What Is Fiber Internet?
Fiber is the gold standard of home internet. It uses fiber optic cables to deliver internet connections that are easily 10 times faster than cable and don’t lose speed over distance. In fiber-rich areas, fiber connections are comparable to the cost of cable plans and with far better specs. However, not everyone is connected yet. Currently, around 25% of US homes can access fiber internet.
There are two types of fiber connections:
- Fiber to the curb/cabinet (FTTC): these connections run on fiber optic cables to a central node and then cover the final distance—or “last mile”—to your home on the existing copper or coaxial cables used in DSL or cable internet. Because speed drops over distance on these types of wires, you’ll receive a slower speed the further you live from that node. You’ll also be sharing that node with your neighbors so your speed can be impacted by network traffic, especially during peak times.
- Fiber to the home (FTTH): these connections make the full journey to your home on fiber optic cables, so the speeds they deliver aren't impacted by distance or by local congestion. The installation for these connections can be expensive and time-consuming if your house isn’t already ‘fiber ready,’ however. When we refer to fiber in the US, we generally mean to FTTH. Also called fiber to the premises (FTTP).
Best Fiber Internet Providers
AT&T’s fiber service is available to 25 million households, primarily in the South, California, and in Midwestern states like Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Ohio. Plans come with download speeds of 300Mbps (with 1TB of data) and 940Mbps (branded Internet 1000 and without data caps).
Century Link’s fiber network reaches an estimated 9.6 million people, primarily to cities in the West (Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, and Seattle, to name a few) and Florida. You’ll have to go the whole hog, however. The only fiber plan Century Link offers is its Gigabit deal, with speeds of 940Mbps.
The US’s eighth-largest fiber provider, Cincinnati Bell offers fiber to 1.4 million people, primarily in its hometown of Cincinnati and surrounding areas of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Plans come with download speeds of 250Mbps, 500Mbps, and 1Gbps and without data caps.
EarthLink’s fiber network—branded HyperLink— has a coverage area of 24.9 million people in 21 states, making it the third-largest fiber network by reach. Its fiber plans start at 50Mbps, giving a fiber option to customers who might want fast upload speeds but don’t need 200Mbps+ of speed. HyperLink plans come with no data caps and no speed throttling.
The internet giant’s fiber network launched in 2012 in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Today it’s available to around two million people, still primarily in Kanas and Missouri, although the network has footholds in Georgia, Texas, and Utah. Plans and pricing vary by region, but speeds run up to 1Gbps.
Verizon launched one of the US’s first FTTH services in 2005. Today it’s the country’s largest fiber provider, available to 38.4 million people in 10 states on the East Coast, concentrated in large urban areas (including New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore). It offers plans with symmetric download and upload speeds of 200Mbps, 400Mbps, and a “Gigabit” service (940Mbps download and 880Mbps upload). All come without data caps.
Windstream’s fiber network, branded “Kinetic Gig,” covers 150 communities in 18 states. As with its DSL services, Windstream’s fiber focuses on rural areas, primarily in the South and Central United States, where DSL and cable connections can be rendered unviable by large distances and satellite is too restrictive. Data is uncapped and speeds are 1Gbps.
How To Get the Best Fiber Internet Deals
While fiber hasn’t reached every household in the US, many markets have several fiber providers competing for your monthly internet bill. Comparing prices and plans will ensure you get the most speed and perks and best customer service for the most affordable price.
To find the fiber internet deal that suits your household—with the best combination of speed, price, bundling options, and customer service—use our comparison engine.
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Benefits Of Fiber-optic Internet
Why upgrade to fiber? It’s simply the best residential internet technology on the market, outpacing DSL, cable, and satellite in speed, performance, and reliability. And you don’t have to break the bank to get the best. In many markets, fiber costs around the same as cable, with speeds many times faster.
Fiber optic internet delivers speeds that far outstrip those of other internet technologies. While cable connections top out at 500Mbps and are usually much slower, and DSL connections remain under 35Mbps, residential fiber connections commonly deliver speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1000Mbps).
Here’s what that means if you’re downloading an HD movie:
|25Mbps DSL||1 hour|
|100Mpbs cable||14 minutes|
|1000Mbps Fiber||1 minute 25 seconds|
FTTH connections are symmetric, meaning they send data as fast as they receive it. This is in contrast to cable, DSL, and satellite connections, which are designed to be asymmetric and have upload speeds which are often just a fraction of their download speeds.
The rapid upload speeds provided by fiber connections are particularly useful for people working from home, uploading files to remote servers, and online gamers.
Data packets traveling over fiber-optic cables also don’t lose speed over distances, as they do on the copper wires used in DSL and coaxial cables used in cable internet. That means you’ll receive close to advertised speeds no matter how far you live from your local node, even way out in the country. This feature makes fiber connections particularly valuable for remote homes which might otherwise have to rely on much slower satellite internet. While much fiber infrastructure has concentrated on cities, rural internet specialists Windstream have rolled out fiber to 150 rural communities across the US.
Speed isn’t the only metric to consider. You also want to account for latency, or ping. Latency is a measure of the time it takes a packet of data to travel through a network to a third party server and back. In short, it’s the lag on a connection. You won’t notice latency when surfing the web or streaming content but high latency can badly disrupt online gaming and video calling. The latency on fiber connections is better than that on cable and DSL connections and much better than that on satellite.
