Fiber vs Cable Internet: Which One Is Better?
March 22, 2020
When you’re setting up the internet in your home, you may have several options to decide on, including fiber vs. cable internet. If you aren’t sure about the differences, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll guide you through how to choose the best kind of internet connection for your home, considering everything from reliability and availability to speed and price.
Fiber vs. cable: How they work
Fiber internet carries the connection across fiber-optic cables, which are made of plastic or glass and transmit beams of light down the cable. There are two types of fiber cables. Broadband fiber, which is shared internet, is typically enough for domestic needs since another type of fiber cable, Direct Internet Access (DIA,) is aimed at businesses. DIA is better for offices that need extremely high-performing internet service. Broadband fiber is less expensive, and therefore likely better suited for your home.
Broadband fiber service is often shared with your neighbors and gives you asymmetrical service, meaning you might have different download and upload speeds. To give your home access to a fiber connection, you need to make sure an internet service provider (ISP) has installed fiber-optic cable in your area, which is more common in urban centers than elsewhere in the country. How you connect depends on how the connection was established: fiber to the node (FTTN), fiber to the curb (FTTC), or fiber to the home (FTTH).
Cable internet uses the same coaxial cable as your cable television connection. These cables contain copper cores that are contained in a shield of aluminum, copper and plastic. Running a connection through copper wires is inevitably slower than using fiber-optic, but is more readily available. To gain access to cable internet, you need two things in your home — a coaxial cable and a modem. It’s an easy process. You simply plug the coaxial cable into the wall and then connect it to the modem, then connect the modem to the ethernet input. Typically, you can choose to install it yourself and avoid the wait times and fees often associated with professional installation. After that, call your cable provider to set up internet service.
Fiber-optic vs. cable internet speed
The internet speed you need depends on what activities you’ll be doing. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a student or telecommuter needs between 5 Mbps and 25 Mbps. Basic browsing or looking at social media requires only 1 Mbps. Watching High Definition (HD) video requires only 5 Mbps to 8 Mbps unless you’re watching 4K. For 4K, you’ll want over 25 Mbps. Most online multiplayer gaming requires a minimum of 4 Mbps, but many gamers need a faster connection to prevent lag.
Fiber offers speeds between 250 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps for downloads and uploads. Many homes in the same neighborhood can use a fiber connection at the same time without making a difference in performance, which is great for gamers or people who browse at peak times. For gaming or 4K video, fiber will give you the least lag and the best performance. Also, for high definition video conferencing, you’ll want at least eight Mbps.
Cable internet gives you between 10 Mbps and 50 Mbps for downloads and upload speed of 5 Mbps to 50 Mbps. The network is shared, so if your neighbors use it a lot, your rates will slow. However, cable internet is excellent for most activities, especially those that don’t require a massive amount of bandwidth.
Fiber vs. cable availability and reliability
To be considered high-speed internet, the FCC says the connection needs to be at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. Below, we look at homes with at least those speeds for both fiber and cable connections.
Fiber is less available than cable internet because it’s more challenging and expensive to install. It’s in about 37% of homes in the country and is mostly concentrated in urban areas. Fiber is a bit more reliable than cable because it doesn’t rely on electricity, so electrical outages don’t affect its operation. Currently, only around 15% of high-speed residential connections use fiber.
Because it’s more widely available, cable internet is easier to get in your home than fiber. Nearly 90% of the country can access cable internet. However, cable operates using electricity, so any electrical outages will make your internet go down. Thus, it’s less reliable than fiber. In residential U.S. homes, around 79% use a cable internet connection.
Fiber vs. cable price
The average price for broadband internet in the U.S. was $66.17 in 2017. Specific pricing depends on many factors and can vary widely based on things like your location — rural or urban, number of providers — and the packages available. Therefore, the average price in California won’t equate to the same cost in Virginia.
Fiber internet used to be much more costly than other options; it’s still more expensive than cable, but the prices have leveled out in recent years. The price you’ll pay depends on the speeds you want, your location, which provider you choose and the packages they offer.
Cable internet is typically less expensive than fiber because it’s more readily available and, therefore ,much easier to install. Also, you can bundle cable internet into a package with your cable television subscription, which often brings discounts for your internet service. However, the cost again depends on factors like your location, your provider and the speed you choose.
Fiber vs. cable: Which is right for you?
Deciding between fiber and cable internet is an excellent problem to have. If your address has both available, you’ll need to consider several factors. First, ask yourself which fits into your budget. Your monthly bill needs to be sustainable. Next, what download and upload rates do you need? If you’re only a casual browser, you may be able to get by with a slower (and potentially less expensive) connection. Then factor the number of people in your home who use the internet. If you have a family of five, you’ll probably want a more robust internet service than if you live alone.
To sum it up
There is no one right answer when you’re choosing between fiber and cable internet. If you have the option, consider yourself lucky. Speak to a representative to see what each would cost you per month and the types of plans they have available. As the infrastructure for fiber internet grows, the prices may decrease, so even if it’s too expensive for you now, it may not be that way in a few years.