Fibre optic broadband looks set to represent the future of Internet services in the UK. Unlike DSL broadband, which relies on existing phone lines, fibre optic broadband uses its own high quality cables to run a signal directly into homes, or to a local neighbourhood hub. Most of these connections currently go through the latter option, and can potentially provide speeds of up to 100 Mb, which is around 10 times higher than the current average broadband speed for the country.
The main providers of fibre optic broadband are currently BT and Virgin Media. Both companies have invested significant resources into wiring up areas, as well as developing the infrastructure to deliver fibre optic broadband on a consistent basis. The two companies already have a strong footing in the UK broadband sector, and will compete to lead an expanding fibre optic market during the next few years. When trying to compare BT Infinity and Virgin Broadband services, it is important to look at basic appeals like speed, packaging and economy, and the current practicality of paying for a fibre optic line.
Speed represents fibre optic broadband’s major appeal, with BT and Virgin both promising significant upgrades on current UK rates. However, these come in both standard enhanced packages, and in limited super fast deals. In terms of BT Infinity, current options include a 40 Mb speed, with budget options for 10 Mb fibre optic broadband. The latter option promises greater reliability than current connections.
By comparison, Virgin Media are rolling out speeds of 50 Mb to 100 Mb in certain parts of the country. This will represent the highest end of broadband speeds, with Virgin Media also offering 30 Mb and 20 Mb deals at the lower end of the market. These speeds are also likely to be gradually upgraded over time, with Virgin recently promising increases for existing customers.
In terms of existing deals, a 40 Mb BT Infinity deal with unlimited usage and off peak calls is currently available from £20 a month, which will rise to £25 after a three month trial. The same service without the unlimited usage cap is about £18 a month. Unlimited usage deals and phone calls are becoming a crucial part of the fibre optic package as consumers demand better streaming and downloading.
Virgin Media also claim to offer unlimited usage, with average 30 Mb packages including television and phone calls for £18.50 a month, rising to £26.50 with unlimited UK calls. The provider’s super fast 100 Mb packages are being promoted at £25 a month, with 50 Mb at £25.50. Cheaper capped broadband is available at 20 Mb for £7.99.
Deciding between the two providers also means a consideration of their additional features. BT Infinity’s TV options range from premium deals of £47.20 a month with Sky Sports, or £37.50 without them. Virgin Media’s 10 Mb package also includes their digital channel lineup, while 50 and 100 Mb deals come with options for over 100 channels.
It is also important to think about the current practicality of going for a high speed fibre optic line, or switching to another service. Super fast broadband is still only available in parts of the country, with Virgin hoping to achieve a national level of coverage by 2015 or 2020. The slower fibre optic packages are also primarily valuable because of their enhancement, rather than replacement, of existing services.
In this context, if you already have a BT or Virgin Media contract, it is worth considering which package works best for your current deal. Gradual increases in speed and reliability are the current focus of the two providers, although competition for super fast connections will rise as the fibre optic infrastructure improves.