Fiber optic internet is the next generation of digital services for surfing the web. With fiber optic internet, data is transmitted by light carried through fiber optic cables. Compared to traditional copper wiring used for telephone or coaxial cable lines, fiber optic cable has less distortion, which means a more reliable signal and faster internet.
Despite what many people believe, fiber optic is not exactly new to the internet. Fiber-optic has provided the main structure connecting cities and even countries. The only new thing is the ability to connect individual homes and businesses to the primary network using fiber optic cable.
Fiber optic internet to the home has been a little slower to expand, currently only reaching about 25% of consumers, due to the high cost of installation. The FCC estimates that the cost of installation is somewhere between $3,000 – $8,000 per residence.
How Fiber Optic Networks Deliver Internet
Fiber optic networks use a device called a transceiver, which is a combined transmitter and receiver. This unit is capable of both sending and receiving data since the connection goes both ways. The transceiver converts the data signal into a light signal capable of being transmitted via fiber optic cable.
The light signal travels through the fiber optic cable at lightning-fast speeds. When the signal reaches its destination, it passes through another transceiver that converts the signal back into a data signal capable of being used by a computer as an internet connection.
Fiber optic networks have always been in place as part of the infrastructure of the internet. Where it gets complicated is how the internet gets from the service provider into an individual home or business.
More common internet types like DSL and coaxial cable internet can carry signals from the fiber optic network to the end-user. These types of combined networks are what most internet users are familiar with.
Types of Fiber Optic Internet
Did you know that there are actually three different types of fiber optic internet? Depending on what is available in your area, you may be able to get a fiber-optic connection directly to your home. Or, you may have to settle for a part fiber-optic and part coaxial cable or DSL connection.
Fiber Optic Internet to the Home (FTTH)
The best type of fiber optic internet connection is one that uses fiber optic cables to bring the internet signal directly into a business or residence.
Fiber Optic to the Curb (FTTC)
An FTTC connection, or Fiber Optic to the Curb, uses fiber optic cable to bring the internet connection to a utility pole or box that is located near the business or residence. From there, coaxial cables bring the signal into the business or residence.
While not as great as having fiber optic cables installed directly into the home, an FTTC connection is still pretty solid. Since the data only has to travel a short distance from the utility pole into the home using a coaxial cable, there is less chance for attenuation and distortion.
Fiber Optic to the Neighborhood (FTTN)
An FTTN connection, or Fiber Optic to the Neighborhood, uses fiber optic cables to bring an internet connection within a one-mile radius of serviceable homes and businesses. From there, DSL lines carry the data signals into homes and businesses.
FTTN networks are potentially the worst situation for receiving the best speeds that fiber optic internet has to offer. Homes that are located further from the hub will have weaker signals. DSL lines are used in conjunction with the fiber-optic network to bring the signal from the hub into each home.
This allows for more interference and breakdown in the signal before it reaches the user, which translates to slower speeds.
Pros and Cons of Fiber Optic Internet
With all of the hype surrounding the novelty of being able to get unmatched fiber optic internet speeds directly to the home, it is hard to imagine there are downsides. Before you write that check to get fiber-optic installed to your home, let’s take a look at both sides.
Pro: Fiber Optic Cable is Highly Scalable
Existing fiber optic cable networks can handle bandwidths of 100 times faster than current internet speeds. As technology continues to develop, fiber optic cable will be able to handle the additional demand without compromising performance.
Pro: Unmatched Speeds
Actual speeds vary by provider, package, and connection type. With modern copper wired cable internet reaching speeds up to 50 Mbps, fiber optic outperforms them by every measure starting at speeds of 1 gig per second.
Pro: Immune to Electrical Interference
DSL, cable, and wireless are all susceptible to electrical interference from storms or disruption in the lines. This leads to slow service or possibly even outages depending on the service and the situation. Fiber optic internet uses an entirely different type of technology and is not adversely affected by the weather.
Con: Expensive to Install
Depending on the type of fiber used and how far you need to run the cable, costs to install fiber optic cable can vary quite a bit. Estimates suggest that the average costs range from $1 to $6 per foot to install.
The problem is that most consumers do not need the additional bandwidth offered by fiber optic. Modern cable internet connections, which are already in place, are serving them just fine. The added cost of installing fiber optic cable is not cost-effective as long as there is another viable option for household broadband service.
Con: More Fragile than Coaxial Cable
Generally speaking, copper wire is a more durable material compared to fiber optic cable. Too much bending and twisting and fiber optic cable break fairly easily. Over time, fiber optic cable will require more maintenance than traditional copper wiring, which drives up the cost of providing fiber optic internet.
If you are among the 25% of US residents who have access to a fiber optic internet connection, it may be the thing your speed surfing dreams are made of. But for most consumers, the speeds available via fiber optic are just not necessary.
Availability of Fiber Optic Internet
FTTH networks that bring fiber optic internet with its lightning-fast speeds directly into a home or business are the best (meaning fastest) internet connection that money can buy in 2020. Faster speeds have been synonymous with ‘better’ internet since the beginning of digital transmission.
Faster speeds allow users to download files faster, which means that web pages load more quickly and act more responsive, creating a better overall user experience. It also means that there is no buffering when streaming music or video.
Fiber optic internet using an FTTH connection is currently available to approximately 25% of US households. If you live in Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware, or Hawaii, you have a pretty good chance of getting access to fiber-optic internet.
These states have some of the highest coverage rates, with up to 85% of their population having access to fiber-optic internet. Unfortunately, fiber optic has been slow to expand nationally due to the high cost of installation.
Top Fiber Optic Internet Providers
If you live in a larger metropolitan area, you will have a better chance of gaining access to a fiber-optic connection. Service providers like Verizon Fios and Google Fiber seem to have the best coverage in these areas while smaller, local providers are covering more rural areas.
Provided by one of the nation’s telecommunications giants, Verizon FiOS offers speeds ranging from 100 Mbps up to 940 Mbps for household use. The added bonus of getting fiber with Verizon is that you can bundle with your cell phone service.
Many internet service providers indeed offer bundling. However, most only offer a landline phone option, which may not be useful for modern households that prefer the portability of cell phones. With plans starting at $39.99 per month, Verizon is also offering a free subscription to Disney+.
Formerly a popular DSL provider, Frontier offers fiber internet in some areas with speeds ranging from 50 Mbps up to 940 Mbps. For most households, 50 Mbps is a sufficient speed for all activities, including on-demand streaming and gaming. Plans vary from $29.99-$199.99 per month.
The other telecommunications giant, AT&T has also thrown their hat in the game. They offer a very comparable 100 Mbps to 940 Mbps speeds for household use and have plans ranging from $40 – $60 per month.
If you are in the Optimum coverage area, expect speeds between 200 – 400 Mbps. Unlike many other service providers who like to lure new customers with great introductory rates, Optimum advertises on their website that they will guarantee a flat rate for life, plus taxes, fees, and charges.
Depending on their practices, this could be great news. Some internet service providers will tack on additional fees or services onto a bill as a way to increase costs while still maintaining the same plan rate.
Who doesn’t like brand recognition like Google behind their services? If you are lucky enough to live in one of the handful of cities where Google Fiber is available, you can take advantage of internet service from the internet pros.
Google FiOS offers speeds between 100 – 1000 Mbps and ranges from $50-$70 per month.