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Gigabit broadband is here, but who really needs it? As average internet speeds rise across the UK, and more homes than ever gain access to futuristic broadband capabilities, it’s worth asking whether gigabit broadband – the upper stratum of broadband capability today – is accessible, affordable or sensible for you.

In this guide, we’ll run through the facts of gigabit broadband, see how it compares to slower internet speeds and learn which broadband providers are offering gigabit broadband deals that are worth considering.

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What is gigabit broadband?

Broadband speeds are usually measured in terms of how many megabits per second (Mbps) the broadband connection can handle – the more megabits, the faster the connection and the more data you can reliably send or receive each second. While the average broadband connection in the UK is around 70Mbps (via Ofcom), speeds vary hugely, from a slow trickle of 3-4Mbps to many hundreds of megabits per second, depending on the location and access to broadband technologies in that area.

Gigabit internet goes a step further than the average broadband connection, offering speeds of 1,000Mbps. It’s well above what most internet users need but is increasingly being offered by high-speed broadband providers looking to reach new heights in the broadband market.

Not every home can get gigabit broadband, though. It depends on how you connect to the internet and which provider you use. 

Fibre broadband is generally the best option for most homes in the UK. Fibre-optic cabling can transmit data via pulses of light, enabling vast amounts of information to be sent at high speed over long distances.

While many providers offer hypothetical gigabit speeds through fibre-optic networks, you’ll have the best luck at an address with access to full fibre, also known as fibre to the premises (FTTP), in which fibre-optic cabling runs directly into your home. 

Often, you’ll get fibre-optic cabling to a local cabinet but still need to rely on copper wiring to get broadband from that cabinet to your address, slowing it down at the final hurdle. This is known as fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). You should be able to get gigabit broadband if you have FTTP or middle-ground cable broadband that uses coaxial cables instead of copper wiring for that final stretch.

You’ll also need a wired connection to make real use of gigabit broadband, as a wireless signal will lose some of its potency in transit, moving through the air and any obstacles in the way, including walls and furniture. 5G mobile data networks are technically capable of gigabit broadband but don’t really reach those heights in practice, whether you’re using a smartphone or a 5G-enabled router.

If you don’t have access to any of those options, you may be using asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) broadband. ADSL broadband is considerably slower than cable and fibre broadband but utilises existing telephone lines to bring the internet into your home; it can provide minimal speeds without requiring new network infrastructure.

You won’t get gigabit speeds through satellite broadband, either, though the technology – which uses low-orbit satellite clusters to send and receive internet signals – can be useful in areas that don’t have reliable access to full fibre.

What speeds can I get with gigabit broadband?

The speed is in the name: gigabit broadband is the term used for internet speeds of 1,000Mbps, also written as 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), and above.

There’s a little handwaving from broadband providers at times; often, “Gigafast” plans will refer to anything between 100 to 1,000Mbps, while many providers offer average speeds of 900 to 950Mbps, which is close enough to be included in broader gigabit discussions. Some providers, such as Virgin Media and EE, offer average speeds well above 1Gbps, though realistically, few homes will be connected to that kind of high-speed access.

As ever, you’ll have to give your postcode to each individual provider to find out what speeds are available at your address. Just keep in mind that a 10-20Mbps estimation with one provider doesn’t mean you won’t get gigabit internet elsewhere. For more information, check out our broadband speed test guide.

What can I do with gigabit broadband speeds?

  • Buffer-free streaming: gigabit broadband allows for pure excess in your internet activity. You can say goodbye to buffering and enjoy fast on-demand streaming without waiting for videos, TV shows or films to load
  • Online gaming: for online multiplayer games, a fraction of a second can be a deciding factor. Gigabit broadband ensures your games have all the data they need to run smoothly with minimal lag, giving you an advantage over players using more everyday speeds
  • High resolutions and frame rates: mid-range speeds from 100 to 200Mbps are already ideal for streaming or online games. The real difference with gigabit broadband is that you can do all these things at ultra-high-definition resolutions such as 4K, which is increasingly becoming the gold standard for streaming services and uses several times the bandwidth of Full HD
  • Fast downloads: if you download movies or games for offline use, gigabit broadband will ensure you can source large media files in record time, with an average-length HD movie taking under a minute to download
  • Cloud storage: when we talk about gigabit broadband speeds, we usually mean how much data can be downloaded per second. But upload speeds – usually slower than download speeds – are also crucial, as they determine how much data you can send in the other direction. For modern cloud storage services, which upload your files to provide backups on a secure server, fast speeds enable you to transfer large media files without significant delays
  • Work-from-home capabilities: gigabit broadband may be excessive for emails and web surfing but will serve you well for high-resolution video calls, leaving plenty of bandwidth
  • Friction-free internet usage: with gigabit broadband, engaging in data-intensive activity in one part of the house won’t restrict someone’s internet usage elsewhere – there’s so much bandwidth available that multiple people can seamlessly work, play or watch without affecting each other

