Cable vs. Fiber: Which Internet Type Is Right for You?

Better availability

Cable

 

Speeds up to 1,000 Mbps

$30.00–$100.00/mo.

View Cable Providers

Better for speed

Fiber

 

Speeds up to 2,000 Mbps

$65.00–$299.00/mo.

View Fiber Providers

Cable and fiber are both reliable internet connections and can reach up to gigabit speeds (1,000 Mbps), but fiber is better for delivering the fastest speeds, especially for upload bandwidth. It’s also less prone to high-traffic slowdowns than cable is.

The best fiber plans

PlanSpeedPriceMore info
AT&T Fiber Internet 1000940 Mbps$60.00/mo.View Plan
Xfinity Gigabit1,200 Mbps$84.99/mo.View Plan
PlanAT&T Fiber Internet 1000
Speed940 Mbps
Price$60.00/mo.
More infoView Plan
PlanXfinity Gigabit
Speed1,200 Mbps
Price$84.99/mo.
More infoView Plan

Unfortunately, fiber availability is limited across the US. If you do have access to fiber internet in your area, it’s the better choice over cable because it offers equally fast uploads and downloads.

The best cable plans

PlanSpeedPriceMore info
Spectrum Internet® UltraUp to 400 Mbps$69.99/mo. for 12 mos.View Plan
Xfinity Extreme Pro Plus800 Mbps$60.00/mo.View Plan
PlanSpectrum Internet® Ultra
SpeedUp to 400 Mbps
Price$69.99/mo. for 12 mos.
More infoView Plan
PlanXfinity Extreme Pro Plus
Speed800 Mbps
Price$60.00/mo.
More infoView Plan

If you don’t need the extra speed, cable is still a great way to go. It’s more widely available, uses existing cable TV lines, and is often cheaper than fiber.

If you want additional suggestions, enter your zip code below to discover the cable and fiber plans available in your area.

Pros and cons

Cable internet

Pros

  • Wide availability
  • Cable TV bundle options
  • Range of speeds

Cons

  • Network congestion
  • Lower upload speeds

Fiber internet

Pros

  • Speeds up to 2,000 Mbps
  • Equal upload and download speeds
  • Better reliability

Cons

  • Limited availability
  • Limited plan variety

What is cable internet?

Cable internet is delivered using copper coaxial cables—the same cables that deliver cable TV. These cables are made of a copper core, an insulating sheath, aluminum and copper shields, and an outer plastic layer. The copper core carries data in the form of binary electrical signals sent along an unused cable TV channel.

The way these copper cables are deployed means that connections from each home converge at some point—usually on a utility pole somewhere along the street—and share bandwidth. Eventually, all this coaxial cable reaches the internet service provider’s (ISP’s) main fiber network. This shared connection can lead to internet slowdowns and network congestion when several connections are in use at the same time. 

Even so, cable internet is capable of delivering faster and more reliable internet than DSL or satellite internet, and it’s available in more areas than fiber internet.

Top cable internet providers

ProviderSpeedsPricesMore info
Xfinty50–800 Mbps$29.99–$69.99/mo.View plans
Spectrum00–940 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)$49.99–$109.99/mo. for 12 mo.View plans
Cox25–940 Mbps$29.99–$99.99/mo.View plans
Optimum300–940 Mbps$45.00–$75.00/mo.View plans
WOW!100–1,000 Mbps$29.99–$99.99/mo.View plans
ProviderXfinty
Speeds50–800 Mbps
Prices$29.99–$69.99/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderSpectrum
Speeds00–940 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)
Prices$49.99–$109.99/mo. for 12 mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderCox
Speeds25–940 Mbps
Prices$29.99–$99.99/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderOptimum
Speeds300–940 Mbps
Prices$45.00–$75.00/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderWOW!
Speeds100–1,000 Mbps
Prices$29.99–$99.99/mo.
More infoView plans

What is fiber internet?

Fiber internet uses fiber-optic cables to deliver internet to your home. These cables are made of very thin strands of glass or plastic called optical fibers held in an inwardly reflective cladding, which helps carry the light signals regardless of bends or curves in the cable. Each cable can hold several optical fibers.

