This is a definitive guide to finding and comparing the best fiber optic (FiOS) Internet providers.
What is Fiber Optic Technology?
Fiber optic technology is the most advanced type of internet available to residential and commercial buildings in the United States. As its name suggests, Fiber optic technology (sometimes referred to as Fiber to the home or FTTH) uses fiber optic cable to deliver the fastest, most reliable internet on the market. DSL and cable internet are still largely popular in the United States, but neither service can deliver internet as fast as FTTH.
How Fast is Fiber Optic Internet?
According to Verizon’s data, their fiber optic internet service (known as Verizon Fios) can reach download speeds of 500 Mbps and beyond. Google raises the bar with their fiber optic service (known as Google Fiber) by offering speeds of 1 Gbps to select cities across the United States. By contrast, the United States’ average connection speed clocks in at around 11.5 Mbps - a mere fraction of both Verizon’s and Google’s fiber optic services.
Benefits of Fiber Optic Technology
Fiber optic internet offers more benefits over DSL and cable than increased internet speed, largely due to its innovative design. Fiber optic technology uses thin, lightweight strands to transfer data from point A to point B. DSL and cable use electricity to transfer data, however fiber optic internet uses light. Light can travel through the fiber optic strands much faster than electricity can travel through copper wires, which explains the faster speeds. However, this technology also offers numerous other benefits over their copper wire counterparts, which could make fiber optic internet a better choice for those living where it’s available. Fiber optic technology can also provide television service and phone service.
Fiber is far stronger than copper, making fiber optic technology significantly more reliable than DSL and cable internet. Copper-based internet connections are notoriously prone to weather related outages, as certain conditions can damage the cable and interrupt data transmission. Because of its structure and the way it's laid, fiber is immune to damage or interruption due to inclement weather. Furthermore, fiber is more resistant to human interference than copper wire. The fiber must be physically cut for human interference to impact data transmission.
In addition, fiber networks are non-flammable due to their design. Because they use light instead of electricity, there is no risk of fire as data passed through the fiber optic systems, making it a safe and reliable alternative to copper-based systems.
DSL and cable internet have become increasingly dependable over the past decade, but their physical limitations prevent them from reaching the reliability of fiber optic internet. As of now, there is no data transmission technology more reliable than fiber optic.
Copper wire infrastructure was designed with voice transmission in mind, therefore bandwidth wasn't a major concern when the technology was developed and implemented. Today, the demand for higher bandwidth usage is widespread due to video streaming and large software downloads. In addition, businesses need higher bandwidth allowances for their employees to work seamlessly on a shared network.
Fiber optic technology’s design allows it to deliver nearly limitless bandwidth to its users, which can be a significant benefit to commercial environments or homes with a multitude of devices sharing the same network. One can connect any number of smart phones, tablets, computers, and video game consoles to their fiber optic network without experienced reduced speeds. It’s also possible to stream movies and videos without buffering thanks to fiber optic’s nearly limitless bandwidth.
The implementation of fiber optic technology immediately bolsters the security of the network to which it connects. Copper cable is prone to human intervention, wherein an individual taps the line to access the electrical signals transmitting data. Conversely, it’s nearly impossible for someone to tap a fiber optic internet cable. If a cable is compromised, it’s easy for internet providers to detect the breach quickly and resolve the issue before any damage is done.
Copper cable is notoriously delicate, withstanding just 25 pounds of pressure without sustaining damage. When maintenance is performed within a DSL or cable internet provider’s telecommunications space, the copper cable can be damaged, causing service interruptions for customers in the area.
Fiber is significantly stronger than copper cable, making it more difficult to damage. In fact, it can take over 200 pounds of pressure to invoke damage on fiber optic cable, meaning routine operations in the surrounding area are less likely to cause service interruptions.
Copper cable systems require customers in the same service area to share the same connection. The copper wires form a loop, and anyone in the loop shares the same connection. When one individual streams a movie in high definition, this may slow the connection speed for others sharing the same copper network.
In contrast, fiber optic systems provide a direct connection to the home to which they are dedicated. Residences using fiber optic technology can expect reliable internet speeds which won’t slow down because other people in the area are using a lot of bandwidth.
Drawbacks to Fiber Optic Technology
Fiber optic internet offers a host of benefits, but it also has numerous drawbacks. Because fiber optic technology is relatively new, it has certain requirements which make it more difficult and more expensive to implement than copper cable systems.
New Infrastructure is Necessary
The cost of fiber optic technology is falling quickly as it becomes more mainstream, but it’s still a much larger investment to install fiber optic infrastructure than copper cable. Companies will pay more to maintain copper cable as it ages, but they need a significant initial investment to install fiber optic. Once they install the infrastructure, they need to convert enough customers to the new service in order to recoup the costs. In fact, Verizon recently sold their fiber optic infrastructure in Tampa, Florida to Frontier communications because they were not able to recover their investment in the area. A company must be absolutely sure about the interest in fiber optic internet in their service area before they invest in the infrastructure, which limits the technology’s availability across the country.
Fiber optic internet is only available in a handful of cities across the United States. While this number is growing, those in small towns aren’t likely to have fiber optic internet available to them because of its costs. Most metropolitans in the United States offer fiber optic technology of some kind, but those located outside of highly populated areas will have to wait until the infrastructure costs come down enough for companies to install fiber in their service area.
Fiber Optic Internet vs. DSL/Cable
DSL and cable are more readily available than fiber optic internet, and they’re much less expensive to install. However, falling fiber optic infrastructure installation costs are allowing providers to bring their service to new areas. The residential cost of fiber optic service is generally the same as DSL or cable, making it a cost-effective choice for those in areas serviced by fiber. While DSL and cable offer their own benefits, they cannot compete with fiber optic technology with regard to speed, latency, reliability, and security.
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