What Is Fiber Internet & How Does it Stack Against Cable and DSL?

What is fiber internet? It is the fastest option for internet services, but what is it? How does it work? I will be answering all of these questions below, so read on! If you are looking to get fiber for your internet service then check out our reviews of internet providers.

What Is Fiber Internet


So, you want to know, just what is fiber internet or what is fiber optic internet? Fiber is short for Fiber-Optic Cables, so they are the same thing. They are extremely thin strands of glass or plastic, also called fibers, hence the name, that transmit data over great distances using pulses of light. They provide the fastest internet speeds on the market and the highest quality of service available of any kind of internet service.


Fiber serves as the basis for all modern internet systems. It connects ISPs to the Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) which is, essentially, the physical home of the internet. Most ISPs will connect a user’s home to their internet services using coaxial cabling, which is the proper name for those copper wires we were talking about, and if someone has fiber internet, it means they are connected using fiber as well.

How Does Fiber Internet Work?

Most other internet services transmit data through electrical current over copper wiring, but the speed of electricity isn’t even comparable to the speed of light, which is what fiber operates at.

Cable and Fiber both use binary code, which is the language of computers. This combination of off and on signals, or zeroes and ones, can be used to represent more complex ideas. For instance, letters are represented by combinations of 8 ones and zeroes, saying “Hi” would look like this in binary code: 01001000 01101001.

This binary code is used to represent information and is transferred at light speed across these cables from point to point.

What Makes Fiber Internet so Fast?


The reason fiber optic internet is fast is because it transmits data using light, which moves faster than anything else we know of in the universe. But how fast data is transmitted is not the whole story for what determines the speeds you can get for your internet connection.


The speed of your internet connection depends on the amount of data your connection type can handle. A copper wire connection used for both cable internet and DSL internet services is limited in how much data it can transmit. This is because of the physical limitations of copper and electricity. 


Those copper wires were originally designed to transmit the sound of your voice over distances before the internet was even thought of and using them for the internet is more of an accidental feature than something that they were intended for.

Fiber, on the other hand, was created specifically for sharing information over great distances at speeds much higher than copper and electricity can match. Transmitting light through glass or plastic as a way to transmit data is capable of transmitting so much more data which means the bandwidth capacity is much higher and therefore you can receive more data to your fiber optic modem in your home.

What Makes Fiber Internet so Fast?

The reason fiber optic internet is fast is because it transmits data using light, which moves faster than anything else we know of in the universe. But how fast data is transmitted is not the whole story for what determines the speeds you can get for your internet connection.

The speed of your internet connection depends on the amount of data your connection type can handle. A copper wire connection used for both cable internet and DSL internet services is limited in how much data it can transmit. This is because of the physical limitations of copper and electricity. 

Those copper wires were originally designed to transmit the sound of your voice over distances before the internet was even thought of and using them for the internet is more of an accidental feature than something that they were intended for.

Fiber, on the other hand, was created specifically for sharing information over great distances at speeds much higher than copper and electricity can match. Transmitting light through glass or plastic as a way to transmit data is capable of transmitting so much more data which means the bandwidth capacity is much higher and therefore you can receive more data to your fiber optic modem in your home.

How Is Fiber Internet Better Than Cable or DSL?


The primary way that fiber is better than cable or DSL is because of its infrastructure. As I stated earlier, light moves much faster through glass and plastic than electricity can move through copper which makes it a much better option for data transmission. In terms of speed, we had already covered "Is ethernet faster than WiFi?" earlier.

Fiber Is Better for Carrying Information Long Distances

Electrical signals can only travel so far before they start to weaken and you lose part of the data they are transmitting. This requires that you renew the signal after a certain amount of distance to keep the signal strong and your data intact. This is done through cable links that are placed, at most, about 328 feet away from the last. That is the distance an electrical signal can travel over copper before it starts to weaken.

In comparison, a fiber optic cable can transmit data a little more than 24 miles before the signal strength begins to decline. A not inconsiderable difference, I think. This means that fiber is a much better choice for long-distance communication because the data signal doesn’t have to be renewed as frequently and therefore can travel further distances with less complicated infrastructure.

Fiber Isn’t Affected by Electrical or Radio Interference

Copper conducts electricity very well, better than most other materials, but due to the way coaxial cable functions it is not a closed system, which means other signals can interrupt the data being transmitted along them, primarily electromagnetic signals and radio waves.

Fiber optics cable doesn’t have this problem because it is hardened against interference. This results in a more secure connection and better-protected data over any distance.

