DSL or Fiber: Find the Right One for YouInternet access is crucial to modern life, but finding the right service can be complicated and confusing. There are lots of different options to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. While there is no perfect Internet plan for everyone, there are options to meet the needs of every lifestyle and every kind of user. To find the best option in your area, check out this side-by-side comparison of two popular types of Internet: DSL and fiber.
Network OverviewThe fundamentals of data transmission are the same for both Internet types: information is sent back and forth between the user and the Internet Service Provider (ISP) via a network of wires. However, the type of wires carrying the data and the way signals get transmitted differ from service to service.
DSLDSL stands for “Digital Subscriber Line,” which essentially means that the service uses copper phone lines to transmit electronic data between your computer and the wider Internet. There are two variants of DSL: ADSL (asymmetric) and SDSL (symmetric). ADSL — the most common connection type for residential setups — allows you to use your telephone line for both landline calls and Internet access, while SDSL uses the whole connection for Internet access, resulting in faster upload speeds at the expense of voice services. It is worth noting that DLS’s electronic signals can degrade as they travel, meaning that service quality may be affected by the distance between the ISP’s hub and the user-end termination point. Further, any electromagnetic interference or damage to phone line infrastructure may cause interruptions in the connection.
FiberFiber-optic Internet is currently one of the most advanced Internet services available in the United States. Instead of using copper cables to transmit data, fiber-optic cables are made up of ultra-thin glass or plastic strands that carry light instead of electricity. These light pulses transmit messages between your computer and the rest of the world. Because light can travel quickly through fiber-optic cables, fiber networks can carry substantial amounts of data over long distances without any service degradation. Additionally, because light signals are less affected by power surges, fiber connections don’t generally suffer from interference during electrical events.
Equipment SetupMany people tend to assume that all in-home Internet arrangements use the same equipment, regardless of connection type. However, because DSL delivers data via electronic signals while fiber makes use of light waves, the two connections actually require drastically different equipment setups and installation processes.
DSLDSL follows the model that most Internet users are used to: a modem/router combination that transmits and broadcasts Internet for both wired and wireless connections throughout the home. Further, because DSL has been around for so long, there are plenty of equipment options, ranging from standard ISP-provided devices to high-end customizable setups. And while it may be more convenient to use the equipment that comes with your service contract, you can save a few dollars each month by buying your own modem or router instead of renting one from your provider. When it comes to installation, most DSL connections run through already-placed telephone lines, meaning that the service is easy to install and likely won’t require professional help. In fact, many DSL ISPs even supply simple self-installation kits. If you’re hesitant to install your own service, or you have a unique wiring situation in your home, you can also opt for a professional installation — though you may be charged an additional fee.
FiberFiber-optic Internet connections do use routers, but that’s where the similarities with DSL end. Because data is delivered via light, traditional modems won’t work with fiber Internet. Instead, you’ll need to use a more complex setup — including an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) — to convert the light signals into usable digital data. Because fiber technology is still young, there aren’t many third-party equipment options, so you’ll have to rely on your fiber ISP to supply you with most of the equipment you need. If you do opt to use your own router, you’ll need to verify that it can handle the speed capacity that your fiber plan advertises. Due to the more complex installation process, fiber Internet is typically set up by a professional. Self-install kits are rare, and they are usually only available for homes that have previously had fiber installed.
Connection SpeedsThere are few things more frustrating than slow Internet speeds — from start-and-stop video streams to choppy Skype calls, download speed makes a huge difference in the way you use the Internet. Fortunately, DSL and fiber Internet each provide a wide range of speed tiers for different types of users.
DSLResidential DSL services don’t necessarily have the fastest speeds on the market, but most plans offer enough bandwidth for basic Internet usage. Advertised download speeds usually range from 1 Mbps to 20 Mbps, while upload speeds rarely get above 1 Mbps. As with most Internet connections, you likely won’t receive advertised speeds all the time — several different factors can affect the quality of your connection. For example, because DSL service quality deteriorates over long distances, Internet speeds may differ if your home is located far from your provider’s exchange point. DSL is also susceptible to traffic-based slowing during peak usage times, so streaming Netflix on a weekday evening may prove challenging.
