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What is Fiber Internet (and how is it different)?



Fiber Internet is the latest change in the way data is transmitted worldwide. It is much faster than a cable, much faster than a dial-up connection, and can carry large amounts of data in a single line, often quite simply achieving several terabits of data transfer.

Before Fiber: DSL and Cable

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) used existing telephone lines to carry data that was typically copper. DSL is slow, old and largely settled in favor of the cable, but remains intact in some rural areas. The average speed for DSL is around 2 Mbps.

Cable Internet uses coaxial cables, which are also made of copper, and is generally bundled with the same cables that are used for the television network. For this reason, many ISPs offer bundled packages with a TV subscription and Internet access. The average speed for cables varies, but ranges from about 20 Mbps to 100 Mbps.

The Fiber Revolution

Fiber optic cables use optical fibers to transmit data using light pulses. The light travels in the same way as electricity through a copper wire, but the advantage is that fiber cables can transmit several signals simultaneously. They are incredibly small and are therefore often combined into larger cables called "fiber optic cables", each containing multiple fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cables carry a lot of data, and the average speed you see in your home is around 1 Gbps (often called "gigabit internet").

Fiber Optic Cables Make Up Most of the Backbone of the Modern Internet You will see the benefits, even if you do not have fiber optic internet. This is because the Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) – the switching and routing stations that connect your home to the rest of the world – use fiber optic interconnects to connect to other IXPs.

However, if it's time to connect all the homes in the city to your local IXP (a run usually referred to as the "last mile"), your service provider will usually run traditional coaxial cable to your home. This run becomes a bottleneck for your internet speed. If someone says he has "fiber optic internet," he means that the connection from his house to the IXP also uses fiber, which removes the speed limit for copper cables.

The limits of fiber

There is a reason for fiber Internet is not common – cost. The operation of optical fibers is much more expensive and does not justify the cost if cables are often already available. For most people, the speed of the cable is 20-100 Mbps, as most Internet downloads do not exploit this connection anyway.

Their speed is only as good as the weakest link, and fiber is certainly better than copper. In many cases, the actual download speed will not increase due to limitations on the server from which you are downloading. An app like Steam, which downloads a 10 GB game, seems to last only a few seconds with a 1000 Mbps fiber connection, but in reality only a maximum of 50 Mbps is achieved by the servers of Steam.

If you have an application that can use the increased speed or has multiple computers in the house, fiber optics may be a good option for you. At the moment, however, it is a service that is only available in a few selected cities.

Photo credit: bluebay / Shutterstock, Flegere / Shutterstock, Anucha Cheechang / Shutterstock


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