In the UK, Full-fibre (FTTP) broadband is faster and more reliable than mobile 5G networks, but 5G is faster than part-fibre (FTTC) broadband.
Of course, there are exceptions, as connections may be affected by network congestion, distance from the source, or even an unsuspected old or low-quality router or antenna.
In this article, we show you how we used both official statistics and real-world performance tests to reach this conclusion and explain the different factors that often make this an unpredictable comparison!
What is 5G and fibre-broadband?
We’ll start from the beginning and explain what both 5G and fibre-broadband technologies are and why they are so fast. 🏎️
What is 5G? 📶
5G is the latest generation of cellular networks. This means it uses a network of real-life antennas to bounce an internet signal around for any of your 5G devices to pick up.
Once you’re connected, though, it’s just like driving on the German motorway of wireless internet: speeds are some of the fastest available, and there are largely enough lanes to prevent traffic from building up.
It’s fast, but not all 5G connections are the same. Read our 5G explainer for the details.
What is fibre broadband? 🔌
Fibre-broadband is the latest cable internet technology. It uses transparent fibre-optic cables to transmit colossal amounts of data as light signals, bouncing around at nearly the speed of light.
Once your WiFi router is connected to this tethered fibre network, it’s similar to hopping on a bullet train, with data packets going at the speed of light within the tether’s rails.
But just like fast trains, some fibre broadband is even faster than others. Read our detailed fibre-optic broadband explainer to learn more.
What’s the difference between 5G and fibre broadband? 🤔
Both 5G and fibre broadband are super to ultrafast internet technologies. However, their underlying workings are worlds apart, and contrasting them means comparing a bullet train with an aeroplane in all its merits and drawbacks.
In this section, we compare 5G head-to-head with fibre broadband in some of its crucial aspects:
Data Transmission (5G vs Fibre) 📡
💡 While 5G conveniently transmits data wireless 🏗️sly, fibre broadband’s tethered connection is unobstructed, reliable and is ultimately wireless thanks to wireless WiFi routers.
- 5G is a wireless mobile internet technology that utilises electromagnetic signals to transmit data through space, similar to aeroplanes carrying data packets that can travel through walls. It enables seamless connectivity for mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and EVs without physical connections.
- Fibre broadband operates by transmitting data as pulses of light that travel at almost the speed of light through thin transparent fibres known as fibre-optic cables. While physical connections are required to join the fibre network, WiFi routers can provide wireless capabilities to the fibre network, allowing devices to connect effortlessly.
Infrastructure (5G vs Fibre) 🏗️
💡 While the 5G infrastructure is easier and cheaper to implement and expand, fibre-optic technology is actually the cornerstone of both 5G antennas and fibre broadband.
- 5G: Requires a high-density network of antennas often mounted on tall structures like towers, buildings, or lamp posts for effective coverage. It’s, therefore, more common in urban areas, although signal quality can be affected by physical obstructions and even slight fluctuations in weather conditions.
- Fibre: This involves a network of fibre-optic cables that are laid underground or overhead, connecting homes, businesses, and organisations in parallel to telephony copper wires. This process is laborious and costly, but delivers reliable, high-speed connections and are’nt affected by external factors like the weather or obstructions. Ironically, it’s this fibre-optic network that supports the 5G network by transmitting data from the source to the 5G antennas.
UK Coverage (5G vs Fibre) 🗺️
💡 Fibre broadband is ubiquitous in the UK, and around half of the properties have full fibre (FTTP). Much of the UK has 5G, but ultra-fast mm-band 5G is still not available in the UK.
- 5G: 77% of the UK population has access to basic 5G coverage from at least one provider despite only covering 12% of the UK’s geographical area. However, the majority of this coverage is mid-band 5G, which struggles to reach ultrafast 1Gbps. The more capable mm-band 5G remains unavailable, with Ofcom currently in the process of auctioning permissions for the reserved 5G spectrum
- Fibre: Fibre broadband is ubiquitous and fully available to over 99% of UK homes and businesses, although only 48% of this is full-fibre FTTP. The other 52% still only supports part-fibre FTTC, which is significantly slower.
UK Speeds (5G vs Fibre) ⚡
💡 Official 2023 statistics show that full-fibre (FTTP) is, on average, the fastest, with 5G being slightly slower and part-fibre (FTTC) being slower than both by a larger margin.
