Cable vs. Fiber: Which One Is Better?

  • Best availability: Cable
    • Wide availability
    • TV bundle options
    • Affordable plans
    • Less reliable
    • Lower upload speeds
    • Max speeds: 1,200 Mbps
    • Prices: $19.99–$125.00/mo.
  • Best for speed: Fiber
    • Low latency
    • Symmetrical speeds
    • Better reliability
    • Limited availability
    • Easily damaged
    • Max speeds: 10,000 Mbps
    • Prices: $50.00–$299.95/mo.

Here’s cable versus fiber in a nutshell: fiber is better at delivering the fastest internet speeds, but cable is much more available and often cheaper.

Overall, cable and fiber are both reliable internet connections. Both can reach beyond gigabit speeds (1,000 Mbps), but cable doesn’t have the symmetrical (equal) speeds provided with fiber.

We’ll compare the two in detail so you can decide which connection is the best for you. Enter your zip code below to find the best cable and fiber plans in your area.

Best cable internet providers

ProviderSpeedsPricesMore info
Xfinity 50–1,200 Mbps$25.00–$70.00/mo.*View Plans for Xfinity
Spectrum 300–1,000 Mbps
(wireless speeds may vary)
$49.99–$89.99/mo. for 12 mo.View Plans for Spectrum
Cox Communications 50–Up to 1,000 Mbps$49.99–$99.99/mo.View Plans for Cox Communications
Optimum 300–940 Mbps$30.00–$65.00/mo.§**View Plans for Optimum
WOW! 100–1,200 Mbps$19.99–$94.99/mo.||View Plans for WOW!
Astound Broadband Up to 50–Up to 940 Mbps$19.95–$49.99/mo.#View Plans for Astound Broadband

What is cable internet?

Cable internet uses cable TV lines (coaxial cables) to connect your home or office to the internet. It offers fast download speeds, a wide variety of plans, and there’s a really good chance that it’s available where you live.

Coaxial cables consist of a copper (or copper-clad steel) core, an insulating sheath, aluminum and copper shields, and an outer plastic layer. The copper core carries data waves that piggyback modified radio waves sent along unused cable TV channels.

The way these coaxial cables are deployed means that connections from each home converge at some point, typically at the entrance to your neighborhood or somewhere nearby. Your provider’s fiber network picks up from there unless you live in areas where your cable internet provider still needs to install fiber.

Cable internet technically has the same speed potential as fiber internet, but cable operators currently limit speeds due to how they distribute bandwidth across their networks. Cable is certainly faster and more reliable than DSL or satellite internet, and it’s available in more areas than fiber-to-the-home internet services.

The best cable internet plans

PlanSpeedPriceMore info
Spectrum Internet® UltraUp to 500 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)$69.99/mo. for 12 mos.*View Plan
Xfinity Gigabit Extra1,200 Mbps$70.00/mo.View Plan
Cox Internet Ultimate 500500 Mbps$79.99/mo.View Plan
Optimum 1 Gig Internet940 Mbps$65.00/mo.§#View Plan
PlanSpectrum Internet® Ultra
SpeedUp to 500 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)
Price$69.99/mo. for 12 mos.*
More infoView Plan
PlanXfinity Gigabit Extra
Speed1,200 Mbps
Price$70.00/mo.
More infoView Plan
PlanCox Internet Ultimate 500
Speed500 Mbps
Price$79.99/mo.
More infoView Plan
PlanOptimum 1 Gig Internet
Speed940 Mbps
Price$65.00/mo.§#
More infoView Plan

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

Want to find a cable internet provider in your area?

Cable internet is one of the best connections you can get. Enter your zip code below to see what’s available to you.

Best fiber internet providers

ProviderSpeedsPricesMore info
1,000–2,000 Mbps$70.00–$100.00/mo.*
100–5,000 Mbps$55.00–$180.00/mo.†#**‡‡§§
300–940 Mbps$39.99–$89.99/mo.
CenturyLink 200–940 Mbps$65.00/mo.§ View Plans for CenturyLink
Frontier 500–2,000 Mbps$49.99–$149.99/mo.||††##View Plans for Frontier
Optimum 300–5,000 Mbps$30.00–$165.00/mo.***†††View Plans for Optimum

What is fiber internet?

Fiber internet uses fiber-optic cables to connect your home or office to the internet. It offers superfast download and upload speeds, but you’ll be lucky if it’s available in your area.

Fiber uses LED or laser pulses to denote ones and zeroes—the basic units of data. The signals are received by a device on your end and interpreted as data—think Morse code but with light instead of sound.

A single fiber-optic cable typically has one optical core made of glass or plastic. Yellow single-mode cables have a thin core designed to send a precise beam (think laser pointer) across long distances up to 25 miles. Orange and aqua multimode cables have a larger core that is designed to bounce multiple beams across short distances up to 1,300 feet—great for data centers.

In all cases, the fragile optical core is wrapped in inwardly reflective cladding, which helps contain and carry the light signals regardless of bends or curves in the cable. Lightweight Kevlar is used in the cable’s buffer and jacket to protect the core.