FTTH fiber connections are not only the best performing residential internet, but they’re also the most reliable. FTTH connections run a dedicated line to your home, so your speeds won’t be impacted by traffic on the local network. Those personalized lines also mean your internet is harder to hack.
Fiber optic cables are also less vulnerable to weather conditions and interference. Because they’re made of glass and don’t use electricity, they can still work submerged in water and aren’t affected by interference from power lines, high-voltage electrical equipment, and electrical storms. They’re also less likely to go down during a power outage and less likely to be affected by extreme temperatures.
Fiber, DSL, Satellite, & Cable Compared
Fiber Internet Vs DSL Internet
DSL delivers the internet over the copper wires of the landline phone network. Typically, it manages downloads speeds of between 5 and 35Mbps and upload speeds of between 1 and 10Mbps. Those speeds drop over distance, so the further you live from your provider’s local office, the slower your connection will be. For some rural households, speeds can degrade so far as to make DSL unworkable. DSL is typically the cheapest internet plan, best suited for casual internet users. But it’s available to nearly everyone: DSL networks reach 90% of US households.
The download speeds fiber delivers can be up to 200 times faster than DSL and, with FTTH, offer equal download speeds. To accommodate all the downloading those speeds enable, most fiber plans come without data caps. You’ll pay more per month for a fiber connection than for DSL, however. Additionally, fiber may not have reached your area yet: just 25% of households are connected.
Fiber Internet Vs Cable Internet
Download speeds on cable internet plans range between 10Mbps and 500Mbps and upload speeds are slower, falling between 5 and 50Mbps. As with DSL, these speeds degrade over distance.
Fiber has lower latency and faster upload speeds and is more reliable. However, higher-end cable connections are nearly comparable to fiber connections in terms of download speed and often priced similarly. Cable is therefore a good alternative for binge-watchers, gamers, and busy households of internet users in neighborhoods which fiber hasn’t yet reached. If your home isn’t yet connected to fiber, you can get online more quickly with cable, which will likely be already installed. Cable connections are available to 89% of US homes.
Fiber Internet Vs Satellite Internet
Satellite internet used to be painstakingly slow, constrained to under 1Mbps. Recent developments mean the best satellite packages can offer download speeds as fast as 50 or 100Mbps. That’s slower than fiber plans but comparable to DSL and cheaper cable plans.
However, satellite internet is limited by very strict data caps, often of 100GB, compared to the unlimited plans usually offered with fiber. Latency is often very high on satellite connections, making video calling and online gaming difficult or impractical, while fiber has the lowest latency of any internet connection. Finally, satellite internet will often go down during storms, while fiber connections are the most reliable—functional even during power outages, floods, and extreme temperatures.
Frequently Asked Questions
All states have fiber networks, although their reach and the number of providers delivering them will vary widely. For example, while 84% of Rhode Islanders can access fiber internet, just 3% of residents of West Virginia can. While Texas, Illinois, and California are served by dozens of fiber providers, other states are connected by just a handful.
Enter your ZIP code into our comparison engine to see a personalized list of the fiber providers which serve your home.
Fiber providers are actively rolling out their networks to new areas. But because individual fiber optic lines must be run to each house, installing fiber infrastructure is expensive and time-consuming. Google Fiber, for instance, has national ambitions but analysts have estimated the rollout will cost between $3,000 and $8,000 per household. That cost is so high that the internet giant has already pulled out of some markets. That high upfront cost and competition from existing DSL and cable networks mean fiber networks are initially targeting select areas, usually in large cities.
The benefits of fiber are so great though, that connections will eventually reach almost everyone. DSL providers currently maintaining their networks of aging copper wires will likely eventually invest in more reliable, up-to-date fiber optic networks instead. So if fiber hasn’t come to your ZIP code yet, hold tight. It's likely only a few years away.
While you won’t be able to convince a fiber provider to come to new territory in a new city, if you live just outside an ISP's coverage area, you may be able to persuade it to connect you. They’ll likely charge you for the connection—anything between hundreds and thousands of dollars, depending on how far the new line will have to run and how badly they want your business. A new connection is probably only viable, for both you and them, if you live just on the edges of their service area— for instance if your neighbors across the street are connected to fiber and you aren't.
Fiber optic internet is faster, more reliant, and performs better than DSL internet. But that doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right choice for your household. Fiber plans are more expensive and provide speeds that are excessive to many internet users' needs. Casual internet users will be content with DSL connections. However, if you like to stream HD videos, game online, and make video calls - or if you have a household of many internet users - you’ll likely want fiber instead. Cable internet is often a fair alternative, however.
The cost of your fiber plan will depend on your area, provider, and speed. Slower fiber connections—those which don’t max out the 1Gbps+ capability of the infrastructure—can be bought for around $40 a month in some cities and towns. If you want the true fiber experience, with gigabit speeds, prepare to spend between $50 and $80 a month—and that’s just for the internet. You’ll pay more to bundle TV services with your plan.
Fiber optic internet laps all alternatives in speed, performance, and reliability. For many households, it is worth it, particularly if you do data-intensive tasks like downloading large files or streaming content or share your connection with several internet users and their devices. In many areas, fiber plans are priced comparably to (often slower) cable connections, making fiber a no-brainer.