-the-cabinet) and copper wiring from here to the doorstep. This is available to 95% of the UK.
While this adequately quenches much of the nation’s thirst for speedy broadband, it is not a perfect solution. In some areas, especially rural ones, it is just too expensive to install fibre cables meaning some communities - maybe you are living in one - are reliant on copper and stuck on very slow speeds. In others, you may have no broadband at all.
The Government and regulatory bodies are currently trying to address this. However, it could take many years to reduce the UK’s dependency on this long-standing technology because fibre has to reach every home and business directly for us all to benefit from the day-to-day positives it brings.
Ultrafast broadband to the door
Companies that wholly supply fibre-optic cable broadband right up until the connection point at the door of a home or business can usually offer far superior speeds, connectivity and stability.
At Gigaclear, we are one of those who installs this type of “full fibre” connectivity and our work and innovations have brought the full power of broadband internet to villages, rural areas and communities across Britain. We have allowed them a far better experience than some of those living in towns and cities who are still stuck on slow copper wire connections.
The future is full fibre
While research is being done in the background to phase out the need for copper wiring, it is clear that areas benefitting from fibre-optic cabling directly to the point of internet connection on their doorstep can experience broadband that is generally much faster than homes still using copper on that final leg.
With data transfer capacities and internet speeds usually much higher within a full fibre network than a fibre-to-the-cabinet one, these properties are future-proofed and can sit back comfortably as the rest of the UK catches up.
There is no doubt full fibre will become the dominant connection to our homes and businesses, the question is not if, it is when!
Find out if you can get Gigaclear's full fibre service in your area or apply to see if we can install it by using our Postcode Checker