However, you’ll often see pictures of one large cable containing up to 144 single-mode optical cores—each coated in a reflective cladding. Other large cables merely bundle single-mode or multimode (or a mix of both) cables together in a single waterproof sleeve and PVC jacket.

Overall, fiber’s design is simply 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 interference because there are no electrical signals in use. Plus, there’s no electrical equipment along the lines that can fail and stop your connection—it’s all passive networking.

In short, fiber internet is the newest and best type of wired internet available for homes. Unfortunately, its 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, which is why cable internet providers stick with coaxial cables versus installing all-new fiber lines for each customer.

The best fiber internet plans

PlanSpeedPriceMore info
AT&T Fiber Internet 1000940 Mbps$80.00/mo.*
Google Fiber 2 Gig2,000 Mbps$100.00/mo.
Verizon Internet 500/500500 Mbps$64.99/mo.View Plan
Frontier Fiber Gig940 Mbps$74.99/mo.§View Plan
Optimum 1 Gig Internet940 Mbps$65.00/mo.#**View Plans for Optimum

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. It’s more reliable, too, as it uses unpowered devices between you and the fiber provider, and the transmission isn’t affected by external interference like cable internet.

Want to find a fiber internet provider in your area?

Fiber is the best and fastest internet connection you can get to your home. Enter your zip code below to see if it’s available in your area.

Cable and fiber speed comparison

Fiber and cable can send and receive data at the same speed, believe it or not. In fact, popular cable internet service providers like Xfinity and Spectrum have hybrid networks: they’re largely fiber but keep the coax cable lines in place for the “last mile” so prices remain affordable to customers.

Cable internet doesn’t go above 1,200 Mbps in download speed because the non-fiber portion of the infrastructure was originally built for cable TV. Now it’s used for internet connectivity, too, but there’s only so much bandwidth cable providers can dedicate to each customer without expanding.

Currently, the fastest cable internet download speed is 1,200 from Xfinity, but its upload speed is far slower at 35 Mbps. Why? Because cable internet providers originally determined that customers needed more download speeds than upload, so they regulated the bandwidth accordingly. Spectrum seems to be changing that, offering 500 Mbps uploads with its Gig plan in some areas.

Fiber doesn’t have asymmetrical speeds: the upload speeds are generally identical to the download speeds. Xfinity’s hard-to-find and highly expensive fiber plan blows the cable plans out of the water, especially when it comes to upload bandwidth. It supports 6 Gbps (6,000 Mbps) both ways, which is one of the fastest home internet connections you can get. AT&T is the second fastest mainstream internet provider with a 5 Gbps connection, although you may find a local fiber service in your area with a 10 Gbps connection.

But most people do much more downloading than uploading, so asymmetric bandwidth isn’t often a deal-breaker. Still, 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.

How much speed do you really need?

Get a personalized internet speed recommendation from our How Much Speed Do You Need? Tool to see which internet speed you should aim for.

Cable vs. fiber: Price

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 GigabitFiber$65.00/mo.
AT&T Internet 1000Fiber$80.00/mo.
Google Fiber 1 GigFiber$70.00/mo.
Frontier Fiber GigFiber$74.99/mo.
Verizon Fios Internet 1 GigFiber$89.99/mo.
Cox GigablastCable$99.99/mo
Optimum 1 Gig InternetCable, fiber$65.00/mo.
Spectrum Internet® GigCable$89.99/mo. for 12 mos.
Xfinity Gigabit ExtraCable$70.00/mo.
WOW Internet 1 GigCable$64.99/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–$90 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 and fiber internet providers typically have other fast internet plans from 100 Mbps to 900 Mbps while fiber providers often do not.

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-to-the-home internet usually mandates a professional install because not many homes already have the necessary equipment. With this setup, you’ll need a fiber line from the street to your home and a device called an optical network terminal (ONT) that translates light signals into data your home network can use. Newer setups may have fiber or Ethernet jacks installed throughout your home while other installations can fall back on your old coaxial cables.

With cable internet, the translation work is done by a cable modem, which you can either rent from your internet provider or purchase for yourself. Providers also 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-to-the-home internet is extremely limited for now. 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 internet

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-to-the-home installations.

Read more about how DSL and cable compare.

Satellite internet

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 internet

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.

Which internet connections are the best?

Overall, cable and fiber are 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 more reliable than cable in most cases and has faster upload speeds. But if you don’t have access to fiber or you don’t need gigabit speeds, cable is certainly the best alternative.

FAQ about cable vs. fiber

Why is fiber internet faster than cable?

Technically, fiber is not faster than cable—light and electricity move at the same speed through or across a medium, like glass (fiber) and copper (cable). Both can reach up to 10,000 Mbps (10 Gbps), but cable’s infrastructure and the way cable providers distribute bandwidth currently limits the maximum download speed at 1,200 Mbps. Fiber-to-the-home is designed for symmetrical speeds, which makes it “faster” because you can upload more data in a second than you can with cable. Fiber is more reliable too because the network is passive—it doesn’t use any electrical equipment between you and the provider that can fail, like cable internet.

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.

Speed for your needs

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.

Sources

  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.