Fiber Is Less Prone to Damage and Wear and Tear

Fiber cables are much more durable than their copper counterparts. They can withstand anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds of pressure before being damaged, whereas copper cabling can only support about 25 pounds before it starts to suffer.

Not to mention, copper is a great conductor in general, not just for electricity, which makes it very susceptible to heat from the environment like from fires and rough impacts. Copper is especially soft which makes it malleable. This is a great quality for many uses of copper, but for the purposes of an internet connection, this makes it weak and more likely to be damaged. Plastic, on the other hand, is very flexible but retains its shape, so it can bend if it has to but is more likely to return to a straight line without taking any damage from the bend.

Downsides of Fiber Internet


The biggest downside of a fiber internet connection is that it is very expensive. The quality of a fiber optics internet connection comes at a much greater cost, so much so that it may be prohibitive for many users.


Unfortunately, there is no way to reduce that cost, it depends entirely on who your internet service provider is and what they offer for deals. But, no matter what they offer, you are going to be paying more for fiber than you would for a standard coaxial cable connection or DSL connection.

There are other downsides as well, including the fact that paying for too much speed is pointless, it having a very limited availability that depends on your location, and the fact that getting a new fiber connection will require the building of new infrastructure.

You Might Not Need That Much Speed

There isn’t much point in paying for internet speeds you don’t need and very few people are going to need the speeds that fiber will provide for casual use. Businesses will make heavy use of fiber connections due to the massive number of users likely to be operating on a single connection, but at home, you are unlikely to have more than 10 users on your internet at any one time which means 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps) is massive overkill.

Most users will need anywhere from 15 to 100 Mbps for casual use. If you consume data as if it were water, like me, then you would benefit from a higher speed like 200 Mbps, but the only reason to go higher than that is if you are making a career out of streaming online or you have multiple users that are all actively participating in very internet intensive activities for several hours a day.

Fiber is just too fast for most home uses, which makes it inefficient to purchase unless you fall into one of the earlier stated categories or you are deciding to pay more now to future proof for later.

Fiber Internet Has Limited Availability

Fiber is extremely limited. Due to how new the technology is and how expensive the infrastructure is to set up, it is only available to about 25% of Americans which is a lot lower than the 90% availability of cable and DSL.

Most internet providers don't offer fiber as an option because it is expensive to set up and maintain, but the big-name internet companies do offer fiber in very specific locations. These are usually large cities that house a massive quantity of people. The chances of seeing fiber internet as an option in rural areas is so unlikely as to be not worth searching for.

That said, cable and DSL are available in many areas but most of those areas can’t match even the slowest of speeds that fiber can support and absolutely none of them can match the highest speeds of fiber, no matter where you are.

New Fiber Lines Require New Infrastructure

The reason cable and DSL internet options are so prevalent is because they use existing infrastructure that has been in use for decades. There was a time when almost everyone had a landline in their homes which means almost every home in the nation has a copper wire connection to the telephone system whether they use it or not. 

I am willing to bet that if you check every room of your home you will find a phone jack somewhere inside and if you don’t it is extremely cheap to have one installed and connected to the existing network.

Because this network is already here and has been in use for so long, it is very cheap to just connect to it, maybe upgrade it every once in a while, and otherwise maintain it to provide service to new clients all over the nation.

Many people also have cable connections in their home for their television services. This is the same connection that is used for cable internet service, which means it is a simple matter of upgrading it to support an internet connection.

Is Fiber Internet Right for Me?

Fiber is always better than any other option, so if it is available in your area and you can afford it then it is a definite no-brainer to choose it as your internet service option. That said, not everyone is rolling in dough and can afford the expense of shelling out exorbitant amounts of cash just to get a fiber internet connection. 


If you are an avid gamer or a binge-watcher of streamed videos then you are an ideal customer for fiber internet and should consider it. 


This also goes for all professions that directly depend on the internet for a living. 

If you have a lot of people on your internet connection that have similar interests then it is almost required that you get a fiber connection or a very expensive cable option. 


If you rarely game or stream video then fiber optic speed isn’t for you. If you don’t often participate in data-intense internet activities then you likely wouldn’t notice the difference between 100 Mbps and 1,000 Mbps so there isn’t much point in wasting your money on a faster connection that you wouldn’t be using to its fullest potential.


ISPs have a bad habit of not providing the exact speeds that they guarantee in their advertisements, so it is a good idea to get slightly more speed than you think you will use, but it doesn’t have to be super-fast if you are going to need super-fast speeds. Regardless of your browser you'll be be able to get solid internet performance.


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