Fiber uses LED or laser pulses to carry internet data, which is better for data transmission over long distances than cable’s electrical signals. Fiber cables can also carry much more bandwidth than similarly sized copper cables and are immune to signal interference. 

In short, fiber internet is the newest and best type of wired internet available for homes. Unfortunately, it’s newness is also a setback, as there isn’t existing fiber infrastructure for home use in a lot of the US, especially in more rural areas. Rolling out new fiber internet infrastructure is slow and expensive, so a lot of people still don’t have access to it.

Top fiber internet providers

ProviderSpeedsPricesMore info
Google Fiber1,000 Mbps$70.00/mo.
AT&T Fiber300–940 Mbps$35.00–$60.00/mo.View plans
Verizon Fios200–940 Mbps$39.99–$79.99/mo.View plans
CenturyLink940 Mbps$65.00/mo.View plans
Frontier FiberOptic50–940 Mbps$49.99–$79.99/mo.View plans
ProviderGoogle Fiber
Speeds1,000 Mbps
Prices$70.00/mo.
More info
ProviderAT&T Fiber
Speeds300–940 Mbps
Prices$35.00–$60.00/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderVerizon Fios
Speeds200–940 Mbps
Prices$39.99–$79.99/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderCenturyLink
Speeds940 Mbps
Prices$65.00/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderFrontier FiberOptic
Speeds50–940 Mbps
Prices$49.99–$79.99/mo.
More infoView plans

Cable and fiber speed comparison

Fiber internet is capable of delivering faster speeds than cable. That’s not to say cable isn’t fast—cable can reach speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, which is plenty of speed for most everything you can do online. But fiber is simply better equipped to handle more bandwidth.

Xfinity is a good example of the different speed capabilities of cable and fiber. For the most part, Xfinity has cable internet plans with speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps—and they’re undoubtedly fast.

But its fastest plan, Gigabit Plus, uses fiber-optic internet. It blows the cable plans out of the water, especially when it comes to upload bandwidth (though it is much more expensive and harder to get than Xfinity’s cable plans).

Cable internet usually has asymmetrical speeds, which means it has more download bandwidth than upload bandwidth. For example, many cable internet plans with download speeds up to 100 Mbps give customers only 10 Mbps of upload bandwidth.

Most people do much more downloading than uploading, so asymmetric bandwidth isn’t often a deal-breaker. But symmetric speeds can be a lifesaver if you have multiple people in the house that are working or going to school remotely and need to video conference at the same time.

Price comparison

To compare apples to apples, let’s look at what different fiber and cable companies charge for gigabit internet packages. You can definitely get cable internet speeds slower than a gigabit to save some money, but many internet services with fiber use it only for gigabit plans.

Gigabit internet price comparison

PlanTypePrices starting at
CenturyLink Fiber InternetFiber$65.00/mo.
AT&T Fiber Internet 1000Fiber$60.00/mo.
Google FiberFiber$70.00/mo.
Frontier FiberOptic Gig ServiceFiber$79.99/mo.
Verizon Fios Gigabit ConnectionFiber$79.99/mo.
Cox GigablastCable$99.99/mo
Optimum 1 GigCable$75.00/mo.
Spectrum Internet® GigCable$109.99/mo. for 12 mos.
Xfinity GigabitCable$79.99/mo.
WOW Internet 1 GigCable$74.99/mo.

You can see here that fiber and cable gigabit internet packages tend to cost around the same amount. There are outliers, of course, but most gigabit plans cost $60–$80 per month. If you are choosing between gigabit internet plans, we recommend going with fiber, since cable and fiber are usually comparable in price (and you get faster upload speeds).

But not everyone needs gigabit internet. Gigabit connections are usually the most expensive plans available. Cable internet providers typically have other fast internet plans from 100 Mbps to 900 Mbps while fiber providers often do not.

Pro tip

Fiber internet plans typically cost more than cable plans because you’re paying for top speeds. You can get cheaper cable plans because there are more speed tiers to choose from, and you can sacrifice a little speed to save money.

