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How does broadband work?

Disclaimer: The information on this page was correct as of October 6, 2021.

Broadband in 2021 can almost be considered an essential service. We’ve come to rely heavily on it, but sometimes, it can be difficult to explain what it is, how it all works, and what the difference is between all the companies and deals that you see advertised on the internet or tv. We’ll cover all the bases to try and give you a general idea of how does broadband work.


Following this guide will help answer those many questions around how does broadband work that can arise and leave you feeling like you’re not sure what the next step is. Have no fear…this guide is designed to put your minds at ease.

What is Broadband?

To put it simply, broadband is the transmission of multiple signals at once. It allows you to send messages, texts, and emails via a stable internet connection quickly and at the same time if you so wish.

Broadband first came into use in the UK in 2000, so it’s still a fairly new concept that was introduced to replace the dial-up systems of internet connection. Before long, the amount of internet users on broadband outnumbered those still using a dial-up system. From there, broadband has grown and grown.

This is how we’ve come to know broadband: as a way of accessing the internet quickly, easily, and consistently.

Don’t confuse broadband and the internet as the same thing. They’re not!

What’s the difference between internet and broadband?

The Internet is the engine where computers can run websites developed and published on the World Wide Web. Broadband is the tech and mechanisms in place which enable you to connect to the internet. This can be through the green fibre boxes in your postcode/neighbourhood or via a satellite transmission.

They’re easy to confuse so don’t worry about always remembering the differences. That’s why this guide’s here to help!

This is how many households have access to broadband in the UK, reaching over 80% of households and well over 80% of UK adults.

How does broadband work?

Broadband takes the first part of its name quite literally, there’s a broad range of ways in which it works. Here are the main ways you need to know when discovering how does broadband work:

  • Fibre Optic – Probably the most advanced system of broadband currently available in the UK, where signals are transmitted along very thin plastic or glass cables either to your property or your postcode using light energy – literally using the speed of light to provide reliable broadband!
  • Wireless – This is a broadband delivery system that uses radio signals instead of cables. Communication satellites can also be used to transmit a broadband signal to your home.
  • Cable – Via a cable connection, your internet is gained in a similar way to how your TV’s picture & sound is configured – coaxial cables are used – these coaxial cables are connected to the green fibre boxes you may notice on the end of your street! This grants the user a much faster internet connection than methods using the traditional copper wires, but could result in signal loss over long distances.
  • ADSL – Stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line – this uses the same copper wires that are used to provide your home with a telephone connection. It’s the most common form of broadband found in the UK, but it’s falling behind the times and isn’t the one to go for if you want fast broadband.
  • Satellite – In order to gain broadband connection, connectivity is provided via satellite transmission. For households in rural areas, this is probably the best option for establishing consistent broadband connections.

What is dial-up broadband?

Sometimes, it can be hard to differentiate how broadband becomes available in your area and how it transports an internet connection to your home and your devices.

Before broadband became popular, a lot of people used a system called dial-up Internet. This was a system where you were using a telephone line in order to connect to your internet service.

For this, you needed a modem (modulator-demodulator) and you were establishing a connection into a much larger computer network. It was a system that relied heavily on ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and is hardly used as a way of using broadband these days.


In the UK and many other countries, the use of fibre broadband is becoming more frequent, and it’s being achieved mainly through something called Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) broadband, which means that the fibre cables that transmit signals at the speed of light are directed into those big green cabinet boxes you see on pavements at the ends of streets and postcodes.

However, this system has its limits, because from the green cabinets to your home, conventional copper cables are still used to transmit a broadband signal. Copper cables can have an effect on broadband speed because the cabinet is having to provide internet to a whole postcode/street, it takes longer for the internet to reach your house because it’s still using traditional methods for the last part of the broadband’s journey.

More information on FTTC


Only if you have what’s called Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) or Fibre to the Home (FTTH) will you be able to fully experience the benefits of fibre broadband.

With this connection, the fibre is connected directly to the home or multi-occupied buildings, such as apartment blocks and businesses, to the telephone exchange building, and it removes the use of any copper cables, allowing for very fast broadband. FTTP can promise speeds of up to 100 Mbps, whereas FTTC offers around 40 Mbps.The following graph just shows the difference that FFTP provides in granting you with an increadibly quick broadband connection.

Below is table of providers who offer purely FTTP broadband.

Structured Communications
Vision Fibre Media
Triple Connect
Pure broadband
Herefordshire Community Network
County Broadband
Community Fibre
Call Flow
Box Broadband
More information on FTTP

Upload and Download speeds

How does broadband work in your home and area can have an affect on its overall performance. When you use the internet, uploads and downloads are important to remember – so what exactly is the difference?

  • Upload – You are putting information onto the internet. For example, sending an email, adding photos to your social media accounts, and even clicking on web pages.
  • Download – this means that your computer or device is receiving information from the internet. This can be in the form of downloading movies, youtube videos, photos, websites.

Below is a chart that shows just how much upload and download speeds have changed in only a few years.

Is broadband expensive?

Straight off the bat, there’s no escaping the fact that the UK’s broadband prices are more expensive than other European countries. However, that doesn’t mean that cheap broadband in this country doesn’t exist!

