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What is Broadband? A guide to Broadband and how it works

Broadband is a high-speed internet connection that allows you to surf the internet at high speeds. It is one of the most popular choices for internet connection as it’s fast and reliable, enabling us to make the most of the internet. The most common internet mediums include copper phone lines and optical fibre. In technical terms, broadband is a wide bandwidth data transmission where all sorts of traffic and signals are transported and interchanged, providing top speeds at the click of a mouse.

Before broadband, the Internet was only accessible through several dial-up connections. Dial-up is the only non-broadband service available for the internet, but it’s very slow by today’s standards and is generally no longer an option.

Since the turn of the millennium, the UK broadband infrastructure has mainly relied on BT phone lines to at least a partial extent. However, other types of broadband are also available that provide a future-proof connection, such as full-fibre broadband and 4G and 5G mobile broadband.

Today, fixed broadband is the most popular type of home internet connection in the UK, with 98% of households using this type of connection in 2019. Fixed broadband includes cable modem, DSL, fibre, satellite, Ethernet LANs, fixed-wireless access, Wireless Local Area Network, and WiMAX).

You can check the type and speed of broadband your home can have using our Broadband Postcode Checker.

Young family searching on their computer

How does Broadband work?

Broadband internet service is supplied by an internet service provider (ISP). The service provider supplies the Internet connection, router and if required, arranges for the socket to be installed. 

Some ISPs have their own internet infrastructure; however, this is costly and complex, and that’s why the majority of ISPs use shareable networks to provide their service, including Your Co-op Broadband.  

Here is how your internet service is delivered to your home via the broadband infrastructure.

1 - How you use your Internet is the starting point for the service, for instance, a film you stream is a piece of Internet data that is hosted and shared by Internet servers from server centre locations around the world.

2 - Broadband providers may host their cable infrastructure which allows the internet data to travel to our homes. This is typically transmitted via fibre-optic cables (copper wires are ceasing with the Big Switch Off) or mobile or satellite signals.

3 - The network then transmits the internet data to your home via the router, which your devices may be connected to wirelessly or with an Ethernet cable. This is how your broadband works and provides internet access to your home.

Types of Broadband

What is ADSL broadband?

ADSL is a service that is provided using existing BT phone lines. ADSL stands for ‘Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line’ and it is still commonly used across the UK. ADSL broadband works through a fixed-line access network, otherwise known as telephone lines in the street. These are made up of copper wires and exchange a series of digital messages which translate the information you receive. These messages are split into either phone or internet signals using a microfilter, which is a small box that fits into the main BT socket in your home.

ADSL is not as fast as fibre and the speed you receive depends on your distance from the telephone exchange, so those who live closer will likely get a faster connection. The age and health of the copper wires providing your connection can also play a part in connection speed. ASDL will soon be retired as part of the Big Switch Off, so please ensure that you switch to a fibre broadband service to keep your home Wi-Fi working.

What is cable broadband?

Cable broadband is a form of internet access which uses the same infrastructure as cable television. Cable uses mostly fibre-optic cables to pass digital signals, unlike an ADSL connection which only uses copper wires. The fibre optical material in the wires provides a secure connection for the signal to travel, resulting in a much more reliable signal and less chance of distortion than ADSL. However, cable is not the same as fibre optic. For the last mile between your local telephone exchange and your home, the cable connection is carried in coaxial cable while fibre optic travels through copper wires. Coaxial cable can carry data faster than copper phone lines, making cable packages faster than other options. 

A cable connection can also carry audio-visual signals, which is why you can get digital TV services from some cable providers. 

What is fibre broadband?

Fibre broadband is a high-speed internet connection that uses fibre optic cables. These cables are quicker at transferring data than standard copper cables used in ADSL; meaning it’s a great choice if you regularly enjoy streaming films and music. 

There are two types of fibre broadband connection: FTTC and FTTP.

What is FTTC fibre broadband?

FTTC is otherwise known as Superfast broadband. It stands for Fibre To The Cabinet. This type of fibre connection runs through fibre optic cables between your local telephone exchange and the phone cabinet on your street. From there, copper cables carry the connection into your home. 