- 5G: The average download speeds of 5G connections in the UK range between 73.8 Mbps and 235 Mbps across the different providers, according to Ofcom’s 2023 benchmarks. The arithmetic mean of these averages is 132 Mbps, which we are considering as an overall average.
- Fibre broadband: Full and Part-fibre speeds are very different, so they are covered individually.
- FTTC (Fibre-to-the-Cabinet) broadband had an average download speed of 50 Mbps in the UK in 2022.
- FTTP (Fibre-to-the-premises) or full-fibre broadband achieved an average download speed of 150 Mbps in the UK in 2022.
UK Latency (5G vs Fibre) ⏱️
💡 Fibre-broadband (both full and part-fibre) is significantly more responsive (lower latency) than 5G thanks to its tethered nature.
- 5G: The average 24-hour latency in 5G networks in the UK ranges between 18ms and 22ms.
- FTTC (Fibre-to-the-Cabinet) broadband experienced 24-hour latencies of 9.4ms to 13.3ms in 2022.
- FTTP (Fibre-to-the-premises) or full-fibre/superfast broadband experienced 24-hour latencies of 6.9ms to 10.0ms in 2022.
What factors affect 5G and fibre broadband speeds? ⛈️
Factors affecting 5G speeds 📶
- Network Congestion: If many devices are connected to the 5G network simultaneously (i.e. peak times, special events), it is possible to experience network congestion and, therefore, slower speeds. Future mm-band 5G technology should dramatically increase bandwidth and avoid any large discrepancies.
- Distance from the Antenna: The further a device is from a 5G antenna, the weaker the signal strength and the slower the speed. This effect is aggravated during bad weather and is more pronounced for higher frequency 5G (i.e. gen mm-band 5G will require even higher-density networks of antennas).
- Physical Obstructions: Buildings, trees, and even weather can obstruct 5G signals, impacting speed.
- Device Compatibility: The device being used needs to be 5G-compatible to make the most of the network’s speed, and the quality of the antennas may have a significant effect on its performance. If 5G broadband is being used, the quality of the dongle or MiFi router is also a significant speed constraint.
- Provider Infrastructure: The volume of data being transmitted onto the 5G antennas will also depend on the quality of the provider’s infrastructure (including fibre-optic connections, servers, local exchanges, etc.).
Factors affecting fibre broadband speeds 🚄
- Distance from the Exchange: For fibre-broadband connections that include copper wires like FTTC (Fibre-to-the-Cabinet), the further your home is from the telephone cabinet, the slower the speed. It is estimated that every 100 meters reduces download speeds by up to 20 Mbps.
- Quality of Internal Wiring: If the internal wiring in a house is old or poorly installed, it can cause electrical interference, signal degradation and slower broadband speeds. This is especially important in an FTTC connection that continuously relies on copper phone lines.
- Network Congestion: Each fibre-optic cable has a maximum capacity and may experience traffic despite the significant improvement in bandwidth since ADSL. If enough devices are doing data-intensive tasks like streaming, downloading, or uploading simultaneously, the network may slow down. This is particularly true for FTTC connections that experience significant bottle-necks in copper wire sections.
- Hardware: Older routers and connected devices may not support the fastest fibre broadband speeds. For example, an older PC may not be capable of processing a superfast internet connection.
Real-life 5G and Fibre-broadband speed tests
Going by the famous web 3.0 adage: “Don’t trust, Verify!” we decided to compile real-world speed tests performed by YouTubers in the UK to check if speeds are consistent with the ‘official’ statistics.
|Provider (Location)||Technology||Download Speed||Latency||Source|
|Vodafone (Leeds)||FTTP 910 (Full-Fibre)||937 Mbps||6 ms||Youtube|
|Plusnet (London)||FTTP 500 (Full-Fibre)||458 Mbps||6 ms||Youtube|
|Talk Talk (Manchester)||FTTP 500 (Full-Fibre)||515 Mbps||3 ms||Youtube|
|BT (London)||FTTP 900 (Full-Fibre)||929 Mbps||7 ms||Youtube|
|Talk Talk (Welwyn)||FTTC||58 Mbps||12 ms||Youtube|
|Sky (Maidenhead)||FTTC||74 Mbps||8 ms||Youtube|
|Talk Talk||FTTC||74 Mbps||8 ms||Youtube|
|Three Mobile (London)||5G||426 Mbps||25 ms||Youtube|
|Three (London)||5G||600 Mbps||13 ms||Youtube|
|Vodafone (Bristol)||5G||502 Mbps||33 ms||Youtube|
|Three (Blackpool)||5G||795 Mbps||63 ms||Youtube|
Note: There may be bias in these tests as they’re sourced from a social media platform.
