Fiber Optic vs. Cable Internet: What’s the Difference?

by Aeyne Schriber on July 8, 2011 in Cable Internet,Fiber Optic

Updated: 22 December, 2014

Fiber optic and cable Internet are the two main technologies that are used to establish a high speed Internet connection. But, what is the difference between these two types of connections?

Current and emerging technologies require faster Internet connections that help users to run multimedia applications, VoIP, and other applications that cannot function properly without a high speed Internet connection. For this reason, there are a variety of different types of Internet connections that have been developed to support modern technologies, including fiber optic and cable Internet access.

Fiber optic and cable Internet connections are more widely available than they have been in the past. This is especially true of cable connections that have increased in availability through companies such as Time Warner, Comcast, and others. However, if you are lucky enough to be located in an area where both fiber optic and cable Internet connectivity is available, it is important to understand the difference before you subscribe to the Internet service.

Deciding which Internet connection is best should be determined according to the applications you use, the number of people accessing the connection simultaneously, and other applications designed solely for use with a high speed Internet connection. The following information will provide you with an overview of each type of connection, along with a comparison to help you compare and contrast and gain a better understanding of these two different types of connectivity.

Fiber Optic Internet: What is it and How Does It Work?

Although fiber optic functions through the use of a cable, the contents inside the cable are what differentiate it from cable Internet. Fiber optic consists of glass cables which is the reason it is also referred to as an optical cable. Fiber optic cables operate by dispersing pulses of light through the glass cables which are encased in weather resistant material to protect the delicate components inside the cable.

Depending upon the type of glass that is used during cable construction, the speed of the connection may fluctuate, but still produces a very fast connection speed. The typical speed for a fiber optic Internet connection will range between 150 Mbps (megabits per second) and 500 Mbps. In comparison with cable Internet which typically provides data transfer speeds at anywhere from 5Mbps ranging to 25 Mbps, fiber optic Internet is definitely the faster of the two connections.

Depending upon the area in which you live, fiber optic availability may vary along with the cost. As you search for a fiber optic Internet connection, keep in mind that Internet Service Providers always advertise on the high end of the actual Internet speed you will receive when you connect to the Internet. The actual speed has many variables that come into play, such as your distance from the main transfer station, the number of other users who are sharing the connection with you, and the time of day you typically connect to the Internet.

A fiber optic Internet connection has many advantages over cable Internet. Because a fiber optic cable is smaller and lightweight, it is a great alternative to a cable connection. It is also capable of transmitting data faster and more efficiently over long distances.

Additionally, the glass is incapable of conducting electricity which means the fiber optic connection is less susceptible to interference. This means that you will still get superior performance since the glass can come in contact with power lines, electrical components, and even lightning without connection interference.

In terms of maintenance, fiber optic cables are not as costly to maintain as cable Internet, so the service sometimes costs less. The only drawback of fiber optic is it is only available in certain areas which means that this may not be an option for connectivity, depending upon were you live.

Some of the primary providers of fiber optic Internet include Verizon, Comcast, Qwest, and AT&T. If you have your choice of providers, then you can comparison shop for the best deal. By shopping around, you will also discover what your options are for availability and connectivity in your area.

Additionally, companies such as Google are starting to churn out ultra-fast fiber optic Internet connections. Google currently has a project underway known as Google Fiber which provides consumers with a lightning fast fiber optic connection. However, the service is only available in limited areas for the time being.

The following video shows how Internet works.

Google is currently in the process of expanding Google Fiber gigabit Internet in Austin Texas and announced it has initiated signups in the southern area of Austin.

Cable Internet Defined and How It Works

Cable Internet also provides a high speed Internet connection, except at a typically slower rate than fiber optic. Instead of delivering connectivity through pulses of light, the Internet connection is established through an existing coaxial cable that your television service typically operates from. However, the Internet service does not interfere with your television service and vice versa.

Similar to a fiber optic connection, the speed will vary depending upon the number of people that are sharing the bandwidth with you and the time of day you typically use the Internet. The typical speed of a cable Internet connection can be anywhere from 5Mbps ranging to 25Mbps. This is slower than fiber optic running at 150 Mbps to 500 Mbps or, in the case of Google Fiber, it is much slower than gigabit (Gbps-gigabits per second) Internet.

Regardless, a cable Internet connection provides a decent high speed broadband Internet connection. It typically allows you to run current applications and video streaming services without experiencing any glitches.

Cable Internet connectivity and availability will vary according to the area where you live. For example, if you live in a rural area where there is no cable television service, chances are cable Internet is not available either. If you do live in an area that offers cable Internet, it is worth the investment of your time to comparison shop with multiple providers if possible to ensure you are getting the best deal.

If you require the fastest Internet speed possible, you should also inquire about the distance you are from the transfer station and how many people will be sharing the connection with you. The cable provider may also limit the bandwidth you can use, depending upon how many of their customers share the connection in your neighborhood.

Some of the major providers that offer cable Internet include Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and Cox Communications. These companies often provide the necessary equipment you need, such as a cable modem and software to establish high speed Internet connectivity.

The following video will provide you with further information on how cable Internet works.