FiberFiber-optic Internet is the fastest, most reliable Internet available in the United States. Speeds generally stay fairly stable, regardless of regional traffic or distance from the ISP. Additionally, most fiber Internet providers boast equal upload and download speeds, and some top-tier fiber plans can range up over 1 Gbps. Those high speeds translate into a lot of connectivity potential — families can stream HD video on multiple devices at once, make seamless video-calls, and play online games without any stuttering or slow buffering. Heavy uploaders also benefit from fiber-optic Internet’s equal uploading capacity, and Cloud storage and video uploading are much more effective than they would be on a slower connection.
Area AvailabilityNot all providers have access to the same networks. Some regions have limited Internet access in general, while others have one or two dominant providers that bear the Internet load of the entire area. As a result of these varied infrastructures, your Internet service options may vary quite a bit.
DSLDSL is available to roughly 90 percent of the United States, making it one of the most common types of Internet available. As DSL connections utilize phone lines to transmit data, most houses will already have the wiring installed and ready to go. Additionally, because DSL has been around for such a long time, there are a decent number of providers who offer Internet services. Unless you live in a very rural location with little infrastructure, you should be able to get some level of DSL connectivity in your home.
FiberLaying down fiber-optic cables can be prohibitively expensive for many ISPs, so only a small portion of the United States currently has access to fiber Internet. However, as more users demand faster speeds, fiber technology is starting to gain momentum. So while the United States may still be a far cry from fiber-savvy countries like South Korea, the overwhelming positive response toward fiber Internet will surely speed up technological advancement in the coming years.
Monthly CostsWhile download speeds and availability are important, price is generally the most important aspect of an Internet plan. Though total costs will ultimately vary depending on your location and plan, certain service types — usually the more high-tech or faster options — do tend to cost more than others.
DSLBecause DSL tends to be slower than other types of Internet, it also tends to be cheaper — there are several affordable plans that cost less than $50 per month. Compared to cable and fiber Internet, DSL is a great budget option. If you’re looking for even more affordable services, don’t forget to look at bundled packages. Combining your Internet service with a landline phone plan, for example, can also net you some extra savings.
FiberBecause fiber uses cutting-edge home Internet technology, it is one of the more expensive ways of getting online. If you’re looking for gigabit speeds, for instance, you should expect to pay around $100 or more per month, depending on your provider. Some fiber providers also offer TV or voice services, so it’s worth checking out the bundles available in your area.
The Take-AwayThere’s no objective answer as to which connection type is better than the other — everything boils down to your connectivity needs. If you have a lot of devices connected to the Internet, or if you do a lot of bandwidth-heavy processes at home, fiber-optic Internet will likely be worth the money. Those who prefer a low-budget option with wide availability and basic functionality will likely prefer a DSL plan. Whatever your preferences are, you deserve to have an Internet plan that caters to your specific usage patterns. Determine the speed you want and take a look at what’s available in your neighborhood. From the inexpensive DSL to popular cable, there’s an Internet option for any user’s preference. One of the newer and lesser known options is fiber Internet. Instead of running through a phone line or cable cord, fiber-optic Internet data is carried by light through glass fiber cables as thin as a human hair. Information can travel at lightning fast speeds over long distances, resulting in a high-speed connection. For those interested in fiber Internet, this article will provide a more in-depth look at fiber services and explore offerings from some of the bigger providers in the industry. g
The Benefits of Fiber InternetThe top benefit of fiber Internet is its high-speed capacity. Subscribers can reach download speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second, which is around 100 times faster than the standard 11.7 Mbps most U.S. consumers have. This makes fiber Internet ideal for subscribers who frequently stream HD movies, download large files, and play web-based games. If a user wanted to download a two-hour HD movie — a file size between 3 and 4.5 GB — with a 5 Mbps broadband Internet connection, for example, it would take 72 minutes to download the file. Even if a subscriber could reliably get speeds up to 20 Mbps, such a sizeable download would still take 60 minutes. With a 1 Gbps fiber connection, however, the file would be downloaded in just 25 seconds. Additionally, fiber Internet is extremely reliable — more so than DSL, satellite, and cable. This is largely because fiber Internet is what is called a “passive system” that doesn’t require power to be applied within the network. And since the cables are made of glass, the transmission fibers remain immune to most types of interference. With proper backup power for in-house electronics, a fiber subscriber could potentially stay connected during a storm with limited concern about lightning-related damage, unlike DSL and cable users.
