21 Differences Between Broadband and Leased Line Connections

One question we're often asked is "What is the difference between broadband and leased line connections?" If you're seeking the classic 'computer networking exam' answer, see our other article: the difference between leased line and broadband.

But if you're after a 'real world' answer that doesn't just focus on technical differences but also commercial and practical ones, you've come to the right place. Below, we compare leased line vs broadband connections.

1. Monthly Price

There's a big difference in cost between leased lines and broadband. Leased Lines cost a lot more to rent. To get a quote, use the pricing tool above.

2. Maximum Speeds

Leased lines offer speeds of up to 10Gbps (10,000 Mbps) throughout most of the UK. Maximum broadband speeds are far lower.

ADSL2+ broadband is typically described as providing 'up to 24Mbps' downstream and FTTC was said to provide 'up to 80Mbps' downstream. The maximum speeds upstream are far slower - 'up to 1.4Mbps' and 'up to 20Mbps.' 

3. Symmetric Connection Speeds

Leased line connections have identical connection speeds upstream and downstream. Broadband connections usually have different speeds - with the upstream connection speed being far lower than the downstream speed mentioned in the ads.

4. Uncontended (Dedicated) Bandwidth

If you get a leased line, you're paying for a dedicated connection that goes all the way from your site to your ISP's core network. The bandwidth is reserved for you 24/7 and if you're not using it nobody else is.

Broadband, in contrast, is almost always contended. There may be a dedicated line from your site to the nearest street cabinet (for FTTC broadband) or to the nearest telephone exchange (ADSL), but once your data hits that point you have to share the available backhaul bandwidth with other broadband subscribers. This means your throughput may be reduced at times when lots of other customers are trying to actively use their connections.

5. SLA - Faster Fix Times

Leased line providers typically offer Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Rather than just try their best (which is known as 'best efforts'), they guarantee that they will achieve certain 'service levels.' If they don't, their customers may will get a service credit (effectively, money off a future bill, in compensation).

Leased Lines tend to come with an SLA that pledges that certain types of faults will be fixed within a given number of hours. Most broadband services do not come with an SLA, and if they do offer an SLA, the fix time is far longer than would be the case for an equivalent leased line fault.

6. SLA - Availability, Backed by Refund

Leased Line services SLAs may also offer a Service Availability guarantee, or an 'uptime guarantee' as it's sometimes called. This means the provider promises that certain aspects of the service will be delivered a specific percentage of the time. Typically the figure is 99.9% or higher, over a defined period - a full calendar month or a quarter, mostly.

Most broadband connections do not offer any reliability or availability guarantees. Some Business Broadband ones do, so this difference between leased lines and broadband isn't entirely universal.

7. Customer Profiles - Businesses, Not Consumers

Leased lines are sold to businesses - typically to connect their offices to the Internet, their other offices or to data centres. Broadband tends to be sold mainly to consumers (e.g. as a home broadband service). A minority of broadband subscriptions are sold to businesses - typically micro-businesses/smaller SMEs that can't afford a leased line. Broadband is also sold to larger businesses as a backup connection for offices that primarily use a leased line to connect to the Internet.

One consequence of these different customer profiles is that aside from a few big players, different organisations dominate the leased line and non-business broadband markets. Consumer broadband tends to be provided by big consumer brands - mobile phone companies, pay TV firms, residential phone companies. Leased lines tend to be sold by more tech-savvy organisations that sell a different set of services - leased lines, wide area networks and IP telephony typically. 

8. Data Sent Over Fibre Not Copper, Generally

One general difference between leased lines and broadband connections is that the former tend to be full fibre connections (there are a few exceptions), whereas the latter tend to run over copper wiring for part of their data transmission path.

To be specific, ADSL Broadband uses copper wiring between the customer site and the local telephone exchange. FTTC broadband uses copper wiring between the customer site and local cabinet. G.Fast uses copper to a nearby distribution point. FTTP broadband doesn't use copper wiring.

Most leased lines are provided over fibre-optic cables. The only exception are those based on uncontended 'Ethernet First Mile (EFM) over copper' services and 'Generic Ethernet Access over FTTC' (aka EoFTTC) services. The former uses 2, 4, 6 or 8 pairs of copper wiring.

