Despite having been around for more than a decade now, fiber internet is still new enough that some people aren’t exactly sure what it is or how it stacks up against other options like DSL, satellite, cable, and wireless internet. With speed and quality, DSL and traditional satellite services can’t compete with cable or fiber. So, to be practical, we’re going to focus our comparison on cable vs. fiber. Take a moment to check out the main differences detailed below so you can determine what’s ultimately right for you.
The Basics – How Cable and Fiber Work
The majority of the key differences between cable and fiber come down to how each internet service option works. So, let’s start our comparison here.
The cable delivers the signal needed to connect to the World Wide Web via a cable cord. Specifically, it’s a coaxial cable line with a copper core insulated with aluminum that transmits data, video, voice, and internet communications to homes and businesses. Cable lines, while generally reliable when well-maintained and properly installed, are more likely to be affected by:
• Electromagnetic interference
• Severe storms or extremely cold weather
• Attempts to illegally tap into the line, which could result in service interruptions
With fiber optic internet, light is used to send data and similar digital information with light traveling through flexible strands of glass. The light bounces rapidly off internal walls to send the signal along its way. The strands are typically bundled together to boost signal speed and quality and allow for service to be delivered across greater distances. Fiber’s delivery method allows for:
• Reduced susceptibility to damage from severe weather
• An ability to carry more data than what’s possible with a similar-sized bundle of cables
• Greater resistance to damage from hackers
Fiber is the clear winner with speed. Fiber internet has speeds that usually fall within the 150 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps range. In other words, if you were going to download a 2-hour movie, for example, it would take about 10 seconds to accomplish this task at the higher end of fiber’s speed potential. With uploads and downloads, most fiber providers keep the speeds the same with both tasks.
Cable has speeds that typically land within the 10 Mbps to 200+ Mbps range. Upload speeds, however, tend to be slower. On the pro side, cable plans that offer higher speeds are generally sufficient for the average household today. The big drawback with speed is you’re also sharing bandwidth with other cable users in your area. For this reason, speeds are usually slower during busier times of the day.
According to an estimate by the Federal Communications Commission, slightly less than 15 percent of the nation has access to fiber at higher 1000 Mbps-plus speeds. Cable is the winner with coverage, however. Nearly 90 percent of the United States has access to cable internet with speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. The main reason for the discrepancy with availability is that it takes a lot more expense and time to set up fiber-optic networks.
The cable typically has lower pricing rates than what’s common with fiber internet service. This is often because of the higher speeds offered by fiber. You’ll get overall better quality and faster speeds with fiber, but the tradeoff is paying more per month for these perks. There are also more speed tiers available with cable. Therefore, you can choose what’s best for your needs and budget more easily than what’s possible with fiber. Spectrum Internet offers hybrid fiber and cable internet connections that have a fast internet speed that also offers affordable internet plans to suit your budget.
The Bottom Line
If speed is the biggest priority for you, fiber is worth considering if it’s available in your area. Otherwise, most people can have their needs for connectivity met with cable. It’s worth noting that fiber is more “future-proof” in that its higher speeds can accommodate an increased reliance on the internet for various activities, entertainment preferences, and service needs as technology advances. It ultimately comes down to what fits your current internet usage habits and what’s available in your area.