The Disadvantages of Fiber InternetThe biggest sticking point of fiber Internet is the price. Fiber Internet is currently more expensive than most DSL, cable, or satellite Internet plans due to the fact that usable fiber infrastructures don’t widely exist. As fiber providers work to expand their networks, though, subscribers can expect costs to drop somewhat, as the setup is easier to maintain than other options. The second biggest drawback to fiber Internet is its availability. As of 2014, the United States has just 7.7 percent penetration of fiber-optic links, trailing behind more than a dozen other developed countries. Installing a new fiber-optic network is a time-consuming process for service providers, especially when so many consumers continue to rely on DSL and cable Internet. However, as more users recognize the advantages of fiber Internet and demand the service, more companies are planning to install fiber-optic networks to meet the demand.
The Best Networks for Fiber InternetCurrently, there are more than two dozen fiber or fiber-hybrid Internet providers available in various areas across the U.S. A few of the top players are AT&T, Frontier, and CenturyLink.
AT&T U-verseAT&T U-verse® provides TV, Internet, and Voice services to customers in more than a dozen cities across the United States. Through its AT&T GigaPower™ option, the company offers fiber Internet with speeds of up to 1 Gbps for around $110 per month for 12 months with a one-year term, though there are smaller plans available as well. In regard to bundles, the Double Play package includes fiber Internet and TV services for $120 per month for 36 months with a one-year term, while the Triple Play package includes TV, Internet, and Voice services for $150 per month for 36 months with a one-year term. As an added bonus to the company’s already solid offerings, AT&T is currently working to offer fiber Internet to 38 new cities.
FiOS from FrontierFiOS® from Frontier offers at least three fiber Internet packages to customers in more than 25 states. The most popular package is the Simply FiOS Broadband 50/50, which starts at $59.99 per month for upstream and downstream speeds of up to 50 Mbps. This plan also comes with a 3-Year Price Guarantee with No Contract. These fiber Internet speeds are slower than some other fiber providers, but the lack of a term contract on certain services is a big selling point. Additionally, FiOS customers receive free 24/7 tech support, Frontier Mail with eight additional email accounts, and 5 GB of storage on each account. For a bit of a discount, customers can bundle services with the FiOS Broadband 30/30 + Digital Voice Unlimited. The plan starts at $55.98 per month and includes Internet speeds of up to 30 Mbps and a phone line with unlimited local and nationwide calling. Another popular package, the FiOS Broadband 30/30 + FiOS Prime HD + Digital Phone Unlimited, starts at $89.99 per month, and it includes Internet speeds of up to 30 Mbps, 225 TV channels, and a phone line.
CenturyLink Fiber InternetCenturyLink offers fiber Internet connections in more than 10 major cities and is working on expanding its network even further. For residential services, packages start as low as $29.95 per month for speeds up to 40 Mbps with a one-year contract, depending on the area. Prices and speeds jump up significantly from there, with the next available tier running $69.95 per month for speeds up to 100 Mbps on a one-year contract. Gigabit speeds, where available, cost around $109.95 per month with a one-year agreement. Commercial businesses can also take advantage of the company’s high speeds — in fact, the company recently announced that its continued fiber network expansion will cater to business needs. Although fiber is the most expensive Internet option and isn’t available in all areas, the perks outweigh the cons for many regular Internet users. For those who require fast Internet for a household with multiple users or who want to avoid lags and possible power outages, fiber Internet is the best choice. Interested consumers should check to see if fiber Internet is available in their area and, if so, which providers offer the best packages. If fiber Internet isn’t available, fear not. Fiber is quickly expanding to new locations and, for now, there are plenty of cable, satellite, or DSL companies providing services in the interim. *Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas. Fiber-optic Internet is a relatively new technology, but it’s quickly grabbing its fair share of the market. While fiber connections aren’t widely available yet, the potential network speed and reliability make it a strong competitor. Fiber-optic cables are cheaper, weigh less, and are easier to maintain than standard cable lines, making this new technology a top pick for service providers as well. If you’re considering moving to fiber-optic Internet but aren’t sure what to expect from the installation, read on to learn more about the process and benefits.