What is FTTP fibre broadband?

FTTP Fibre is an ultrafast connection. It stands for Fibre To The Premises, meaning fibre optic cables are connected to your home delivering a fast connection with minimal chance of disruption. It can also be known as FTTH (Fibre To The Home). As the name suggests, ultrafast broadband gives you an extremely quick and reliable service, but it is not currently available everywhere in the UK, so it’s worth checking if you are eligible for it.

What is mobile broadband?

Some types of internet services do not require a fixed line for installation, for example, mobile broadband. This wireless connection uses mobile phone networks and satellites to transmit a broadband service through an ISP, providing long-range internet access so you can browse the internet using mobile data (4G or 5G networks) or Wi-Fi on your phone. It’s all around us with 64% of UK households using a fixed connection also connecting via mobile broadband whilst at home. 

Man searching his computer for Your Co-op Broadband

How fast is Broadband?

There is no definite answer to the speed of broadband. What qualifies as broadband is different across the UK, even worldwide. Superfast has an average download speed of 36Mbps and Superfast Plus averages between 63Mbps and 76Mbps. Broadband speeds of 100Mbps to 900Mbps are considered to be Ultrafast, for homes that need to keep home workers, gamers and demanding streamers online at the same time with speed to spare for other devices.

Each year, the number of UK homes that have access to full-fibre broadband increases as we draw closer to the Big Switch Off 2025. In 2023, 57% of all UK homes could have full-fibre broadband, to check what's available for your home, please use our Broadband Postcode Checker.

Enter your postcode to get started

If you enter your number, we will:

  • Provide you with the most accurate speeds
  • Be able to keep your number if you choose to switch to us
  • Not use this or any other details for any purposes other than this check


What can I do with broadband internet?

A broadband service allows you to make the most out of being online. Browsing, shopping, emails, gaming, streaming media and so much more. This kind of connection is fast enough to support the most popular online activities.

What do I need to use broadband?

You’ll need a device that enables you to connect to the internet. This could be a laptop, desktop computer, smartphone, tablet, gaming console or anything that can connect to a wireless WiFi or wired cable connection.

How do I get broadband?

Getting broadband installed at home is simple, but first, you should check what internet service providers are available in your area and what types of options are available to you at home. 

You can then spend some time comparing deals and prices to find a deal that suits you. Signing up is easy, you follow the sign-up process online and in most cases you’ll be sent a router to simply plug in. Most ISPs will carry out a credit check as part of this process. The installation can still be done safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How can I find out what broadband is available in my area?

You can check what is available in your area with our broadband checker. Just by entering your postcode and landline number, we can tell you what options are available to you.

We only use this information to check where your nearest telephone exchange is located, as this determines what services you could expect. In some cases you might live too far away from your telephone exchange for certain types of services, this distance can also affect the speeds you could receive.

What broadband package is right for me?

Which package is right for you depends on personal circumstance, preferences and other several factors. Ultimately you need to spend some time comparing deals and consider price, speed, data limit, extras and bundles. Use our recommendation tool to find the perfect broadband deal for you.

How do I compare broadband? What are the best deals?

You can compare broadband deals with Your Co-op Broadband Here.

Speed generally affects price, so the higher the speed generally the more you pay, so figuring out if an ADSL connection is enough for you or not can help you determine if you are better off opting for Fibre. 

Do you have a large family and need a wireless broadband signal everywhere in your house? Extras such as Wifi Gold can be added to your broadband to ensure all areas and everyone in your household has a good connection.

I already have broadband; how can I check my speed?

You can check if you are receiving the speeds advertised by your current provider with a broadband speed test.

My broadband isn't working, what can I do to fix it?

If your service isn’t working or you aren’t getting the speeds you’d expect; it might be down to your internet service provider but there are other factors that could affect this. Always check your router signal, your router might be old and you might need an updated router. It could also be down to the copper wires supplying your home connection, not the broadband speed. If you have checked your speed with a reliable test then contact your internet service provider for further assistance.