Fiber Optic vs Cable

Close view of a coaxial cable male connection.

If you read our first post on how fiber-optic internet works, you now know that fiber functions by transmitting data as bursts of light through glass fibers that are bundled together inside a protected cable. The data signal is translated into usable information by a photoelectric cell at the receiving end to complete the internet connection.

While this high-tech, futuristic technology may seem exciting, it’s definitely not the only internet option out there. One of fiber internet’s biggest competitors is copper cable internet.

Want to know more about how the two technologies stack up? This second segment in our four-part series looks at the benefits of fiber optic vs. cable internet in terms of speed, reliability, availability, and economy.

How Does Coaxial Cable Internet Work?

Cable internet works similarly to fiber-optic internet, though the method of transmission differs. Copper cable has been in use for decades, delivering television to households across the country. Cable internet uses those same copper wire pathways and a modem to send and receive data as electrical signals.

While cable internet doesn’t have the exact same speed capacity or symmetrical upload speeds and download speeds like fiber often does, its wide availability and affordable pricing make it a popular internet option.

Comparing Fiber Optic vs. Cable Internet

If you’re wondering whether fiber or cable internet are right for you, here’s a quick breakdown of how both services line up across a few main areas of consideration.

Are There Differences in Speed?

At their peak, cable internet download speeds range up to about 300 megabits per second (Mbps), and upload speeds fall much lower than that. However, cable internet shares bandwidth among all customers within the same service area, so users may see a reduction in speed during busy hours.

The laws of physics mean that fiber-optic cable wins hands-down in terms of speed. Download speeds for fiber-optic internet can clock in up to 1,000 Mbps, with upload speeds that far surpass those of cable. Although fiber-optic cables don’t send data at the speed of light, they are only about one-third slower. Comparatively, the electrons in copper wire travel much slower than the light particles in fiber.

In terms of internet bandwidth, single-mode fiber is unlimited while multi-mode optical fiber has a more limited capacity to carry information. But both single-mode or multi-mode optical fiber have a clear advantage over copper cable when it comes to speed and bandwidth.

What does all that mean? Simply that the faster speeds afforded by fiber mean it’s easier and smoother to perform data-heavy tasks like video streaming or file uploading. However, for moderate data use, cable internet is still a solid option.

Which Internet Medium Is More Reliable?

Cable internet is a reliable medium that doesn’t drop out during bad weather like satellite communications. Copper wire is susceptible to electromagnetic interference and variations in temperature, though, which means customers might experience interruptions or outages in their internet.

Since glass doesn’t conduct electricity, optical fiber isn’t susceptible to those issues. Lightning damage or interruptions from high-voltage electrical equipment won’t disrupt internet connections transmitting via fiber-optic cabling.

Furthermore, while coaxial cable internet connection can lose speed and quality over long distances, fiber optic cable still provides speedy, reliable transmission of data even over great lengths

Are They Equally Available Everywhere?

Copper cable has been a communications standard for decades, and with 89% coverage nationally, it has an edge in terms of internet availability.

Access to fiber-optic internet service, on the other hand, is growing rapidly. As availability and installation of new light-carrying fiber optic cabling expands to more areas, it is worthwhile to check what is available in your area.

What’s the Most Economic Choice?

Because copper cable networks already cover a good portion of the United States, it’s generally easy to set up a reliable internet connection that transmits internet data at an acceptable speed for an affordable monthly price. Plans vary widely, but you can find offerings under $100 in most areas.

Fiber optic internet plans can cost slightly more and possibly additional installation costs to support equipment but you will gain higher reliability and speed.

What’s the Future of Internet Connectivity?

There are multiple players in the marketplace for internet service. The industry is moving in the direction of internet technology that offers high speeds and increased reliability like fiber optics. Cable can provide adequate speed for standard internet usage, but it may be worth upgrading if fiber is available near you.

Watch for the next two articles in this series to learn more about fiber optic vs. wireless internet and fiber optic vs. DSL internet. Once you’ve done the research, you can check out Frontier Business internet services in your area to select which will best meet your needs. 

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