Check out our guide to fiber optic modems:wireless router that can keep up with the speeds you’ve ordered. Most providers include necessary equipment in service installation packages, but it’s a good idea to verify the details beforehand. Some providers charge monthly rental fees for routers, for example, so you’ll want to verify which devices you can purchase yourself. The Process The first step is to ensure that your area is able to receive fiber-optic service. Any Internet Service Provider (ISP) should be able to give you this information and tell you what plans are available at your location. Once you verify that you can receive fiber-optic services, schedule your installation. Keep in mind that installation times and costs may differ depending on your home’s current arrangement. If your home already has an established fiber-optic connection, the setup will be much simpler. Homes without a current fiber network, however, will need to have new lines run to bring the fiber services in. Fiber-optic lines can be connected to your house either aerially — along existing telephone poles — or underground. While most aerial installations can be done the same day, an underground installation will require digging and may take a bit longer. Once the line is established, the technician will install your modem/terminal as the connection point for the fiber-optic cable. This terminal can vary in size, but most are roughly 7 inches high and 3 inches wide. It can be mounted in your house — usually in a garage or basement — or outdoors. As soon as the terminal is functional, you can then connect your wireless router and set up your Wi-Fi network. Your technician may also be able to run new Ethernet lines and ports through your walls, allowing greater direct network access. Be aware that, as drilling and digging may be required to get fiber-optic network installed, you’ll need to have a workspace cleared for your technician. If you are currently renting your home, it’s a good idea to obtain written consent from your landlord before getting started. The Payoff Overall, installing a fiber-optic network can be fairly painless, assuming that you’re near a provider’s network and have space for the equipment. Most Internet service providers offer a few different fiber-optic bundles and can professionally install the network for you. Fiber-optic Internet is one of the fastest connection types available, so if you need high speeds, low latency, and an overall reliable connection, the setup is definitely worth the effort. Check this list of fiber-optic providers to see what fiber plans are available near you. From DSL to cable to fiber, Internet subscribers are faced with seemingly endless choices when it comes to connection options. While DSL and cable are widely popular services, fiber Internet is unfamiliar territory for many. Despite its smaller user base, fiber-optic Internet actually offers many unique benefits compared to DSL and cable. If you’re considering switching to fiber Internet, this is the guide for you. What is fiber Internet and how does it work? Unlike DSL or cable, fiber Internet relies on optical cables that are composed of thousands of thin strands of glass that contain three parts — the core, the cladding, and the buffer coating. The cable transmits data via light signals that travel through the core, and the light is reflected back by the cladding, allowing signals to travel along the cable. What are the benefits of fiber Internet? The greatest advantage of fiber Internet is its speed. It’s the fastest Internet option available because its optical cables can quickly carry large amounts of data over long distances. Some fiber connections offer downstream speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is over 50 times faster than the national average of 18.2 Mbps. If you frequently download music, use Internet-based programs, or stream movies, you’ll quickly notice the difference between fiber Internet and cable or DSL. Another big benefit is that fiber Internet is very reliable. The system network doesn’t generate or carry electricity, meaning your fiber Internet connection is less likely to be interrupted during a power outage. As an added bonus, this also reduces risk of electrical or fire damage. Finally, fiber Internet is private. A dedicated network is installed in your home so you don’t have to share the Internet with any neighbors. This makes your Internet connection somewhat more secure from network traffic lags. What companies offer fiber Internet? There are more than two dozen fiber Internet providers, from the popular AT&T to local companies such as Cincinnati Bell. Google Fiber is one of the newer providers on the market and is working on expanding its network beyond the three locations it currently services. Is fiber Internet available in my area? In order for fiber Internet to work, the Internet provider has to build a network infrastructure in each geographic area it seeks to service. That’s why fiber Internet isn’t readily available across the country and is especially lacking in rural areas. For comparison, 89 percent of the U.S. has access to cable Internet providers, whereas only 25 percent can use fiber Internet. However, fiber Internet’s availability is quickly expanding into more markets. The best way to find out if fiber Internet is available in your area is to check with individual Internet providers. Many providers make it easy for you to check availability by looking up your ZIP code. What equipment do I need for fiber Internet? Fiber to the Home (FTTH) services — where fiber cables run from the provider to your residence, instead of terminating at a remote hub — do not require a separate modem. Instead, they use a terminal to translate light pulses into electric signals that your computer can recognize. You may still need a router to