Most of us have heard that fiber optic internet speed is “better,” but that’s fuzzy. What does that really mean? Is it really faster and more reliable? What are the other connection options we’re comparing to? What’s the difference between fiber optic vs cable internet speed? Is it more expensive? And if fiber optics is as earth-shaking as they say, how can we get it?
Time to cut the cable?
Until now our best home-internet option was the love-it-and-hate-it cable connection most of us know. It’s fast - sometimes. But like a highway at rush hour, it gets jammed during peak traffic hours. It simply can’t keep pace with our mushrooming internet needs. Let’s dig into the facts around fiber optic cable internet’s top 10 advantages vs DSL and cable.
What is fiber optic internet?
Fiber optic internet is a data connection carried by a cable filled with thin glass or plastic fibers. Data travels through them as beams of light pulsed in a pattern. Fiber optic internet speeds are about 20 times faster than regular cable at 1 Gbps.
Why is fiber optic cable internet so much better than plain ol’ cable internet? Because there’s no copper wire to gum up the works. Cable internet sends its signals down metal wires. The metal heats up, weakening the signal and picking up interference. That’s why cable and DSL internet are so much slower and clumsier than fiber optics .
How fiber optic internet works
Fiber optic internet works by splitting files like movies and games into data packets of zeroes and ones. A laser flashes this Morse code-type signal into one end of a plastic or glass filament. The “wire” is about as thick as one strand of human hair.
A special sheath called a cladding keeps the beam of light inside the filament. It bounces off the walls for as far as 60 miles and pops out the other end where a modem decodes the light into a form your computer can use.
3 types of fiber optic cable internet
There are three types of fiber optic cable internet, ranging from “whoa, I can’t believe how fast this is” to “okay, this is not much better than regular cable.” The fiber optic internet speed delivered by each depends heavily on how far the fibers make it toward your modem.
- FTTH or FTTP: “Fiber To The Home” or “Premises.” This is the fastest, most reliable fiber optic connection because the fibers come straight to your door
- FTTC: “Fiber to the Curb.” This gets the fiber to the utility pole outside your house, but uses coaxial cable from there. The short length of copper wire is a bottleneck
- FTTN: “Fiber To The Node” or “Neighborhood.” The fiber optics get to within one mile of your house. A longer trip through metal wires make this the slowest of the three options 
10 advantages of fiber optic internet speed
Is fiber optic internet service better? In a word, yes. It’s much faster and more reliable vs cable internet or DSL. But it has other major advantages like no throttling and better TV picture quality. Let’s take a quick stroll through the 10 ways fiber optic cable internet beats standard cable.
Fiber optic internet speed is 1 Gbps. That’s 10 to 20 times speedier than the 50 to 100 Mbps cable most of us know now. For a concrete fiber optic vs cable internet speed comparison, see the list below. It shows how long it takes to download a 2-hour movie on fiber optic vs cable internet.
Time to download a 2-hour HD movie:
- Fiber optic internet speed 1 Gbps: 40 seconds
- Cable internet speed 100 Mbps: 7 minutes
- DSL speed 25 Mbps: 30 minutes 
- 4G LTE speed 35 Mbps: 25 minutes
- 5G internet speed 10 Gbps: 4 seconds 
We’ve all had it happen. You’re watching The Incredibles with the kids and suddenly Bob Parr’s face gets blocky. He freezes in mid air. Is it a diabolical freeze ray? No, it’s your slow cable internet connection. Your 4-year-old says, “Daddy, why did it stop?”
The truth is that your cable connection should be fast enough to stream video without interruption, but peak traffic overloads the wires. That’s where fiber optic internet vs cable speed differences get obvious. Fiber optics can handle more users and more data at consistently higher speeds.
Another bonus? Fiber optic cable internet doesn’t need energized lines, so it’s not as prone to outages as cable internet. As long as the fiber optic cable stays intact, it can keep delivering your bits and bytes even when the lights are out .
3. No throttling
Have you ever noticed the power goes out just when you need it most? On a hot summer Sunday for instance, when you really, really want your air conditioner to work? That’s because those hot days overload our powerlines. Everyone is maxing out their A/C at the same time.
The same thing happens with our cable internet systems. Internet providers use “throttling” to prevent those outages. At peak times, your ISP may lower your cable speed from 100 Mbps to 20 or lower to ration their service. Fiber optic internet speed doesn’t throttle because it’s less susceptible to overload.
4. Same speed for download and upload
“I downloaded this movie in 3 minutes but it took 3 hours to upload.” If you’ve ever said that, you’re not alone. Cable internet has different speeds for download and upload, and upload speeds are a lot slower. That’s based on how people use the internet. Most of us do a lot more downloading than uploading, so internet providers give most of their bandwidth to downloads.
With fiber optic internet speed, that slow upload time goes out the window. Because there’s no worry of overloading the system, fiber optic internet providers can give equal shrift to uploads and downloads alike. That makes it easier to share files and work from home with fiber optic cable internet service.
