By Michelle Ricker February 25, 2021
Summary: As the debate between cable vs. fiber high-speed internet continues, EarthLink explores both options to discover which is better — including which has the highest speed, which one offers cheap internet options, and what’s available near you.
You’ve likely heard of fiber optic internet, which has recently been touted as the best and fastest internet access. It’s also likely that you have had, or currently have, cable internet. If you’re wondering if you should upgrade, or what the real benefits are, we’re here to clear things up.
First, it’s important to understand how these two systems work. Fiber internet uses fiber-optic cables to transmit data via a dedicated line — making it faster and more reliable than standard copper cable. Fiber lines are made of thin strands of glass that carry light signals (the data you’re sending) over long distances more efficiently than copper cables do.
However, fiber is also newer and can be less available.
Cable internet uses the infrastructure in place from cable TV to transmit data. It’s offered by many cable and phone companies and available in many areas. Instead of using glass, data is transmitted over copper coaxial cables. The metal in these wires is what makes it more susceptible to interference from nearby high voltage electrical equipment, such as power lines, compared to fiber. These cables are often shared between several homes or even an entire neighborhood — which can lead to network congestion and lowered speed.
While some internet service providers may still offer cable plans at cheaper rates, fiber is becoming much more affordable and available.
Both fiber and cable offer fast speeds — but fiber is literally as fast as the speed of light. Cable internet is more likely to run slower than the plan you signed up for because it’s a shared network between multiple households. So, the network speed you experience can be up to 25 percent slower during peak-use hours.
Fiber internet runs on a dedicated line, so many people can access it at the same time without affecting the individual speed. A dedicated line, plus the faster initial speed, make fiber ideal for high data-consuming activities like video conferencing, gaming, and streaming, even during peak hours.
In general, fiber and cable internet are roughly equally reliable. However, because cable internet uses electricity, it’s impacted by factors that fiber is not. If your area experiences a high volume of storms, frequent electricity outages, or cable interruptions, your cable internet will not be as reliable. Fiber optic internet can function without electricity because the wires are made of glass and transmit light, protecting it from power voltages and fire risks. Fiber internet can still experience a service outage, but it’s far less likely than with cable internet.
In addition to reliability and speed, there are other differences between fiber internet and cable internet. One drawback to fiber internet is that it’s mainly available in metropolitan areas at this point — although serviceability is expanding.
|Highest speeds||Can be more expensive|
|More secure||Only available in certain areas|
|Less susceptible to decay/natural disasters||Only available from certain providers|
Cable internet revolutionized speeds and consistency for users when it came onto the market. Several decades later, it’s time for an upgrade. Enter high-speed, reliable fiber internet.
|May be more available in some areas||Slower download and upload speeds|
|Can be more affordable||Typically includes data caps, which can limit use and throttle your internet speed|
|Slow during peak hours|
|May require you to bundle with unnecessary services|
It is important to note that it’s possible to find a high-speed internet provider with no data caps, regardless of your plan type. But while you’re switching internet service providers, upgrade to fiber, too, and experience the highest speeds and steadiest connection available.
As if fiber internet needed any more strengths, it also offers added security. Because the data is transmitted by light, it’s much faster and the signals are harder to intercept. Trying to tap into fiber internet lines will likely require breaking the glass, so any potential breaches will be quickly discovered.
Fiber optic internet can function without electricity because the wires are made of glass and transmit light, protecting it from power voltages and fire risks. Fiber internet can still experience a service outage, but it’s far less likely than with cable internet.
If that added security isn’t enough, there are other ways to secure your online data. For example, you can install a VPN, regardless of your internet service provider or type. As far as speeds go, fiber not only offers higher download speeds, but the upload speed will be the same — known as “symmetrical speed”. For cable internet, your upload speed is typically only around 15 Mpbs. With fiber, if you have a 300 Mbps download speed plan, your upload speed will also be 300 Mpbs. This is particularly helpful if you’re often uploading large media files or are frequently on video calls.
Perhaps just as importantly, fiber is actually a cheaper long-term alternative to cable internet. As the copper cable wires wear down and deteriorate, due to both distance and use, they need to be replaced — typically with fiber. With fiber internet, the transmitters and receivers that connect each end may need to be replaced and upgraded from time to time, but no new cable will have to be buried. As more individuals and corporations focus on sustainability, fiber wins there, too. And, because it’s more easily upgraded than its cable counterpart, fiber will save companies (and users) money in the long run.
It’s clear that fiber internet is the future of the internet. With added security, a reliable connection, and speeds as fast as light, you’ll never want to go back. Find the plans available near you.
Michelle Ricker is a Copywriter for EarthLink. She recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an M.A. in Communication and has more than 5 years of writing experience. She thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She currently lives and works in Atlanta.
See all posts from Michelle Ricker.