By calling Utility Switchboard’s number below, you can check how does broadband work and what’s the cheapest available broadband tariff in your postcode area!

020 3048 4598

Always check and keep any paperwork that your broadband provider sends to you, whether it be bills, contracts, or terms & conditions. And read the small print carefully, as sometimes it may say something like ‘costs increase after initial 12 months to £…’

Always read your contract to avoid being overcharged!

With broadband, it’s important to know your limits and what speeds you’ll need in any given monthly period.

If you’re someone who doesn’t access the internet on a regular basis or you’re not gaming/streaming consistently, then having fibre broadband probably wouldn’t be beneficial to you and you’ll end up losing money.

Can I pay monthly for broadband?

Yes. Yes you can.

Most broadband companies operate on a pay per monthly basis. When you first sign up to a broadband company such as Virgin Media, Sky, or BT, you’ll probably be issued a 12-18 month rolling contract.

It’s always handy to work out what the average cost per month is with providers as well. That way, you can see who’s offering the best value!

How does broadband work with mobiles?

What’s becoming an even more viable source of broadband is that which is available through a mobile. When people ask the question; how does broadband work? in years to come, the answer may well be through mobile networks.

This is a way of gaining wireless internet through a mobile network. Its earliest use dates back to the 1990s, and now in 2021, we’re currently in the 5th generation (5G) era of mobile broadband. Providers are already discussing 6G as well!

So, how does broadband work with your portable devices? With your smartphones and tablets, mobile broadband and mobile data are often part of the deals and can either give an allocation of 4G, 5G, data to use in a monthly period, or unlimited data. So your mobile phone provider might sell you 10GB of data as part of your mobile contract. You can go over this limit but it may cost you a fee, or you can purchase an extra data package.

A lot of countries around the world that don’t have the traditional telephone line setup system of transporting broadband are making effective use of the advantages mobile broadband can provide for users. It’s helping their countries to become better connected at a faster rate.

Mobile broadband isn’t just for phones anymore, a lot of companies use them as a back-up or an alternative broadband where it’s not available or speeds are too slow in your area.

Finding the best broadband in my area

Whilst reading this guide, a lot of you may now be wondering: “Hmm, I wonder what the best broadband in my area is?”

It’s a good question, and one that can help you be well on your way to saving money and time in terms of fast broadband connections and internet speeds.

Utility Switchboard will be able to guide you through the process of what is the best broadband deal in your area, so give us a call at:

020 3048 4598

Switching Broadband providers

At some point in the future, it doesn’t matter whether you’re with Sky or BT, you and/or your family may decide that your current broadband package isn’t working for you and you would like a change.

That’s okay. Change is good, but the process of switching broadband providers can sometimes be a long and arduous task. It doesn’t need to be.

And if you’re someone who’s looking to switch, then you couldn’t have picked a more perfect time as new Ofcom rules being introduced (One Touch Switch process) means it’ll become easier to switch providers.

However, please note that this process is only accessible if your current supplier and the supplier you want to switch to BOTH use the openreach network. Almost all broadband companies except Virgin Media use this network, as they own their own network and cables.

How to Switch

It’s always best to contact the company you want to switch to first so they can advise you on the best course of action to take.

If you’re wishing to switch to a company such as Virgin Media which doesn’t use the openreach network, then the One Touch Switch process may not be applicable.

Instead, you’ll have to contact your current broadband supplier, let them know you’re leaving, and they can inform you when your contract is ending and if there’s any outstanding payments left on your account before it’s closed.

At the same time (not literally) you’ll need to contact the broadband provider you want to swap to, set up an account with them, and they’ll confirm with you a start date for when your new contract will commence.

If you would like more information on the details of how to switch providers quickly and easily, follow this link that will direct you to Ofcom’s website.

More information on Switching broadband providers

How to cancel broadband

If switching providers doesn’t do the trick, you may decide to cancel broadband altogether.

Please take note that if you decide to do this, it may have an effect on your internet availability in your home.

In addition, if you decide to cancel your contract with your broadband provider earlier than the minimum contract length, you may be subject to additional charges as you have cancelled before the minimum agreed period has expired.

There are ways you can escape these costs if the provider is failing to meet its contractual obligations in terms of:

  • Broadband speed and performance.
  • If they didn’t inform you about price increases.
  • Moving home and your broadband provider doesn’t operate in that area.
  • Cooling-off period: under certain rights and obligations, you can cancel a broadband contract for a free 14-day cooling-off period.
  • You’ve been mis-sold a service that isn’t fulfilling its contractual obligations and isn’t what you paid for.

If it’s already expired and you wish to cancel, then you shouldn’t be charged any termination fees. Utility Switchboard has a helpful guide on termination fees that you read at the link below.

If you need some more help...

Give us a call and speak to one of our utility experts who will guide you through your query and help you get it solved ASAP. Who knows, you may even save some money by giving us a call as well via one of our panel partners!

0203 048 4598

This page was written by...

Elliot Waterhouse

I've been directing and advising utility businesses across the world for over 5 years, with major projects taking place across the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Spain & France, to name a few! I currently oversee the technical, financial, marketing and human development of Utility Switchboard.

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