What Is Fiber-Optic Internet and How Does It Work?

Fiber-optic internet is the fastest type of internet you can get. It works by transmitting data over fiber-optic cable with beams of light, delivering speeds of up to 5,000 Mbps. Fiber internet plans range in price from $30 to $180 per month—so a fiber connection is super effective and often quite affordable too.

You won’t always be able to get fiber-optic internet to your house—sadly, fiber isn’t as widely available as other internet types. But if you can get a fiber connection, we say go for it. We’ve put together a guide on how fiber-optic internet works, where you can get it, how much it costs, and more.

Pro tip:

Are you shopping for a fiber internet plan? Run a quick search with our zip code tool to see if any fiber providers are available in your area.

What is fiber-optic internet?

Fiber internet runs over fiber-optic cable. On a fiber connection, photon signals ricochet through vast strands of glass or plastic, delivering an internet connection to your house at basically the speed of light.

You can learn more about how fiber works in our detailed section farther down on this page.

As it happens, fiber-optic cable makes up the vast backbone of global internet infrastructure. Huge bundles of fiber criss-cross oceans and continents, connecting the largest arteries of the information superhighway.

When we talk about fiber internet, though, we’re referring specifically to a home internet connection with a fiber hookup. It’s a faster and more efficient alternative to more common internet connections—namely DSL and cable, which use the copper cabling of your landline phone line or cable network to give you internet.

What are the best fiber internet plans?

Fiber is the fastest internet you can get. Most fiber internet plans give you gigabit speeds topping out at 1,000 Mbps, which is nice to have if you spend a ton of time online and have a lot of people sharing your Wi-Fi. Some providers have even faster speeds, with AT&T taking the lead nationwide with its 5,000 Mbps plan.

PlanDownload / upload speedPrices Get it
Google Fiber 1 Gig1,000 Mbps / 1,000 Mbps$70.00/mo.*
AT&T Fiber Internet 300300 Mbps / 300 Mbps$55.00/mo.
CenturyLink Fiber Internet940 Mbps / 940 Mbps$65.00/mo.View Plan
Frontier FiberOptic 500 Mbps Internet500 Mbps / 500 Mbps$59.99/mo.§View Plan

You really can’t go wrong with Google Fiber. It’s only available only in a handful of cities. But if it’s available near you, we think that’s your best bet—you get gigabit speeds at a flat fee with no price hikes or other nonsense.

We also love AT&T’s fiber options because they offer a bit more plan variety to choose from. The ISP has multiple gigabit plans for speed lovers, but by far the best deal you can get from AT&T is its 300 Mbps fiber plan, which is really fast but comes at a fair price.

Pro tip: 

Do you need the fastest internet speeds possible? Or would you be fine with an internet plan that’s somewhat slower and cheaper? Take a quiz with our “How Much Internet Speed Do I Need?” tool to see what’s best for you.

How does fiber internet work?

Fiber internet works by sending photon signals through tiny strands of glass or plastic. Miles of these fiber-optic cables are buried underground, snaking their way from an internet provider’s central servers out to your block. At your home, the cable connects to a piece of hardware called an optical network terminal (ONT), giving you internet access.

Fiber-optic cables are immune to electromagnetic interference and have a high capacity for carrying data, so they can give you a really fast internet connection with a much lower chance of slowdowns or outages. Fiber is also newer than most cable and DSL networks, requiring less maintenance and upkeep.

The ONT meanwhile works in the same way as a cable or DSL modem. It converts those freewheeling fiber photons into data, providing internet access for your computer, tablet, and other devices.

Fiber gives you faster upload speeds

One of the main advantages of fiber-optic internet is that it gives you symmetrical upload and download speeds—meaning the upload speeds on your connection will be just as fast as the download speeds.

On other types of internet, upload speeds are typically much slower than download speeds, which usually isn’t a big deal since internet users spend most of their time downloading content from the web. But symmetrical upload speeds pose a huge advantage if you spend a lot of time uploading content, which includes videoconferencing or doing a lot of content-creation work on YouTube or another social media platform.

Examples of downloading data:

  • Reading an email
  • Watching a YouTube video
  • Downloading a game

Examples of uploading data:

  • Posting to Twitter
  • Joining a Zoom meeting
  • Uploading a file to the cloud

Pro tip:

Not sure what kind of speeds you’re getting on your fiber internet network? Run a quick diagnostic with our internet speed test and find out.