Do I need gigabit broadband?

The short answer is probably not. Gigabit broadband is far beyond what most users need, and you’ll likely find its speeds exceed your requirements unless you’re running a virtual reality simulation for 10-20 people, 24 hours a day.

However, you may enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having extra bandwidth, knowing you’re unlikely to reach the limit. Internet speeds will vary throughout the day, too, depending on how overloaded the network is in your area, so it can be good to have a little buffer.

Gigabit broadband is best suited to large communities, such as a multi-generational household with heavy internet usage, a massive flat share of home workers or a business with intensive bandwidth requirements. That said, it’s only available for a small percentage of homes, and only a fraction of those homes should really consider it.

Who won’t benefit from gigabit internet?

Even if your home is connected to supercharged broadband speeds, you may not be able to make use of them.

For one, speeds are most reliable through wired connections, such as an Ethernet cable. Connecting a device over wifi slows that connection down – wireless, over-the-air connections are just less efficient. If you’re connecting to a router in another room, a weak wifi signal can impact the broadband speed further; just because you have fast internet speeds coursing through your router doesn’t mean they overcome every obstacle in their way.

Older devices are made to slower standards, too – a laptop with an ageing processor may take so long to open your browser that the heightened broadband speed doesn’t make a noticeable impact, so be sure your internet-connected devices are up to the task.

Can I get gigabit broadband?

Gigabit broadband isn’t available everywhere, though it’s quickly gaining traction around the UK. As of September 2023, communications regulator, Ofcom, reported that 78 per cent of homes around the UK were “gigabit capable”, covering 83 per cent of urban residencies and 45 per cent of rural ones. This is significantly more than the 57 per cent of UK homes with access to FTTP. Compared to 2022, that’s a 7 per cent increase, or 2.3 million residences.

Even better, Ofcom states that “7 per cent of all residential premises have a choice of three or more gigabit-capable networks”, meaning more options for a consumer shopping around. 

However, gigabit broadband capability varies hugely between postcodes, boroughs and local authorities, meaning it’s hard to predict exactly what your home can access. To see what you can get at your address, check out our guide to the best broadband in my area.

Gigabit-capable homes (%) Gigabit-capable homes (millions) Urban vs rural residences
England 78% 19.6 million 83% of urban residences, 45% of rural residences
Northern Ireland 92% 0.8 million 97% of urban residences, 82% of rural residences
Scotland 72% 1.9 million 80% of urban residences, 34% of rural residences
Wales 64% 0.9 million 71% of urban residences, 41% of rural residences
UK 78% 23.2 million 83% of urban residences, 45% of rural residences

Which providers offer the best gigabit broadband deals?

Many broadband providers these days boast gigabit speeds. Virgin Media claims its fastest broadband package can hit an average 1,130Mbps; it’s priced at £48 per month over an initial 18-month contract and then rises to £78 per month. You’ll also get a wifi 6-enabled router, and anyone also joining an O2 mobile SIM plan will get the gigabit broadband plan at the cost of a 500Mbps plan (£43 per month).

EE claims to have the highest possible speeds at 1.6Gbps downloads, around 50 per cent faster than the maximum of most providers. However, even if you qualify for this plan, you’ll likely experience an average of 900Mbps. This two-year contract costs £49 per month and includes 12 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – giving the speed advantage to gamers. You can also save money on a joint SIM and broadband deal with EE, though that isn’t specific to gigabit plans.