9. Static IP Addresses, Generally

This is not a technical difference, merely a commercial one.

Most non-business broadband services give customers a dynamic IP address, i.e. one that changes. Leased lines and many business broadband services come with a fixed IP address, or a small range of fixed IP addresses. This makes it easier for customers to connect to their business via the Internet as the IP addresses they have to connect to don't keep changing.

10. Contract length

Leased line contracts tend to last 36 months, or failing that 12, 24, 48 or 60 months. Broadband tends to be sold on 1 month, 12 month, 18 month or 24 month contracts.

The shorter leased line contract lengths (12 months, 24 months) tend to involve paying a hefty installation charge, in a way that isn't true for broadband.

11. Unmetered, Unthrottled

Leased lines are unmetered connections. In other words, you can use them as much as you like without running up data transfer fees. If you use them a lot, no 'fair usage policy' is applied, throttling your speeds to punish you for using them too much.

Residential broadband packages tend to be unmetered, at least in the UK, but they tend to have a 'fair usage policy.' Some business broadband packages are unmetered, others have hefty data transfer quotas, above which you'll be charged extra.

12. Monitoring and Proactive Support

Many leased line circuits are monitored for problems. If they go down, within a reasonable period, your ISP will spot there's a problem and be able to begin troubleshooting.

In contrast, broadband circuits tend to be unmonitored. If just your broadband service goes down, your ISP probably won't notice. You typically have to tell them about the problem before they'll do anything. This delays troubleshooting.

Not all leased line circuits are monitored. Sometimes, leased line customers opt for what is known as a 'wires only' service, instead of one with a managed router. Here, the ISP just supplies the (connected) wires that plug into your own router. As they don't have any of their own equipment on your site to monitor, they won't tend to spot when your connection goes down, unless the cause is an issue that's impacting other customers.

13. Installation Lead Time

Here in the UK, leased Lines tend to take about 60-90 working days to install. Broadband typically takes 10-15 working days.

14. Fixed Connection Speeds. Not 'Best Efforts' For Your Location

Leased lines offer fixed connection speeds, i.e. 100Mbps exactly, 200Mbps exactly etc. Most broadband tends to provided on a 'best efforts' basis. In other words, 'you get what you get.' That's true for the two most popular broadband technologies ADSL2+ and FTTC.

The main reason for that is that both ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) and FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) rely on copper wiring. Electrical signals degrade as they flow through these copper wires. The longer the distance between the customer and the local telephone exchange (for ADSL) or cabinet (for FTTC) the worse the speeds.

15. Excess Construction Charges (ECCs) May Apply Occasionally

Leased Line orders may occasionally result in 'excess construction charges.' These are far rarer if you're ordering broadband.

When you order a leased line or broadband, a provider with telecoms ducts in the ground may need to physically connect your site to their network. If you're ordering broadband over the top of a pre-existing phone line, there is normally no 'civil engineering construction' work to be done.

If you order a fibre-optic leased line, it's probably some civil engineering WILL be required. Some allowance for this will have been included in the price you've been quoted. However, as the order progresses 'subject to survey,' the survey may return unwanted news. Connecting you will be more difficult than expected, more expensive, so the relevant wholesale supplier tells your leased line provider to pay an extra lump sum to cover unexpected extra costs. The leased line supplier can say, 'All right, go ahead, we'll pay' or 'Forget it. We're not paying that. Cancel our order for that particular site.' If this situation arises, your leased line provider will consult you about would like to do.  

Excess Construction Charges are the exception rather than than the rule. Here in the UK, regulator OFCOM allowed the UK's largest network operator Openreach to raise its ethernet connection prices to recover the cost of absorbing the first £2800 of ECCs. This means that the majority of leased line buyers are indirectly paying a small premium to help subsidise leased lines in harder-to-connect places.  

16. Point-to-Point Options

Broadband circuits just link your site to your ISP's core network. Leased line circuits typically do that, but that's not the only option.

Some firms will order a point to point leased line instead, for example to link two offices or data centres together.