Conclusion: Full-fibre wins! 🥇
However, both FTTP and FTTC have lower latencies than 5G, showing how a tethered connection is more robust.
While we’re at it, here are our answers to frequently asked questions regarding 5G and fibre-broadband speeds!
What is the maximum speed of 5G and fibre broadband in the UK?
While the theoretical fibre broadband and 5G speeds are regularly quoted as exceeding 1Gbps (1000s of Mbps), the reality is often much slower.
According to real-world speed tests recorded on social media, the maximum speeds are:
- 5G: 795 Mbps in Blackpool (Three Mobile)
- Full-fibre (FTTP): 937 Mbps in Leeds (Vodafone)
- Part-fibre (FTTC): 74 Mbps in Maidenhead (Sky)
How do real-world speeds of 5G and fibre broadband compare?
According to our real-world speed test compilation, the range of download speeds encountered is as follows:
- 5G: 795 to 426 Mbps
- Full-fibre (FTTP): 937 to 458 Mbps
- Part-fibre (FTTC): 74 to 58 Mbps
Bear in mind that these are based on the few speed tests gathered from YouTube!
How does network congestion impact 5G and fibre broadband speeds in the UK?
Network congestion reduces the speed of any internet connection in any circumstance. While 5G and fibre-broadband are the latest technologies with the largest capacity for data transfer in mobile and broadband connections respectively, they can experience congestion.
This is because data usage has increased on par with bandwidth to deliver improved graphics on images and video (e.g. HD Netflix!), more devices connected simultaneously, more people working remotely, etc.
Does distance from the source affect the speed of 5G and fibre broadband?
Yes, but it affects each technology differently, as follows:
- 5G: As a high-frequency cellular technology, the signal can transmit large volumes of data but also degrades rapidly over distance. 5G networks are very sensitive to distance from the antennas, obstructions and even weather, which is why a high density of antennas is necessary.
- Full-fibre FTTP (Fibre-to-the-Premises): Since the entire path from source to router is composed of fibre optics transmitting data at close to the speed of light, the effect of distance on full-fibre is minimal, if negligible.
- Part-fibre FTTC (Fibre-to-the-Cabinet): Since part of the connection is still supported by copper wire, the longer the distance from the cabinet to your router, the slower the connection. It is estimated that every 100 meters reduces download speeds by up to 20 Mbps.
How do physical obstructions influence 5G and fibre broadband speeds?
Physical obstructions greatly affect 5G speeds, as walls, trees, or rain can block or weaken the signal.
On the other hand, fibre broadband is a wired connection and doesn’t care for physical obstructions unless the cables are physically damaged!
What role does hardware play in the speeds of 5G and fibre broadband?
Hardware can be an enabler or a bottleneck for 5G and fibre broadband connections.
For 5G, devices must be compatible with the network and support the specific frequency band of your 5G provider. Also, faulty or unsophisticated antennas could dramatically hamper 5G speeds.
For fibre broadband, the router’s quality and specifications have a significant influence on speed. An older or lower-quality router may not support the maximum speeds offered by your broadband package. The same applies to the devices connected to your router through WiFi or an ethernet cable; if they’re too old, they’re unlikely to support the speeds offered.
Can weather conditions affect 5G and fibre broadband speeds?
Yes, weather can affect 5G as heavy rain, snow, or even dust can absorb or scatter its signals, reducing speed and coverage. Being a tethered connection, fibre broadband is immune to weather conditions, except when extreme weather damages the cables, like falling trees in storms.
Why might 5G offer faster speeds in some areas but not others?
5G technology operates through a range of frequency bands. Higher-frequency millimetre-wave bands offer faster speeds but have shorter ranges and can be obstructed easily, while lower-frequency bands have better coverage but slower speeds.
Each country’s regulatory body (Ofcom in the UK) decides on the frequency bands that mobile operators can utilise, which ultimately determine the speeds available. Unlike other countries, Ofcom is still approving the fastest mm-band 5G in the UK.
Can fibre broadband maintain consistent speeds better than 5G?
Generally, yes. Fibre broadband is less affected by factors that can disrupt 5G, like physical obstructions, distance from the antenna, network congestion or even the weather. However, the actual performance can vary based on your specific location, service and even the hardware you are using.