BT, which runs the OpenReach network used by EE, offers a 900Mbps average plan with 110Mbps upload speeds, priced at £57.99 per month. Signing up for a BT broadband package will also give you a free £50 reward card, which can be used anywhere that accepts Mastercard. BT-owned Plusnet offers an equivalent plan for £67.89 per month.

Vodafone offers speeds of up to 910Mbps at £38 per month; for £48 per month, you also get a wifi 6 router and booster with automatic 4G mobile broadband if your wired connection ever goes down. You’ll also receive £3 off monthly Vodafone mobile plans.

Sky’s Gigafast tariff is currently priced at £44 per month, down from £58 per month, for an 18-month contract, with the option to add entertainment packages and TV channels (such as Sky Sports and Sky Cinema) onto your subscription. Elsewhere, Shell Energy Broadband costs £69.15 per month for average download speeds of 944Mbps.

Hyperoptic was the UK’s first gigabit broadband provider back in 2011. While it’s since been overtaken for top speeds by some competitors, Hyperoptic’s Hyperfast plan offers average 900Mbps download/upload speeds for £39 per month, and the first three months of that contract are free (minus a £19 activation fee).

Community Fibre is a broadband provider that offers internet speeds of up to 3Gbps – that’s three times the maximum speeds touted by other leading players – for £49 per month or a more temperate 1Gbps for £30 per month. It’s exclusive to London, but as an end-to-end fibre-optic network, it offers parity between upload and download speeds, so you can send data as fast as you can receive it.

G.Network is another London-specific supplier, though with some unique financial perks. Its gigabit tariff starts at just £32 per month, and the company will even buy out the rest of your contract with an existing broadband provider (up to £150) if you make the switch. G.Network promises not to increase prices mid-contract, so you won’t get hit by any surprise inflation costs.

Connect Fibre is another full-fibre broadband operator with a substantial endowment from the UK government to help connect communities to high-speed internet. If you live in Derbyshire or North East Staffordshire, you may be able to get hooked up to gigabit speeds starting at £50 per month for a guaranteed 900Mbps.

Meanwhile, KCOM caters to internet needs in the North East, supplying homes with gigabit broadband in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire (in fact it is the only provider offering wired broadband in Hull). It offers an average 900Mbps plan for a two-year contract at £69.99 per month, with unlimited data and 180Mbps upload speeds. 

In the South West, Truespeed’s 900Mbps plan starts at £39 per month for the first year before rising to £75 per month; you can also add wifi boosters (known as “mesh nodes”) to get more extensive coverage in your home for £7 extra per month.

All prices are correct as of 4 March 2024.

Gigabit broadband FAQs

Gigabit broadband is at the upper end of consumer internet capability these days and likely isn’t worth the cost for most people, at least for residential use. Why pay for 1,000Mbps if you’ll struggle to use even half?

For peace of mind, or to absolutely ensure that various heavy internet users are catered to, gigabit broadband may make sense – but just know that it’s very much a luxury purchase rather than a practical one.

Not everyone can access gigabit broadband these days, but that looks set to change. The UK government’s Project Gigabit scheme – a £5 billion programme to enable hard-to-reach communities to access gigabit-capable broadband – is pumping cash into broadband providers around the country to build forward-looking internet capabilities while helping to fund satellite broadband ventures and nationwide 5G coverage to fully connect UK communities to each other and the world.

Rural residents and businesses can apply for vouchers to install high-speed internet in their area, including wireless or satellite broadband; however, you’ll need to check if your postcode is eligible, whether your existing internet speeds are below 100Mbps and which internet providers can complete the installation at your address.

There’s a strong business case for gigabit broadband, given how extensive its upload and download capabilities are. For an office full of employees, it can be just the thing to make digital work more seamlessly, whether you’re running video calls, transferring large media files or just coping with the simultaneous online activity of an entire workforce. Better yet, it counts as a business expense – but you can find out more in our dedicated business broadband guide.

henry st leger

Henry St Leger

Consumer Tech and Software

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former news and features Editor at TechRadar, where he specialised in consumer technology, software, and home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, soundbars, and smart speakers.

He has been writing about technology and related topics for over six years. His work for the Independent Advisor focuses on cyber security and internet-connected software including VPNs.

Henry has written for a wide number of prominent websites including NBC News, Healthline, The Times, Edge, T3, iMore, and GamesRadar.

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.