Broadband is almost always used to provide a single site with Internet access. Leased lines at different sites can be joined together to form a wide area network. Typically, this will be connected to the Internet at one or two central locations on the ISPs core network. This approach is popular with organisations that have multiple offices, as it allows IT resources (mail servers, SANs etc) to serve multiple sites, for data to be shared internally without having to travel over the Internet and VPNs.

17. Lower Latency & Jitter

Leased lines tend to have less data transmission delay (latency) than broadband and less variation in such delay (jitter). This tends to matter to those using their connections for video conferencing, video streaming, financial trading and database mirroring.

We say 'tend' because low-bandwidth EFM or EoFTTC ones tend to have higher latency and jitter than is the case for fibre leased lines (which tend to be used for connections with uploads speeds over 35Mbps).

18. Range of speed choices

Copper-based broadband services (such as ADSL, ADSL2+ and FTTC) tend to offer different maximum speeds depending on where you are. So your choice is typically between the maximum ADSL2+ can offer, the maximum ADSL2+Annex M can offer or the maximum FTTC can offer.

Fibre leased line networks tend to be able to provide connections up to 10Gbps to most business sites within the UK, so they're able to offer a lot more speed options. 10Mbps, 30Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps, 200Mbps and 1Gbps are particularly popular. However other speeds - such as 300Mbps, 500Mbps etc are also possible, though not all leased line providers offer them.

19. Quality of Service (QoS) and traffic prioritisation

If you get a leased line, it's more likely your ISP can prioritise your traffic, if asked. For example, prioritising your IP telephony calls over your general web traffic.

20. Physical Route (incl Route diversity options)

The route by which your data travels to your ISP may differ for leased lines and broadband.

For broadband, you don't really get any choice over the route. It is what it is. 

For leased lines, you do have some choice over the route. For example, if you positively can't suffer downtime, you could - in the majority of UK business sites - choose to get two leased lines - connected via two seperate physical networks. Even where just one physical infrastructure provider is in the ground, you may be able to order the secondary circuit to be physically connected to a different node than the one used by the primary circuit. 

21. No Phone Service Associated With The Line

ADSL broadband is delivered over a phone line, with the phone line often kept in use as a phone line. FTTC broadband is also delivered over a phone line.

Leased lines are different. Typically, they're not provisioned over phone lines at all. Most are based on site-to-site fibre-optic circuits.

Some low bandwidth leased lines (such as those based on EFM over copper) are set up using 2, 4, 6 or 8 'copper pairs.' If you saw them, you'd call them phone lines, but you can't use them to make phone calls.

If you want to make phone calls over your leased lines, you'll need to subscribe to a Cloud PBX service, or order SIP trunks. Luckily, most leased line providers offer the latter service, and many offer the former one too.

Which should you get? Broadband or a Leased Line?

That depends on how much bandwidth you need, how much a lack of connectivity would cost your business (e.g. in lost staff productivity, customer compensation payments, lost customers), and the size of your IT budget.

Generally, broadband is adequate for residential users (e.g. staff working from home) and small offices with just a handful of people. Leased lines are appropriate for most offices that have more than just a handful of people.

If you have broadband already and you're not planning to change anything and everything's working fine, and a few days of connection downtime would merely an annoyance, you may not even need a leased line.

A key question is whether your internet connection's upload speed is holding you back. If you're looking to use online backup to protect Terabytes of data, or to use video conferencing, VoIP (voice over IP) for an entire office full of people, or to allow users to use remote desktop protocol (rdp) to access their work computers from home, broadband will probably be inadequate.

If your business would grind to a halt without internet access, e.g. because you'd lose access business-critical cloud-based systems such as Salesforce, Dynamics 365, hosted Exchange, or a hosted PBX phone system, it may be worth upgrading to a leased line just for the reassurance aspects of higher uptime levels, faster fix times etc.

Leased lines have fallen in price and are now at a level that's affordable to most organisations, including SMEs and charities. They'll continue to get cheaper. To find out how much a leased line will cost at your location, just use the quoting tool at the top of this page or call us on 020 7847 4510.