provide a wireless access point to your Internet connection. Some providers offer routers with their fiber packages, but if you want to purchase your own, you’ll need to make sure it’s capable of handling the speeds you’ve subscribed to. As a general rule, your fiber Internet provider will be able to supply some of this basic connection hardware, though you’ll want to confirm if there will be any associated costs beforehand. Should I switch to fiber Internet? Fiber Internet can save you hours of wasted time downloading large files, loading Internet-based programs, or streaming video or music. And as industry competition increases, prices are becoming more reasonable. If you want a reliable Internet connection that offers the fastest speeds available, fiber Internet is your best option. Start researching local fiber providers to make the switch. Are You Overpaying for Internet? Deciding how much to pay for Internet service can be tricky. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) charge varied amounts for similar Internet packages, making it difficult to know how to choose the right one. Many people assume that doing a simple price comparison will help them pick the best Internet plan, but there’s a lot more to it than simply comparing costs. What to Consider When Picking an ISP The most important thing to consider when choosing an Internet Service Provider is the speed-to-price ratio. There is no standardized cost for any given speed of Internet, so pricing can vary greatly. As important as speed is, however, it’s far from the only factor to consider. Before you make a decision, evaluate other aspects of each ISP. Do they have high customer service ratings? Is the company known for frequent outages? Are there any data limits or overage charges you should be prepared for? These are all important — and often underestimated — facets of Internet service. The last important item to consider before picking an ISP is your service needs. Are you a heavy Internet user who streams videos and music? If so, you may need a faster connection. Conversely, if you only use the Internet to check email and Facebook, you may be able to get by with less bandwidth and a lower monthly rate. Terms to Know Understanding some basics of Internet service packages will help make your decision easier. If nothing else, you should understand the terms used for different connection types, and you should be familiar with speed tier measurements. The four main Internet connections are satellite, DSL, cable, and fiber. Each type connects users to the Internet in a different way.
- Satellite Internet, as the name suggests, sends Internet data via satellites. To subscribe to this type of Internet, users must have a satellite receiver.
- DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is a type of connection that transmits data through telephone lines. Subscribers will have an individual connection point at their location.
- Cable Internet is transmitted through coaxial cables, like premium television channels. This option may not be available in rural locations. Cable users are typically linked to a main cable line that services a larger area.
- Fiber-optic Internet carries data as beams of light through fiber-optic cables. This option allows for incredibly high speeds, but fiber networks aren’t as widely available as cable or DSL.
Fiber: The AT&T U-verse network offers the best deal in this tier. The U-verse ELITE package offers 6 Mbps for $20 per month. AT&T is also one of the bigger companies on this list, with a long history of customer service and reliability. Frontier offers up to 6 Mbps for $34 per month with a 2-year contract, and that cost includes a wireless router. This is a great no-hassle plan, but that convenience comes with a higher price tag.
Cable: Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Mediacom all offer cable services at speeds under 10 Mbps. Time Warner comes in first, offering speeds up to 6 Mbps for $29 per month, while Cox offers speeds up to 5 Mbps for $34 per month. Mediacom also falls short — while pricing is not listed online until purchase, they are the only cable provider that enforces a data cap, allowing users only 150 GB of data per month.
DSL: Windstream is a solid DSL option, matching Time Warner Cable’s advertised speeds up to 6 Mbps for $29 per month.
Satellite: Satellite subscribers should look to HughesNet for their services. The company offers up to 5 Mbps for $39 per month with a 55 GB cap.10–30 Mbps This mid-range Internet service is great for moderate users. It’s perfect for surfing Facebook, watching YouTube videos, and streaming music. While service may slow down during large data transfers, these are not bad plans for the average consumer.
Fiber: In the fiber pool, AT&T U-verse again offers one of the best deals for the money in this service range. Its U-verse MAX TURBO service boasts up to 24 Mbps at $25 per month.
Cable: For cable subscribers, the XFINITY Performance 25 package offers up to 25 Mbps for $39 per month. XFINITY has also recently redoubled its efforts to give users a good support experience, meaning customer service will likely be excellent. Time Warner Cable offers its Extreme plan of up to 30 Mbps for $44 per month and its Turbo plan at up to 20 Mbps for $44 per month. Both of these plans are on the high end of the pricing spectrum for this bracket.
DSL: Windstream’s Enhanced Speed plan offers up to 25 Mbps for $39 per month, making it a strong and affordable DSL plan.
Satellite: If you’re looking to bundle with TV services, DISH might still be a good choice.30–100 Mbps This high-speed tier allows users to transfer large amounts of data and stream media with ease. This is great for avid media streamers or those who work from home. Almost every major high-speed Internet company offers a package in the 30–100 Mbps arena.
