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

Better availability

Cable

 

Speeds up to 1,000 Mbps

$30–$100/mo.

View cable providers

Better for speed

Fiber

 

Speeds up to 2,000 Mbps

$65–$299/mo.

View fiber providers

Bottom line

Cable and fiber are both reliable and can get 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. If it’s available to your home and you need very fast speeds, go with fiber. But, unfortunately, fiber availability is limited across the US.

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

Find every cable and fiber internet plan in your area to compare speeds and prices.

Pros and cons

Cable internet

Pros

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

Cons

  • Network congestion
  • Asymmetric upload and download speeds

Fiber internet

Pros

  • Speeds up to 2,000 Mbps
  • Symmetric 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.

The way these copper cables are deployed means that several homes or a whole neighborhood could be using the same cables for internet and TV access. Basically, they all share bandwidth. That 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
Xfinty25–2,000 Mbps$20.00–$299.99/mo.View plans
Spectrum100–940 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)$49.99–$109.99/mo. for 12 mo.View plans
Cox10–940 Mbps$19.99–$99.99/mo.View plans
Optimum300–940 Mbps$39.99–$69.99/mo.View plans
WOW!100–1,000 Mbps$34.99–$99.99/mo.View plans
ProviderXfinty
Speeds25–2,000 Mbps
Prices$20.00–$299.99/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderSpectrum
Speeds100–940 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)
Prices$49.99–$109.99/mo. for 12 mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderCox
Speeds10–940 Mbps
Prices$19.99–$99.99/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderOptimum
Speeds300–940 Mbps
Prices$39.99–$69.99/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderWOW!
Speeds100–1,000 Mbps
Prices$34.99–$99.99/mo.
More infoView plans

What is fiber internet?

Fiber internet uses fiber-optic cables to deliver internet to your home. These 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 light signals 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 less prone to signal interference.

In short, fiber internet is the newest and best type of wired internet. Unfortunately, it’s newness is also a setback, as there isn’t existing fiber infrastructure 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.View plans
AT&T940 Mbps$49.99/mo.View plans
Verizon Fios200–940 Mbps$39.99–$79.99/mo.View plans
CenturyLink940 Mbps$65.00/mo.View plans
Frontier FIOS50–1,000 Mbps$29.99–$74.99/mo.View plans
ProviderGoogle Fiber
Speeds1,000 Mbps
Prices$70.00/mo.
More infoView plans
ProviderAT&T
Speeds940 Mbps
Prices$49.99/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 FIOS
Speeds50–1,000 Mbps
Prices$29.99–$74.99/mo.
More infoView plans

Cable and fiber speed comparison

In short, 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 service, but it’s fastest plan, Gigabit Plus, uses fiber-optic internet. It uses cable for its speeds up to 1,000 Mbps—and they’re undoubtedly fast. But Gigabit Plus’s 2,000 Mbps fiber speeds blow 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 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$49.99/mo.
Google FiberFiber$70.00/mo.
Frontier Simply FiOS GigFiber$74.99/mo.
Verizon Fios Gigabit ConnectionFiber$79.99/mo.
Cox GigablastCable$99.99/mo
Optimum 1 GigCable$69.99/mo.
Spectrum Internet GigCable$109.99/mo. for 12 mos.
Xfinity GigabitCable$79.99/mo.
WOW Internet 1000Cable$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 plans are often internet providers’ most expensive offerings, and while cable internet providers often have other fast internet plans from 100 Mbps to 900 Mbps, fiber providers often do not.

Pro tip

Fiber internet plans often 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 often 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 internet service provider (ISP) or purchase for yourself. Providers usually lease out a device called a gateway, which acts as both a modem and a router. Where the modem translates internet signals for use in your home network, the router distributes data to the devices on your network and creates Wi-Fi. 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

DSL, or digital subscriber line, 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 top speeds 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.

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: Get fiber if it’s in your area

If you can get fiber for a reasonable price, we say do it. It’s a faster and more reliable internet connection than cable. But honestly, your household probably doesn’t need fiber internet speeds, especially if the cost is significantly higher than your cable options.

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 internet use. If you live alone and stream some shows in HD 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 is a natural techie and the friend you turn to when your Wi-Fi randomly stops working. Since graduating from the University of Evansville with a degree in creative writing, Rebecca has leveraged her tech savvy to write hundreds of data-driven tech product and service reviews. In addition to HighSpeedInternet.com, her work has been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ and iMore.

Editor - Cara Haynes

Cara Haynes has edited for HighSpeedInternet.com for three years, working with smart writers to revise everything from internet reviews to reports on your state’s favorite Netflix show. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span (buffering kills). With a degree in English and editing and five years working with online content, it’s safe to say she likes words on the internet. She is most likely to be seen wearing Birkenstocks and hanging out with a bouncy goldendoodle named Dobby, who is a literal fur angel sent to Earth.

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