Whether you run your business from your home, attend school remotely, play video games, or upload YouTube videos, having fast, reliable internet is important. When you're paying for a service each month, it's important to make sure that service best fits your needs and covers what you need it to, so you don't wind up with extra charges or poor service.

If you're rethinking your internet decision or looking to purchase a different internet service, there are two popular considerations: fiber internet and cable internet. While they're both similar, they have important differences that can help you decide which service is best for you.

Let's break down the differences.

What is fiber internet? 

Fiber internet is one of the newest forms of internet that has already been met with much excitement. Fiber internet is characterized by the way it travels. Instead of traveling through wires via electricity, it travels at the speed of light!

Fiber optic cables are tubes full of glass and plastic pieces to help light bounce around. These cables are almost as small as a human hair and travel quickly until they reach within a mile of their destination. Once they reach this point, they enter a network terminal and are converted into an electrical output so devices can understand and use these signals.

What is cable internet? 

Cable internet is a form of internet that travels via copper wires to reach a modem in your home. Also known as copper coaxial cables, these wires use electricity to travel and do so underground. The wire itself is a plastic tube layered with aluminum and copper shields, insulation, and copper in the center.

Cable internet gets its name from cable television. The same wires that provide cable internet also provide cable TV. This form of internet is fast and reliable and can power whole neighborhoods at once as it can share bandwidth.

Key differences 

Below are some factors that differentiate fiber from cable internet and the pros and cons of each.

Speed 

So which form of internet is faster? The short answer is: fiber internet. Fiber optic internet is becoming more and more popular because it offers incredibly fast speeds for both downloading and uploading. However, cable internet is still relatively fast as it can reach a speed of about 1,000 Mbps. This is fast enough for most online activities.

  • Download Speed: Download speed is how fast information can be transferred from the internet onto your device. Downloading includes watching Netflix, surfing the web, scrolling through social media, and looking up information. Cable internet's download speeds can be anywhere from 10 to 500 Mbps. Fiber internet has upload speeds from 250 to 1,000 Mbps. These comparisons are close, but fiber optic internet is capable of higher download speeds than cable.

  • Upload Speed: Upload speed is how fast information can be transferred from your device to the internet. For example, posting on social media, uploading a video to YouTube, and even playing video games are ways to upload.

    While cable internet has relatively fast download speeds, which can meet the needs of someone surfing the internet or playing video games, it has very limited upload speeds, maxing out at around 50 Mbps. Compared to the 1,000 Mbps maximum upload speeds of fiber internet, it is obvious which form of internet is faster overall.

  • Bandwidth: The biggest factor determining speed is the bandwidth of fiber internet vs. the bandwidth of cable internet. Very similar to speed, bandwidth is the amount of information able to travel through an internet connection. It is how much information your system can take per second or the volume of traffic that the internet can handle at one time.

    Cable internet's bandwidth is limited due to its structure. Because it's made of copper wiring, it is only designed for a certain volume of information at a time. Fiber internet, on the other hand, has almost unlimited bandwidth.

Availability

Availability is one of the only areas where cable internet has the upper hand. Since fiber optic internet is an up-and-coming internet form, there are limited areas where the wiring and technology have been installed.

Fiber internet has a 41% availability across the country, whereas cable internet has almost double that at 81% availability. While fiber optic is expanding across the United States and becoming an increasingly popular form of internet, the availability of cable is still much higher.

Cost 

When fiber optic internet was first promoted, its costs were higher than cable internet. Since this, however, the costs have come down to almost the same amount as cable. Cable is still cheaper, but fiber optic internet is not nearly as expensive as it used to be.

If you're thinking of switching internet providers or internet forms, here are some of the factors that determine the cost of internet:

  • Where you live

  • Installation and setup fees

  • How much internet you need per month

Reliability

When you invest in internet services, you want a reliable connection. If you lose connection due to weather, outages, or too much use, this can interrupt important business meetings, school exams, and other activities you do from home. Internet reliability is becoming more and more important. Between fiber optic and cable internet, fiber optic is the most reliable of the two for a few reasons.

Copper wires can break down with time, and if electricity is still traveling through the wire, this can cause a fire. Another risk for disconnection of cable internet is the copper wires location. Most copper wires travel back to their telephone company. As repairs are made, it's a common occurrence that cable wires are mistaken for telephone wires, and the internet connection can be disrupted!

The structure of the copper wires that sustain cable internet is more susceptible to weather conditions such as rain, lightning storms, and even severe temperatures. In addition, cable internet can have connectivity issues with certain geographical locations. For instance, a place with lots of hills and turns or bends can cause the electrical signal to slow down and get disrupted as the signal tries to find its way through the wire.

Fiber optic internet is much more reliable as it is made of tubes of glass that are much less susceptible to weather damage. These wires are not at risk of being disconnected by a phone company, and they can go through as many bends and turns as needed since the light is what brings the signal through the wires!

If you are looking for reliability and have had disconnection issues with cable internet, it may be time to switch!

Cybersecurity

An increasing concern among cybersecurity is how easily the copper wires can be hacked and to intercept the electrical signals passing through. This is done by putting a tap on an internet line, and data is transferred from one line to the tap.

Fiber optic wires are thin and full of glass, which makes tapping them incredibly difficult. If you are concerned about cybersecurity, investing in fiber optic internet is an affordable way to protect you and your information.  

Which is right for you? 

While fiber internet has many advantages over cable internet, it isn't right for everyone. While some need high speeds for the activities they like to do, others may not. Here are some guidelines for those who may need fiber internet, and those who can probably get by sticking with cable!

When it comes to internet needs, there is no one-size-fits-all. We all like to do different activities. Whether you spend most of the day sending emails or uploading content on social media and YouTube, it's important to know which internet needs are right for you.

Fiber internet may be right for you if you:

  • Upload lots of content at once. This can include YouTube videos, playing video games, and posting to social media.

  • Stream lots of video in HD or 4K Ultra. While download speeds are fast with cable internet, they are faster with fiber.

  • Rely on your internet connection for your livelihood or education. When it comes to internet reliability, you want to make sure your connection doesn't disrupt during something important. If this is a concern for you, fiber internet may be your best option.

Cable internet might be right for you if you:

  • Spend the majority of your internet time scrolling through social media and surfing the web.

  • Don't rely on your home's internet for work, school, or other essential activities. If you only use the internet for hobbies and entertainment, an outage won't affect your job or education, so you may prefer to use cable.

  • Mostly download. The upload speeds for cable internet are pretty disappointing, but the download speeds are adequate. If you mostly download content and stream, cable internet likely meets your internet needs.

Summary 

Knowing the difference between fiber optic internet and cable internet can help you decide which will benefit you most in the long run. Between speed, bandwidth, and reliability, fiber optic internet has advantages over cable internet, but there are pros of having cable too, especially if your internet needs are smaller. 

If you're thinking of switching, take a month and examine your internet needs to be sure you're not overpaying for data you don't need while not underpaying either!

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