Fiber: AT&T offers a stellar fiber option. Its U-verse Internet 75 package is $35 per month for up to 75 Mbps. While still a solid deal, AT&T’s U-verse Internet plan would be a better option where available.
Cable: Charter Spectrum offers a cable plan comparable to AT&T’s options, providing up to 60 Mbps for $39 per month. Rounding out this strong group of midrange options, XFINITY charges $44 per month for up to 75 Mbps on its Performance plan. Cox’s Preferred plan runs subscribers $54 per month for up to 50 Mbps, a slightly inflated rate compared to top offers. Time Warner Cable also misses the mark in this speed bracket — its Ultimate plan is $64 per month for 50 Mbps.
DSL: CenturyLink is the DSL leader in this range, currently offering packages with one- and two-year contracts. its one-year package is $29 per month for up to 40 Mbps, which is a great deal considering that most companies charge $25 for half as much speed.100 Mbps and Up Anything above 100 Mbps is at the top end of Internet service. These plans are for users who absolutely can’t wait for their computer to catch up with their streaming needs. Plans like this also make large data transfers significantly easier.
Fiber: In the FiOS family, you can get up to 100 Mbps for $54 per month, up to 300 Mbps for $164 per month, or up to 500 Mbps for $264 per month. These high-speed plans are not for the faint of wallet, but will definitely provide the fastest Internet connections possible. Vivint offers up to 100 Mbps for $59 a month. This plan isn’t the fastest or cheapest, but the revolutionary technology makes it more easily accessible in some areas.
Cable: The XFINITY Blast! plan is one of the best cable deals in this speed bracket. You’ll be paying $49 per month to have up to 150 Mbps at your fingertips. Cox also offers moderately priced plans with tons of speed — its Premier plan offers up to 100 Mbps for $64, while its Ultimate plan is $84 per month for up to 150 Mbps. That’s not as cheap as the XFINITY Blast! plan, but it’s still reasonably priced for the amount of speed offered.
Cable plans step up considerably in price from there, but the amount of speed offered also doubles or triples in most cases. The XFINITY Extreme 250 plan runs $149 per month for up to 250 Mbps of Internet speed. Its XI Gigabit Pro plan offers up to 2,000 Mbps, but comes with a hefty price tag of $299 per month.Next Steps There’s a lot to consider when purchasing an Internet plan. Research your options before taking the leap. Take time to see what consumers in your area are saying about any given ISP. It’s also important to remember that most speeds listed for a plan are considered average maximum speeds — not guaranteed speeds. Don’t forget to ask if the plan has a speed cap or if it comes with any usage restrictions. These factors can greatly affect how your plan functions. If you feel like you’re getting a raw deal on your Internet service, there are plenty of other plans out there. Check out providers in your area to see if you can find a plan that’s right for you. *Pricing and speeds are current as of writing. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas. Once known for its railroads, Chattanooga, TN, now calls itself the Gig City. Huntsville, Alabama’s mayor Frank Battle wants his community to be the next Gig City. Though Battle mentioned Chattanooga as a model of what he wants his city to be, Huntsville won’t provide gigabit fiber through a municipal utility, as Chattanooga does. Instead, Huntsville has published a Request for Proposals (RFP) for potential vendors interested in designing and building a citywide fiber network with target speeds of 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps. Good For Huntsville. What’s it Matter to Peoria? Increased access to better Internet speeds is always good, but this story does offer something for residents of other communities debating adoption of a high-speed network. Battle said, “Electricity, water, sewer and roads are the infrastructure that has taken us to the 21st Century. Fiber is also an important infrastructure component.” And this is why Chattanooga’s history as a railroad town is worth mentioning: before electricity, paved roads, and sewer systems, it was the railroad that served as the infrastructure that marked a community’s potential for growth. Speculators lost and made fortunes guessing at the path of future rail lines, and buying real estate along those routes. A railroad running through town was a lure drawing industries in need of railway transport to the area, and those industries drew others, and so on. As Battle stated, roads and electricity served as a similar lure to industry and workers. Will fiber be the next big draw that brings industry and jobs to a community? Infrastructure is a Lure for Business To know whether gigabit fiber is the infrastructure of the 21st century, we have to know how big a draw it is for business. According to the FCC, Chattanooga’s investment in fiber played a direct role in bringing Volkswagen and Amazon facilities to the city, creating 3,700 jobs. Highland, IL also believes that its gig network will attract business. City Manager Joe Latham said that the ultimate goal behind the project