Image Source: Spectrum.com 
5. Higher quality TV
Just bought a 4K TV or thinking about buying one? Sales of Ultra High Definition 4K TVs have reached 108 million so far in 2019 . Those TVs pack four times more pixels into the same real estate, which makes for much crisper pictures. But it also sucks a lot more bandwidth from your internet connection.
With speeds of 100 Mbps or less, cable internet may struggle at times to deliver 4K internet streaming. Fiber optic internet service won’t even bat an eye at it. A fiber optic connection running at even a sub-optimal 500 Mbps should have no trouble streaming high-quality 4K TV and movies.
6. Better gameplay
If you love playing Fortnite
or League of Legends
, you may already know fiber optic internet speed is the holy grail of gaming connections. It’s not that gaming uses mega bandwidth. In fact, compared to high-quality video streaming, gaming sips a tiny fraction of the data at less than 1 Mbps.
So what’s the problem? Consistency. A tiny hiccup at the wrong moment can get you killed in your game of choice. And there are lots of little hiccups in a cable internet or DSL connection all the time. Thanks to fiber optic internet providers, the smooth and constant flow of data means whenever you twitch your mouse hand, the game obeys .
You may have heard about the race for 5G internet access
. Carriers like Verizon and AT&T are hustling to blanket the nation with the new, lightning-fast service. It boasts speeds of 10 Gbps, which is 10 times faster than fiber optic internet speed. So why even bother with fiber optics?
One reason is that fiber optic cable internet may be better for us. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there’s no reason to fear 5G wireless internet signals because they can’t penetrate human skin. But hundreds of scientists and medical professionals recently petitioned the WHO, claiming 5G will boosts the potential for cancer. Fiber optic signals remain trapped in their cables, so they don’t carry those fears .
8. Connecting with multiple devices
Gone are the days of the “household computer.” We now have multiple devices in our homes, from laptops to PCs to tablets, phones, smart speakers, and IoT devices like smart locks and thermostats
. As our internet use increases, our need for reliable and fast data transmission does, too.
Fiber optic internet providers ride to the rescue. The steady signal with less signal loss and 10 times more bandwidth means we can connect with multiple tablets, laptops like the HP Spectre
, and several phones at once. Even with different people streaming music and video simultaneously, fiber optics can handle the load.
Faster connections from fiber optic cable internet service and 5G aren’t just for fun; they’ll make our world a safer place. The US government laid out the National Broadband Plan in 2010 , and it calls for improved public safety through a more robust national network.
As the plan notes, first responders need faster, more reliable internet to get voice, data, and video to help them save lives. Better internet also gives all Americans deeper access to emergency services. It also provides more reliable notification in times of disaster and stronger national security.
No one loves going to the doctor. You miss hours of work while you languish in waiting rooms. You answer the same questions over and over about street address and medication allergies. But can fiber optic internet providers really help with that? Yes, they can.
Telemedicine lets health care professionals evaluate, diagnose, and even treat patients remotely. Much faster fiber optic internet speeds make telemedicine more reliable, thanks to higher resolution video chats. It can help the elderly and those with disabilities live more independently as well.
Disadvantages of fiber optic internet
What’s the downside of fiber optic internet service? There are a few.
The biggest downside is reach. Only about 25% of US residents have access to fiber optic internet providers. Most are in big metropolitan areas.
2. Slow growth rates
Another drawback is slow growth rates. The push to install fiber optic cable internet to the rest of the country has slowed, thanks to the advent of 5G wireless internet. 5G will give us speeds 10 times faster than fiber optics - without wires. The major carriers are in a race to roll out 5G. Most have pulled back their ambitious fiber plans or abandoned them.
3. High prices
Finally, the prices are higher. Fiber optic costs started out screamingly high because of the cost of installing new infrastructure. Nowadays those prices have come down some. So while fiber optics will cost a bit more vs cable or DSL, you may pay only $10 or $20 more per month.
How to find fiber optic internet providers near you
Can’t wait to get your hands on fiber optic cable internet service? If you’re in a big city, you may be in luck. There are hundreds of fiber optic providers in cities throughout the U.S. The best way to find out if there’s one near you is to Google “fiber optic internet providers” + [your ZIP code]. You can also visit DecisionData.org and plug your ZIP code into their internet provider search.
Even in big cities, not all residents are close enough to fiber nodes to get the service. For instance, only about half of Chicago residents have access to fiber connections . Because the race to install fiber cables has slowed, if you don’t have it now, you may get wireless 5G service first.
Fiber optic internet speed is about 20 times faster than regular cable internet and 80 times faster than DSL. With prices only $10 to $20 more monthly, fiber is the right choice for most internet users.
But finding fiber optic cable internet service in your area can be difficult because coverage extends only to 25% of American homes, with most of those in cities. Plus, the race to blanket the nation with speedier wireless 5G connections means fiber installation has slowed.
About the Author: Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.