Find the Right Internet Connection: Cable Internet vs. Fiber
by Barton Strawn | Mar 31, 2016 | Provider Comparisons (Versus)
Cable Internet v. Fiber Internet
It’s great to have choices; but the more options you have, the more difficult it can be to make a decision. When it comes to the Internet, especially, the wide variety of service types and providers can make it hard to know if one kind of connection is better than another.
Whether you’re getting Internet service for your home or your business, you need a connection that’s fast, reliable, and affordable. To help you make the best Internet choice for your unique needs, we’re breaking down two of the most popular types of Internet: cable and fiber-optic.
Unlike dial-up connections, cable and fiber Internet are both considered “always on” services, meaning that there’s a constant open link to the provider’s service hub. That’s where the similarities end, though, as the network makeups differ significantly between the two connection types.
Cable Internet is offered through coaxial cable networks, just like cable TV services
. Subscribers can usually choose between purchasing cable Internet as a stand-alone product or bundling it with other services, including TV, phone, and even security monitoring, from the same company.
Additionally, cable Internet connections are shared among all subscribers within a specified service area — there’s very rarely a designated connection. This can make for some congestion during high-use periods.
Fiber Internet uses fiber-optic cables
to deliver Internet data. Information is carried via modulated light along a thin glass strand. Each of these lightweight fibers can be as small as a single human hair, and they’re able to deliver digital information over extremely long distances.
Most fiber connections, regardless of whether they terminate at a node in the neighborhood or directly in your home, see significantly less traffic-caused slowing during busy times of day. If you live in a particularly crowded area, fiber will likely be more consistent.
Equipment and Installation
Both cable and fiber connections rely on a network of wires or fibers to deliver data between subscribers and providers. But the in-home equipment used to transmit that data — and the installation process for that equipment — varies quite a bit.
Cable Internet requires a modem that subscribers can lease from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) or purchase on their own. Most cable Internet comes with specific requirements for modems, so consumers should check for compatibility before buying their own device. The same goes for routers.
In terms of installation, cable customers may have the option to set up their own connection using a self-installation kit provided by the cable company. If a house or apartment hasn’t had cable before, however, the cable company will probably need to set up a time to have the cable line run and installed by a professional. In general, cable installations are usually pretty straightforward and shouldn’t require a large investment of either time or money. Some providers even offer discounts on installation for new customers.
Fiber connections also require a modem of sorts, but instead of translating electric signals into readable computer data as a traditional modem does, a fiber modem works to translate light signals into readable information. Because fiber technology is newer and more complex than cable technology, your provider will likely require you to rent or purchase a service-specific modem with your fiber plan.
When it comes to installation, most fiber Internet connections are set up by a professional. Some companies do offer self-installation options, but it may impact the terms of the service contract. If a new fiber connection doesn’t need to be installed, the setup should be fairly simple. However, if there’s no existing infrastructure at your home or business, it can take up to several weeks for the provider to run lines and install the necessary wiring.
Download Speeds and Usage
When it comes to an Internet connection, speed is usually a top priority. Depending on how many people and devices are using the Internet connection, fast speeds can be a necessity. Fortunately, both cable and fiber connections offer download speeds that are fast enough to accommodate the Internet needs of an average household or small business.
Cable Internet providers offer speeds that range from 20 Mbps to 250 Mbps. Those speeds are fast enough to keep an average home of casual Internet users online around the clock. However, a household of four that wants to be able to surf the Internet, update social media, stream videos, and play online games all at once should look for packages at the higher end of those speeds.
Even though cable Internet is fast, fiber is usually faster. Users can get download speeds ranging from 150 to 1000 Mbps from fiber-optic Internet. Upload speeds are faster too — usually 65 to 100 Mbps. With speeds that fast, you could stream HD content in multiple rooms at the same time, including online games and movies.
Availability and Provider Options
It might seem like the Internet is everywhere, but that’s not actually the case
. There are still areas across the country with limited access to Internet providers and connections. Depending on where you’re located — i.e., if a given service isn’t available in your area — limited accessibility may eliminate one service option entirely.
Fortunately, cable Internet is one of the most widely accessible Internet options. If your home or business can receive cable TV, you can probably also access cable Internet. You may be somewhat limited in terms of which providers actually offer services to your residence or business, as the current cable industry has effectively drawn up turf boundaries from area to area. Despite this lack of options, though, as long as you live in a populated, non-rural locale, you’ll likely be able to find a plan that meets your basic connectivity needs.
Fiber is becoming more prevalent, but it isn’t currently available in as many places as cable. Because fiber Internet requires the installation of fiber-optic cables, its reach will remain limited until new lines are put in. Luckily, many more providers are exploring fiber offerings as demand for fast speeds grows. Before setting your heart on fiber Internet, though, be sure to find out if fiber-optic Internet is available in your area.
Safety and Reliability
Both cable and fiber Internet options provide more reliability than other options out there — satellite Internet can be fickle about equipment angle, and dial-up connections aren’t functional unless there’s an accessible phone line. However, there are some small differences in terms of overall safety and reliability between the two service types.
In general, cable Internet service is considered highly reliable. Just like with cable television, sometimes there are outages due to technical problems or weather interference, but issues are fairly limited. Because of the possibility of an outage, businesses that rely on their Internet connection to operate should have a backup in place just in case. Additionally, there is some risk of surges during electrical storms, as coaxial cable is a good electrical conductor.
Fiber Internet is just as reliable as cable, with one distinct difference: Fiber-optic Internet is a passive system, which means it doesn’t operate using electric signals. That means that outages are less likely. In addition, because the conductor is glass, it doesn’t generate electricity. Thus, fiber is less vulnerable to interference from high-voltage power lines or equipment, and subscribers can enjoy an added layer of protection against damage from power surges.
Price and Bundling
No matter what bells and whistles an Internet plan promises, money is often the ultimate deciding factor when it comes time to pick a package. Shrewd homeowners and business managers need to provide the best Internet connection without blowing the budget out of the water. While pricing for both cable and fiber Internet varies based on location and the plan selected, there are some general distinctions you can expect.
Most homes and businesses can find cable Internet packages ranging from around $20 to as much as $100, depending on the speeds and any other promotions or offers. As you’re looking at prices, don’t forget to find out about installation fees, as those can add to your upfront costs. Equipment rentals — including modems, routers, and set-top boxes, where applicable — can also run the monthly payment up. Faster speeds tend to cost more, and contract lengths can make a difference as well.
In general, cable is usually an affordable option that can meet the requirements of nearly any budget, but consumers can save even more depending on if their selected plan is bundled with TV or phone packages. Bundles usually end up saving money, so they’re worth looking into.
Because faster speeds means a bigger bill, it’s no surprise that fiber-optic Internet — with its higher speed capacities — is usually more expensive than cable. Most fiber Internet plans start around $50, though some stand-alone fiber Internet plans can top out over $100 per month. In addition, fiber Internet usually requires extensive installation, which adds to the overall price you’ll pay.
Fiber Internet providers also offer contracts and introductory specials and discounts for customers. It may be worthwhile to commit to a two-year contract if it keeps your monthly bill from increasing. In addition, look for promotions that may reduce or completely eliminate the installation and activation fees. Bundles, though often less extensive than cable bundling options, do exist and can help cut costs further.
After weighing the benefits and drawbacks of both options, it’s time to make a decision. Determine what’s most important to you, figure out what kinds of speeds make sense
for your household or business, and start shopping for providers
in your area today.