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22nd September 2020

What is cable broadband?

Max Beckett
Max Beckett

Broadband expert

Cable broadband is a type of fibre-optic broadband that connects your home to a fibre cabinet in your area using coaxial cables instead of standard copper wires, allowing for much faster speeds than standard broadband. The improved performance of coaxial cables has led to cable broadband connections offering speeds that start from 54Mbps and exceed 600Mbps on higher-end packages.

What is the difference between cable and fibre-optic broadband?

At first glance you might think that there is little difference between cable and fibre-optic broadband – both are faster and more reliable than standard ADSL broadband, but there are some differences between cable and fibre that you need to be aware of.

Cable broadband provides a high-speed alternative to fibre. The main provider of cable broadband is Virgin Media, and the key difference between the two is the end part of your connection. For cable, a coaxial cable will be used from the street cabinet to your home as opposed to a copper cable. The coaxial cable can carry data quicker than its copper counterpart although it can result in signal loss over longer distances.

There is also the issue of availability. Fibre broadband is offered by many internet service providers to deliver ‘superfast’ and ‘ultrafast’ broadband connections. Cable is not as readily available as fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband, which is by far the most common type of fibre, and is specific to key providers like Virgin Media who run on their own network. You need to be a cable-enabled area to have access.

What are the benefits of cable broadband?

There is no doubt that having cable would offer major benefits to your household especially if you need a higher level of performance from your broadband.

For large families, cable broadband can make a significant difference. It is very fast due to the unique mixture of fibre-optic and coaxial cable technology. Cable broadband is more reliable than connections such as standard ADSL broadband that rely on copper wires.

It means that streaming and downloading films and video games will be so much faster with cable broadband. And for those who need a regular social media fix on Facebook or Instagram, uploading pics and videos online will be noticeably faster on cable. Standard broadband packages have an average upload speed of 1Mbps, whereas the top cable upload speed is around 19.5Mbps meaning files can be uploaded in no time.

With cable broadband speeds able to reach 600Mbps it can make a big difference to families with multiple users.

You are also able to buy packages that bundle your TV, phone and internet together, which means you could ultimately be saving money each month.  

What's faster - cable broadband or fibre-optic broadband?

It’s important to note that both of these services are quicker than standard broadband. Cable packages are faster, with Virgin Media available to provide speeds of up to a huge 600Mbps, which is more than enough for large households who regularly download HD or 4K movies and files and love to play online games. Superfast fibre-to-the-cabinet offers speeds up to 76Mbps.

Fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband, more commonly known as ‘full fibre’, is capable of faster speeds than cable broadband, often reaching 1000Mbps, or 1Gbps. However its coverage of UK premises is only at 14% right now, so it’s not as widely available as cable or FTTC.

How to compare cable broadband

Picking the right broadband package is important. You will need to weigh up what you can afford and what you actually need cable broadband for. When it comes to cost, make sure you check how much you will be paying each month, the cost of the line rental and the installation fees. Download and upload speed is also something to take into consideration. Because it is faster, it could mean that it costs you more. 

Also, make sure you understand the contract length you agree to, this will tell you how long you are tied down to a deal before you can cancel without being charged.

As for usage, are you going to be online gaming, downloading large and multiple files and streaming HD or 4K movies on a regular basis? If the answer is yes, then an unlimited package might be what you are looking for.

What are the pros and cons of cable broadband?

Pros

  • Fast download speed 

  • Choice of ‘unlimited’ packages 

  • High upload rates

Cons 

  • Can be expensive

  • Availability restrictions 

  • Higher installation fees

How does the cable broadband installation process work?

  • Sign up with or switch to Virgin Media. It will then give you a rough time for installation and confirm later the exact date and time. From signing up the process is likely to take around two weeks.

  • A Virgin Media engineer will need to connect your property up to the nearest telecoms cabinet in your street. You will need to be present at your house on the day of installation.

  • If it’s previously been installed in your home, you’ll find there is a master socket in your house already. This makes installation even easier and involves connecting your router to the master socket with the cables provided. 

  • If cable broadband hasn’t been installed before, the engineer will need to install a master socket in your home. This is likely to involve drilling through an exterior wall and feeding a cable through.

  • Virgin supplies a free router with its broadband packages — it’ll be sent to your house through the post before the date of installation.

  • If all the steps need to be taken the installation can take two to three hours. Once finished make sure you check that everything is working correctly.

Where can I get cable broadband?

The biggest issue with cable broadband is availability. Cable is currently only an option for around half of the UK. Its main provider is Virgin Media which has operated its own network since 2006. It was the UK’s first quadruple-play provider, combining landline, broadband, TV and mobile services in one subscription.

Is there a best cable broadband package to choose?

There are a number of things you need to consider when deciding on the cable broadband package that is right for you. 

When you are looking at broadband packages make sure you understand what you can and cannot afford. Check how much you will be paying each month, the cost of the line rental and the installation fees. Download and upload speed is also something to take into consideration. Because it is faster, it could mean that it costs you more. 

Who and how many people will be using it? Have you a household full of online gamers for example? Will you be downloading large and multiple files and how much streaming and downloading of music and HD/4K TV do you intend to do?

Also, make sure you understand the contract length you agree to, this will tell you how long you are tied down to a deal before you can cancel without being charged.

So, what might be best for you?

Unlimited packages 

If you have a lot of people constantly using the internet in your household, then an unlimited package might be the best option. Other plans with usage caps can get expensive if you go over your limit and end up costing you more. A one-off monthly payment might make financial sense too.

Faster packages 

If you are a larger family, a lot of people will likely be using the internet. More than two people using just one connection, even if it is on a 36Mbps package, will notice a slowdown in broadband performance so you should think about picking a faster package.

TV and phone bundles 

Many cable broadband providers also supply TV and phone services as part of bundle packages. This is a way of potentially reducing your monthly payments by taking your services from the same provider.

What if I can’t get cable broadband?

If you are unable to get cable broadband in your area there are alternatives. 

ADSL broadband

Your standard internet connection available almost everywhere in the UK. While not as fast as cable broadband, it is perfect for internet users and checking your social media and is a cheaper option.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband is a good consideration if you are struggling for a broadband connection, for example in more rural locations. You need to be aware of download limits but it is a case of picking up a dongle and placing it into your computer and away you go!

Satellite broadband

This uses a dish to establish a broadband connection. Broadband speeds can sometimes reach up to 30Mpbs per second.