fiber optic vs cable

Cable Broadband vs Fiber Broadband – Which Is Better?

Cable and Fiber Optic Broadband are the two most popular ways to access the Internet today. Let’s take a closer look at these two technologies and see whether Fiber is better than Cable.

There’s also a third technology – DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), which was popular back in the 1990s and early 2000s but Internet Service Providers have been pivoting to more reliable options like Fiber and not offering DSL to their subscribers these days.

Cable Broadband

Let’s start with broadband cable as it is more commonly available than Fiber. Cable Internet uses a coaxial cable that’s connected to a cable modem to link your home network to that of your Internet Service Provider’s. This is what a coaxial cable looks like:

coaxial-cable-for-modem
Coaxial cable used to connect to a cable modem

Typically, your Broadband Cable Internet providers are the same ones that provide Cable Television. That’s because setting up the cable network infrastructure is expensive, and they already have it in place from providing Cable TV.

Some of the more popular Cable Internet providers here in the United States are XFINITY (Comcast), Spectrum and Cox. There’s a range of packages offering different speeds but typically, Broadband Cable Internet speeds range from 50 Mb/s to 1200 Mb/s.

We recommend that you get your own separate modem and router for better performance and customization options but your Cable Internet Service Provider would typically offer to send their own gateway device which is a modem and Wi-Fi router combo device. Here’s the current gateway device from XFINITY:

xfinity-gateway-modem-and-router
XFINITY gateway device

You would connect your coaxial cable from the access point to the back of this device or to the back of your modem if you’re using a standalone modem. Then, you can either connect your devices directly to the modem or gateway using Ethernet cables or more commonly, connect your router. Now your devices have Internet access.

While Cable Broadband Internet is generally fast, you need to remember that all the homes in your neighbourhood share the bandwidth that has been provided by your ISP. This is why you notice that during peak periods like when everyone gets home in the evening, your Internet speeds can drop quite significantly compared to when no one’s using the bandwidth.

Fiber Broadband

Let’s now take a closer look at Fiber Internet. If you want the fastest Internet speeds on the market today, it would be Fiber. Fiber Internet plans are typically either 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) or 2 Gbps (2000 Mbps).

Unlike Cable Broadband, with Fiber Broadband, you don’t require a modem. Instead, your Fiber Internet Service Provider would install an Optical Network Terminator (ONT) at your location. This is a specialized piece of equipment and you won’t be able to find it at Amazon or other shops. You would then connect your router to the ONT using an Ethernet cable to give your devices wireless Internet access. In many cases, the ONT comes with an in-built router, like Google Fiber’s Network Box.

fiber-optic-cable-for-internet
Fiber optic cable for Fiber Broadband

So why is Fiber Internet so fast compared to Cable Broadband? Well, that’s because it uses light to send data through a thin glass cable called a fiber optic cable. Another advantage that Fiber has over cable broadband is that it can travel much longer distances. Cable broadband transmits data using electrical signals over a copper wire. These electrical signals are susceptible to electromagnetic interference and weaken with distance. Fiber’s light signals are less susceptible to interference.

Another big advantage of Fiber Broadband is that it is symmetric. This means that it has similar upload and download speeds. In contrast, Cable broadband typically has much faster download speeds than upload speeds. Having fast upload and download speeds is particularly important for gamers who stream because they need to send out content to their viewers as fast as possible.

While Fiber is faster and less susceptible to interference compared to Broadband Cable, it does have some disadvantages. The first is cost. Fiber costs around $10 to $15 more per month than an equivalent speed Cable Broadband package.

The other disadvantage of Fiber is availability. Being a newer technology, the infrastructure is simply not available in many places.

google-fiber-availability
Google Fiber availability as of Feb 2023

Here’s a map of Google Fiber availability as of February 2023. As you can see, it’s only available in selected cities across the country. According to a report out by Ofcom, in 2022, only 56% of US households were in areas served by full Fiber Broadband.

Final Thoughts on Cable Broadband vs Fiber Broadband

When choosing between Cable Broadband and Fiber Broadband, the two main factors are cost and availability. Fiber is a better technology, but it is slightly more expensive and isn’t available in all parts of the country.

If it is available, we would recommend that you choose Fiber over Cable broadband. The cost difference is small when comparing plans for similar speeds. It comes up to roughly $100 per year. The performance improvement, however, is significant. You will notice the difference particularly in the evenings or on holidays when network usage is high. With Fiber broadband being a dedicated, unshared connection, you won’t see a drop in performance. With Cable broadband, however, the drop in performance can be quite painful.

A software engineer, I have a strong interest in technology, bot software and hardware. Blogging is a way to share what I have learned and hopefully people will find it useful.

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