With FTTC broadband, a network of fibre optic cables runs to your local telephone exchange cabinet. From here data travels through the existing (often old) telephone copper cables for the final few hundred metres or kilometres to your home.
Since copper wires tend to significantly slow down the speed of a connection, FTTC broadband has a maximum speed of 100Mbps, and the speed degrades the further the data has to travel along a copper wire. So depending on how far your home is from your local cabinet box, the speed you're able to get could be far lower than 100Mbps.
To get anywhere near the superfast broadband speeds of 1,000Mbps that are possible with fibre broadband, you need to live in an area where there are FTTH connections available. In these cases, fibre cables run all the way into your home. Fibre-to-the-home is often called pure fibre as it doesn't rely on old copper wires for any of the network.
If you live in an apartment building, there might be a FTTB (fibre-to-the-building) connection, where the cable runs all the way to the outside of the building, but is then piped via alternative means to your apartment.
Virgin Media offers fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband over its own separate network that it manages itself.
This network uses coaxial cable, a technology that can provide greater bandwidth than (copper) telephone lines and so can provide significantly faster download speeds than other fibre-to-the-cabinet providers who provide their service using copper wire technology.
This means Virgin Media is able to deliver speeds of up to 1,000Mbps, which is as fast as a pure-fibre connection, and the provider is regularly awarded for its broadband speeds. However, the actual speeds achieved by an end user will depend on a number of factors, including distance from the local cabinet and the number of devices connected to the network at a given time.
Until recently, fibre connections tended to be the preserve of cable operators like Virgin Media, and generally only available to customers in urban areas.
However, Eir has invested substantially in its network in recent years, and SIRO, a joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone, has been rolling out a fibre-to-the-home network with speeds of 1,000Mbps to premises in Ireland for several years now.
Finally the National Broadband Plan aims to deliver fibre to over 500,00 premises in rural locations and small towns over the coming years. These are areas that haven't been served by Eir or SIRO to date. The plan was delayed several times over the past few years but it is now being rolled out with an expected completion data of 2026 or so. However the majority of homes under the plan will be connected well before then.
Most urban users with good broadband connections may not notice significant differences following a change to this new technology, however rural customers with poor connectivity will benefit immensely.
In the case where a rural customer has a traditional non-fibre DSL connection with speeds of around 2Mbps, fibre will bring about a significant increase in speed. For example, a connection achieving a speed of 100Mbps will enable a user to download a 700Mbps feature-length movie in around a minute as opposed to an hour!
To test the speed you're getting with your current provider, just visit broadbandspeedtest.ie. And if you're looking to increase your broadband speed, try these simple tips to speed up your broadband connection or consider switching providers.