was job creation. It looks as if the idea is working, too. This August, “The Guardian” wrote, “Money is flowing in. Chattanooga has gone from close to zero venture capital in 2009 to more than five organized funds with investable capital over $50m in 2014 … In large part the success is being driven by The Gig.” If analysis from “The Guardian” is correct, then municipal governments have a real interest in making sure that their communities become gig cities. If the gig can bring businesses, jobs, and tax revenue, then there’s not a mayor in the country who’s going to think of fiber as a frivolous luxury, something nice to have but entirely unnecessary. With these opportunities in mind, it seems safe to say that high-speed Internet will be the infrastructure American cities need for the next century. Your Daily Dose of Fiber Fiber is as important for people as it is for business. Odds are you’re not going to pack up and move across the country just so you can get gigabit fiber Internet. But when you are relocating, and you find that of two nearby communities, only one has fiber, which looks more attractive? The Internet speeds are a luxury in some ways, but they also help define a community’s commitment to infrastructure as a whole. Gigabit-equipped schools help students get more done and learn better. HighSpeedInternet.com even showed a link between ACT test scores and Internet speeds. Living In a Gig City Chattanooga’s character and energy has visibly changed for the better since the fiber network came online. I’d love to tell you what it’s like living with the gig, but as someone who lives just outside the service area, I’m as eager as you are for the service to expand to where I live. Hmm. Maybe this time I should be the one entering my zip code below to find better service in my area. How happy are you with your connection? Image by Luis Parravicini/Flickr [zipfinder] With apologies to Dr. Evil, I have one simple request: Internet with frickin’ lasers. Lasers are cool. The Internet is cool. Combining the two sounds like one of the best ideas since peanut butter and jelly. But, until recently, the problem was that practical industrial lasers have been more sci-fi than not. Now, though, the technology is real. The military is already using a laser communication system, and like all military projects, it has an appropriate acronym: the Enhanced Air Ground Lasercom System (EAGLS). Aoptix, the company that designed EAGLS, claims its laser Internet technology has the potential for 2-4 Gbps speeds, double to quadruple the current fastest speeds available in this country. Technically, Aoptix wants to deliver Internet via laser and radio, as the two technologies have to work literally side-by-side. Each technology is susceptible to different forms of weather interference so together they provide redundancy. Raindrops can affect radio, but not lasers, and fog can affect lasers, but not radio. The company says their dual transmitters can reliably send data up to 10 kilometers between relay towers already built and in place. And in case you’re wondering, the laser operates on a non-visible portion of the light spectrum, so you won’t have to put up with looking into the Eye of Sauron to get a fast connection. Here’s how the laser portion of the transmission works: Sure It’s Cool, But Why This Particular Wireless Tech? Like other companies with fiber network alternatives, Aoptix sees infrastructure cost savings as the primary benefit of wireless networks over fiber. There aren’t miles and miles of trenches to dig or fiber to lay. EAGLS has proven the technology works, and the fact that it can work with existing infrastructure means that implementing the laser/radio broadband network should be very inexpensive. Three U.S. carriers are currently in talks with Aoptix, and the system is already in use with Car-Sa, an Internet provider in Mexico. Aoptix has even installed a laser/radio link between NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange, where an even slightly faster connection can result in increased profits for stock market traders. Unlike other fiber alternatives that require some infrastructure cost, the fact that Aoptix uses existing towers to relay their signals means that this could be a great way to bring high-speed Internet access to rural areas that already have radio and cell towers. Installation should require little more than putting transmitter relays on those towers. It’s Okay to Geek Out a Bit With these real-world trials already under way, it shouldn’t take long to determine whether lasers are the answer to the wireless broadband question. But take a step back, and forget the science. Forget the infrastructure. We live in a world where nothing amazes us anymore, and there’s a company installing lasers that will let us interact and share content faster than ever. Sure, it’s always smart to be a bit skeptical over promises of better mousetraps, sometimes it’s hard not to get excited. Especially when lasers are involved. Commercial Internet by laser isn’t available quite yet, but if you can’t wait until it is, enter your zip code below to see high-speed plans that are available in your area. Image by Andrew Adams/Flickr [zipfinder]