How do you install fiber-optic internet?

You will likely need a professional technician to install fiber-optic internet in your home. Installation fees range in price from $50 to $125.

Since fiber is a relatively new technology, most houses and apartments in the United States aren’t set up with the wiring and equipment necessary to self-install a fiber home network. If your home isn’t already set up for fiber, then your internet provider will require you to have a professional handle complex tasks like snaking fiber-optic cable from a utility box outside into a network terminal in your home.

However, if your provider doesn’t require you to bring in a pro for your fiber installation, you can set up your fiber internet yourself—likely saving you time and money. Here’s a quick breakdown of how to get your fiber home network up and running if you’re installing it yourself.

Step 1: Find your optical network terminal (ONT), a piece of equipment that connects to your internet provider’s network. Fiber terminals are blocky wall jacks installed in an unobtrusive place in your home, like a side room or garage. You’ll need this to get your fiber working, so if you don’t have it, contact your internet provider to have a technician set one up.

Safety warning:

Never look into the end of a fiber-optic connector if it has come loose from your fiber terminal. The light emitting from the cable will damage your eyes.

Step 2: Use an Ethernet cable to connect the port on the terminal with the Ethernet port on your network box—you can identify it by its labeling, “ONT” or “fiber jack.” A network box works as a router for your fiber connection, giving your computer and other Wi-Fi devices internet access.

Not sure what an Ethernet cable looks like? We can show you the different cables needed to plug in your router.

Step 3: Take the network box’s power cord and plug it into a wall jack so it’s powered up.

Step 4: Set up your Wi-Fi network. Connect a computer, tablet, or phone to the network box to set up your Wi-Fi. Use the information printed on a sticker on the network box or in your user manual to set the Wi-Fi network name and password.

Pro tip:

If you have more questions, check out our guide to installing fiber internet.

How can you get fiber internet?

You can get fiber internet by signing up for a package with a local fiber internet provider. Although fiber internet isn’t available everywhere, many cities and large towns often have at least one fiber provider in their area.

Run a search with your zip code to see if you can get fiber internet where you live.

If you don’t have it in your area, lobby to have an internet provider expand its fiber service onto your block. To rally for support, make sure to attend community council meetings and reach out to your local elected officials. You can also advocate for your local government to create a municipal fiber network to serve your city or town.

FAQ about fiber internet

What does fiber-optic cable look like?

Fiber-optic cable is usually color coded to identify the type of fiber-optic cable it is. It has a special connector at each end. The connector has a plastic or metal casing and a tip that lights up when you plug the cable into your network terminal.

What kinds of fiber internet are there?

There are four different types of fiber internet, which are classified based on how an internet provider’s fiber-optic network connects to your home. This is often called the last mile of service, and while it’s not typically advertised by providers, it can have an impact on installation requirements and the technical setup in your home.

Here’s a breakdown of the four main types of fiber internet that make up the last mile of service leading to your home:

Fiber to the home (FTTH): The fiber-optic connection runs directly from a provider’s network into your home. You have a network terminal installed in your home so all you have to do is plug everything in to set up your Wi-Fi.

Fiber to the building (FTTB): The fiber connection runs into your building, but your place still needs additional wiring and an optical network terminal, which is a wall jack that connects your home network to your internet provider’s fiber network. This is a common situation with apartments and condos.

Fiber to the curb (FTTC): Similar to FTTB, this setup means a fiber connection is available on your block, but you’ll need a professional technician to extend the wiring into your house or apartment. In some cases, a tech will use DSL or cable wiring to connect the fiber-optic service to your home.

Fiber to the node (FTTN): The fiber-optic connection is available in your neighborhood, but it might not be available at your house yet. Contact your area’s fiber internet provider or reach out to local elected officials to lobby for fiber access on your block.

Fiber internet providers don’t commonly advertise the type of “last mile” connection they have, but you can deduce what type of fiber you have in your home or area based on its availability.

For example, you’ll have “fiber to the home” if you can install fiber yourself because you already have an optical network terminal set up. But you probably have “fiber to the building” or “fiber to the curb” if you need a professional technician to set up your fiber for you.


  1. Niall McCarthy, Forbes, “U.S. Lags Behind Other Nations In High-Speed Fiber Broadband,” March 1, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2021.

Author -

Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for HighSpeedInternet.com for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.