Setup and equipment comparison

Both cable and fiber internet can be professionally installed. Cable internet also gives customers the option to self-install for a cheaper price. Self-installation works best if your home is already wired with coaxial cables—like if you’ve previously had cable internet from a different provider. 

Fiber internet usually mandates a professional install because not many homes already have the necessary equipment. Depending on where your network is connected to the provider’s fiber network (this can be at your home or a little ways away), new cables may need to be run, and an optical network terminal will be installed. This translates fiber signals into data usable by your home network.

With cable internet, the translation work is done by a cable modem, which you can either rent from your ISP or purchase for yourself. Providers usually lease out a device called a wireless gateway, which acts as both a modem and a router. Where the modem translates internet signals for use in your home network, the router creates a Wi-Fi network and distributes data to your wired and wireless devices. Rental fees usually cost about $5–$15 per month.

Availability comparison

Fiber-optic internet’s biggest drawback currently is its limited availability. Both cable and fiber internet tend to be more concentrated in metropolitan areas, but cable is still much more accessible.

According to data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), fiber broadband is available to only 36.16% of Americans,1 while 81.27% have access to cable broadband.2

Other types of internet and how they compare

DSL

Digital subscriber line (DSL) internet is another common type of wireline internet connection. It uses copper phone lines (different from the coax cables used for cable) to deliver internet service. 

Compared to cable and fiber, DSL is slower and less reliable. It can reach up to 100 Mbps but often delivers less than that. It’s also less reliable over long distances due to signal degradation.

But it’s more widely available, especially in rural areas. It’s not a shared connection, either, like cable internet is—it’s a direct line to your home, just like fiber.

Read more about how DSL and cable compare.

Satellite

Satellite internet, like the name suggests, uses satellites to transfer internet signals between your home and a network hub. Satellite is one of the most widely available types of internet in the US, and it’s often the only option for internet service in many rural areas.

Compared to other types of internet, satellite doesn’t measure up well. Satellite internet services often have strict data caps and high latency, which can negatively affect internet activities like online gaming and video calls. And while maximum satellite speeds can reach up to 100 Mbps, like DSL, connections often don’t get that fast and those speeds are available to limited areas at high prices.

Fixed wireless

Fixed wireless works similarly to satellite internet, but instead of using a satellite as the halfway point between the user and the ISP, it uses towers. That considerably cuts down on latency, but the towers need line-of-sight connections to perform well. Fixed-wireless plans also usually have data caps as well, but the speeds are a little more flexible and you’ll get more data for your money than you will with satellite internet.

Internet services that use fixed-wireless technology often offer plans similar to DSL speeds, but the tech has the potential to carry faster speeds.

Pro tip

Overall, cable and fiber are still the best two types of internet for a fast connection.

Verdict: Fiber is the best connection

Get fiber if it’s available for a reasonable price in your area. It’s faster and more reliable than cable. But if you don’t have access to fiber or you don’t need gigabit speeds, cable is certainly the best alternative.

Cable vs. fiber FAQ

Why is fiber internet faster than cable?

Fiber internet is faster than cable internet because the optical fibers used to deliver fiber internet are capable of carrying much more bandwidth than the similarly sized copper coaxial cables that are used for cable internet and TV. In short, that means fiber provides faster speeds with less high-traffic slowdowns than cable.

Do I need fiber for fast internet

You don’t need fiber for fast internet. Depending on your definition of fast internet, you could get a fast connection (100 Mbps or faster) with a few different types of internet, including fiber, cable, and DSL.

Fast internet really is just an internet connection that can keep up with your daily use. If you live alone and stream Netflix while on your phone, 25 Mbps should be fast enough to keep up. But if you have a whole family using the same home network for gaming, streaming, working from home, and a ton of other connections, you’ll want faster speeds—and both cable and fiber internet plans should still cover your needs.

Pro tip

Get a personalized internet speed recommendation from our How Much Speed Do You Need? Tool to make sure your internet connection is fast enough for you.

  1. Federal Communications Commission, “Fixed Broadband Deployment Area Summary,” June 2019. Accessed August 17, 2020.
  2. Federal Communications Commission, “Fixed Broadband Deployment Area summary,” June 2019. Accessed August 17, 2020.

Author -

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.

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.

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