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 Internet

The 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 Internet

The 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 Internet

Currently, 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-verse

AT&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 Frontier

FiOS® 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 Internet

CenturyLink 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. Online gaming is one of the most demanding activities that your Internet connection can experience. On a par with streaming video, gameplay is impacted by every possible step from you to the server. That’s not a big problem if you’re playing turn-based and / or low resolution games, but most of today’s games are fast-paced and graphics-intensive — and a troubled connection can spell doom for you and your teammates.  

The Main Focus

The two most important ISP issues are bandwidth and latency. Bandwidth is the well-known “speed” rating that your ISP tempts you with. Try to get used to NOT thinking of bandwidth as speed, but as capacity (after all, we don’t call it “fastband”, we call it broadband). Bandwidth measures how much data can be sent “down the pipe” at once. The difference between a fiber ISP and cable / DSL is the difference between a fireman’s hose and a cocktail straw. All things being equal, higher bandwidth is better. Cable networks can be subject to congestion when too many people are online at once. DSL is actually ADSL, and the A stands for “asynchronous”, meaning that your upload bandwidth is MUCH smaller than your download (and remember, gaming is a two-way street). Both types rely on copper wire, which is subject to electromagnetic disturbance, corrosion, and other kinds of signal degradation to which fiber is immune. And in all cases, there will be conditions that are almost completely out of your control, such as the number of junctions, nodes, and “hops” along the way. Bandwidth is very important to gaming, especially where high-res graphics are concerned, but it’s not the whole story by a long shot. It’s very possible to get improved performance by switching from a higher-bandwidth ISP to a “cleaner” and more direct lower-bandwidth connection.  

Latency’s Gaming Impact

Gamers depend just as much — maybe more — on latency. Unlike bandwidth, latency really is speed. It’s a measure of the delay that you experience between hitting a button and getting a response. More technically speaking (at least relatively), it’s the time that it takes for the signal to travel from your home to the server. It’s measured in milliseconds, but don’t be fooled — it doesn’t really take too many milliseconds before you start to “feel” a certain sluggishness in response. When it’s enough to affect gameplay for you and your teammates, it’s called “lag.” Typically, the weakest link in the lag chain slows down the experience for everyone around them — and you know what happens to the weakest link. Goodbye. This latency is why satellite ISPs are virtually useless for gaming despite offering more than enough bandwidth. Each trip from you to the server has to travel an average of 70,000km (44,000 miles) from you to the satellite in orbit, back down to the ISP’s receiver, and from there to the game host server — and then back to you along the same route. And that’s not even counting the typically inefficient coaxial cable from your PC to the dish. Satellite ISP generally off at least 500 milliseconds of latency, which is at least half a second between pressing a button and getting the intended response. And at least another half a second before you hear the dismayed cries of your teammates.  

It May Not Be Your ISP’s Fault

Before you point your finger at the ISP, examine your non-Internet connections. Traveling through your controls and into your PC, your gaming encounters bandwidth barriers and processing bottlenecks from the motherboard, CPU, GPU, storage drives, memory sticks, and the connections to your USB and Ethernet ports. Plus, the path to your modem and router, especially with a wireless network, can add unnecessary obstacles in getting the most from your Internet connection. And that’s not even considering the countless software and operating system variables. Bottom line: before you begin to blame your ISP for poor gaming performance, make sure that your hardware and software is up to snuff. A thorough guide is beyond the scope of this article, but one extremely helpful resource that I’ve found is Tweak, which has many helpful guides to game-specific as well as system-wide optimizations.  

Satellite Versus Dial-Up

You’re actually better off with dial-up than you are with satellite. A good dial-up connection can offer an average of 150ms latency, which is frankly still horrible for gaming but can work under certain circumstances. There’s still a healthy contingent of online players who prefer games such as Ultima Online and the original EverQuest, not to mention less graphically-intensive games from the earlier days of MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons, what we old-timers used to call MMORPGSs). Newer casual games or turn-based games (such as Atlantica Online or the quirky Kingdom of Loathing) have no significant latency requirement, so dial-up or even satellite may be sufficient. But for serious gameplay, you’ll be looking at broadband: cable, DSL, and fiber. Cable and DSL are, as usual, broadly comparable, both offering ideal-world latencies in the 10-20 millisecond range. For once, fiber doesn’t provide a clear benefit; latency in fiber is comparable to DSL and cable. “But doesn’t it travel at the speed of light?” you ask. Well, yes… but it also travels with a little less “concentration” or “focus” than electrical.signals over copper wire, due to the nature of light refraction within the fiber “wire.” Not to mention that a fiber signal usually has to jump to good old copper wire for that “last mile” to your PC.  

Ask The Audience

My advice is to listen to the reviews and anecdotal experiences of others who have tried broadband solutions in your local area, which is why (shameless self-promotion to follow) a site like ours is so valuable. I hate to take the easy way out, but there really is no substitute for personally trying the different ISPs in your area to see which one provides the best gaming experience. Between DSL, cable, and fiber, you’re certain to find the best combination of high bandwidth and low latency that will eliminate the lag, keeping you (and your teammates) playing at peak performance levels.
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