Fiber Optic vs. Cable Internet

The type of Internet connection you choose will have a long term impact on you and your family. And, if you run a business, the wrong type of Internet connection can have a negative impact on daily productivity and revenue. For this reason, we have organized a comparison to help you decide which type of connection is best suited to your needs.

Installation

The process of installing a fiber optic Internet connection is typically more complex and can take longer than installing a cable connection. This is mainly due to the fact that fiber optic Internet requires a special cable where cable Internet can use an existing coaxial cable line. The fiber optic line must also be installed by a professional who is skilled in fiber optic technology.

Cable Internet service is typically made available through a cable television service such as Time Warner. A cable Internet connection can be offered in a bundle with phone and TV service or it can be purchased as a standalone option. Cable Internet requires the installation of a modem and is typically setup and configured by a qualified technician.

Availability

A fiber optic Internet connection is not as widely available as cable Internet service. However, this is gradually changing in recent years with other services coming on board, such as Google Fiber that we mentioned earlier in this article. Because fiber optic requires specialized cable installation, it has yet to reach a variety of areas, especially those that are rural.

Cable Internet services are widely available which gives it the advantage over fiber optic Internet. If you are already receiving cable television services in your local area, it is likely you can acquire cable Internet service. Although cable Internet is quite common, if you are located in a very remote area, your only option may be satellite Internet.

Reliability

In terms of reliability, fiber optic Internet is just as reliable as cable. As we mentioned earlier, fiber optic does not conduct electricity which means the connection will be less likely to experience disruptions during power outages.

Cable Internet is also considered to be reliable. However, if you are located in an area that is prone to frequent outages or disruptions in service, this will also have an impact on your cable Internet service. If you are heavily reliant on your Internet service, you may want to consider having an alternative option as a backup.

Connectivity Speed

Fiber optic Internet is lightning fast and allows the user to transmit data over longer distances without sacrificing efficiency. In extreme cases, fiber optic Internet can be capable of download speeds of 150Mbps minimum and 500Mbps maximum. The upload speeds can be as high as 65 Mbps and a maximum of 100 Mbps. This allows you to upload and download data, stream videos, share files, and multitask without sacrificing performance.

Cable Internet is capable of offering speeds that are fast enough to accommodate most of your needs, including the use of applications that rely on high speed Internet to function properly. As a general rule, cable Internet offers download speeds that start at around 15 to 25 Mbps and range as high as 100 Mbps. The typical upload speed can range anywhere from 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps.

Also, when you subscribe to cable Internet, it is important to keep in mind you are sharing the bandwidth with neighbors and nearby residents. The more users that are accessing the Internet simultaneously, the slower the Internet service will be, especially during peak hours of the day. Overall, cable Internet is a reliable option for moderate to heavy use and will serve you well when it comes to consuming media and using bandwidth intensive applications

Cost

Depending upon where you are located, fiber optic Internet may cost more or less than cable Internet service. If you use a fiber optic service such as Verizon FiOS, the plans typically start at around $100 per month and increase from there according to the speed of the connection. Additionally, you may be required to pay a fee for installation and/or an activation fee.

The cost of cable Internet service will also vary according to your location. You also have the option to discount the cost if you bundle Internet service with cable television or phone service. The typical cable Internet service is quite affordable and ranges anywhere from $25.00 per month to $120.00 per month depending on the package. You will also pay a higher cost to access faster Internet speeds, as well as additional fees for installation and activation.

Fiber Optic and Cable Similarities

Despite the difference in the speed of the connection, fiber optic and cable Internet also have similar features. Both connections are “always on,” meaning you do not have to log on with a password. Instead, you simply open your browser to establish connectivity.

Fiber optic and cable Internet are both offered at a flat monthly fee that will vary according to your location. Both services allow you to take advantage of VoIP telephony as a cost effective telephone option delivered over the Internet. You can easily find out what types of options you have when it comes to fiber optic and cable Internet connectivity by logging onto sites online that provide you with availability and a free quote for the service.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, everyone is seeking the fastest and most reliable Internet connection possible and at a price that is affordable. When you are considering your options, be sure to invest the time to comparison shop. This includes comparing download and upload speeds, additional fees, and service contracts.

Choosing between fiber optic and cable Internet is a matter of preference, connectivity needs, and availability. If you are only a casual Internet user, a cable Internet connection will probably suffice. This allows you to access a high speed Internet connection at an affordable price.

If you are using a lot of bandwidth intensive applications and are a heavy Internet user, fiber optic may be your best option, provided it is available in your area. Regardless, both types of Internet connections will allow you to access modern applications without having to sacrifice performance. Plus, if you choose the right Internet Service Provider, they will be able to provide you with an optimal and reliable Internet connection.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom July 5, 2015 at 4:51 am

I’ve been told that 15 mbps using fiber optic cable is as fast as 20 mbps using cable internet connection. Is this true?
Can anybody clear this up for me?

Billyo October 21, 2015 at 8:34 am

From what I have read, the answer is no. The Mbps is the Mbps. The difference is that with cable you share the Mbps and with fiber optic you don’t.

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