What is the difference between ‘standard’, ‘superfast’, and ‘ultrafast’ broadband?

If you listen to or read any of the advertising and promotion for broadband, you will often hear the terms ‘superfast’ and ‘ultrafast’ being used. These refer to services that deliver download speeds or more than 30Mbps. Other types of service are just referred to as ‘broadband’, which you can interpret as ‘standard’ broadband. But, how do you know which is the best business broadband?

The answer to the headline question then is quite simply, ‘speed’ – and it’s the theoretical download speed that you need to focus on, rather than the terms used to describe it. 

The other really fundamental difference is the kind of cable being used. A standard, ADSL service will be delivered over copper wires; a ‘superfast’ or ‘ultrafast’ service will be provided largely through fibre optic cables, although the last part of that connection to your premises is still likely to be over copper. 

Below, we have outlined the key things you need to look out for when interpreting what service providers really mean when they refer to these different grades of service. 

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What is ‘standard’ broadband?

Any service that is connected using the Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology over A copper telephone line is what you might describe as ‘standard’ broadband, although as more fibre cables are laid across the UK, ‘superfast’ services will gradually take over. 

The fastest form of this technology released to date, ADSL2+, will deliver downloads speeds of up to 24Mbps, in theory, over copper cables.  Sometimes (but not that often) faster ADSL technologies or ‘ADSL Max’ service are referred to as ‘high speed’ broadband. These may give you speeds of up to 30Mbps. Anything that goes beyond this and / or uses fibre technology can be considered ‘superfast’.

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What is fibre broadband?

When fibre optic cables are used as the primary delivery method for broadband services, providers will often use the term as a synonym for their ‘superfast’ or ‘ultrafast’ services. When they do this, usually talk about FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) or FTTP (fibre to the premises). 

With the former, the fibre optic cable is used for all connections into the green cabinet or junction boxes that you see located on the street. From that point on, a conventional twisted-pair copper cable is used. This means the road into the cabinet is extremely fast and broad, but the last leg of the journey – which may only be a few meters in some cases, but could easily be 50, 100, or even 200 meters – will be slower. This will still give you a very fast service but having to run over copper for that last section will slow speeds down.

FTTP services tend to be ‘ultrafast’ and as the acronym suggests, the fibre cable is run all the way into your premises. This is extremely fast, and it hardly matters how far away you are from the cabinet, the connection will be extremely quick.

The drawback is that it has to be installed ‘to the premises’, which means laying cables in existing service ducts, or digging new ones. This can be time-consuming and expensive, which is why it’s taking longer for ultrafast fibre broadband services to be made available. 

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What is ‘high speed’ or ‘superfast’ broadband? 

This is where terms can start to get confusing. ‘High speed’ is sometimes used to refer to faster ADSL technologies that offer download speeds of perhaps 20 – 30Mbps. But it can also be synonymous with ‘superfast’ broadband, which will always be a form of broadband delivered by FTTC (as described above) and providing download speeds of up to 100Mbps. This will be more than enough for most smaller businesses. 

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What is ‘ultrafast’ broadband? 

Ultrafast broadband will usually be a service delivered using FTTP technology (also described above) and offering download speeds higher than 100Mbps and reaching as high as 300Mbps. However, there is also some cross-over here between the ‘superfast’ and ‘ultrafast’ terminology, as there are technologies that enable FTTC-delivered services to run faster than 100Mbps and it is comm

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What is ‘hyperfast’ broadband? 

Another term now being used quite often is ‘hyperfast’ broadband. This refers to services that go beyond 300Mbps to around 500Mbps or even faster. These will always be FTTP – and are often called ‘full fibre’ services by their proponents. These networks are usually laid in specific areas of cities and towns and as such, availability is quite limited. Where they are available speeds of up to 1 Gbps are can be achieved.

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Is it worth upgrading to ultrafast broadband?

As ever, the answer depends on what you want to do. In 2020, most smaller businesses will be able to manage perfectly well with a ‘superfast’ service. But with increasing use of video and collaboration technologies, which require as much bandwidth upstream as they do downstream, and accelerated migration to cloud services, we are going to see more organisations needing higher speeds. If you are a larger SMB or a mid-sized business, you should certainly be considering ultrafast broadband options. 

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