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Fiber vs. Cable Internet: How to Choose the Best Option

You may have heard the terms “fiber internet” or “cable internet” thrown around before. But what is the difference, and how do you choose the best one for your home or business? Knowing the difference between fiber and cable internet can help you make an informed choice when looking for an internet service provider (ISP) in your area.

The terms “fiber internet” and “cable internet” refer to the medium through which your internet service is delivered. Fiber internet is delivered through fiber optic cables, and uses pulses of light to send data from your ISP to your home. Cable internet is delivered through coaxial cables, better known as coax. Cable internet uses radio frequency (RF) waves to transport data from your ISP to your home.

Choosing between fiber and cable internet services boils down to your individual needs, location and budget. If you prioritize super-fast internet speed and a consistent connection, even during peak usage times, fiber internet could be your best choice. It's worth noting that fiber may not be available in all areas, and it generally costs more compared to cable. On the flipside, cable internet is widely available and often budget-friendly. However, its internet speed may not be as quick as fiber, especially during busy times. Therefore, the best choice is influenced by what suits your personal needs and what's available in your area.[1]

What is Fiber Internet?

Fiber internet is a form of internet service which uses fiber optic cables to carry signals in the form of light. At your home, a special piece of equipment called an optical network terminal (ONT) translates these signals into information your networking equipment can use. Fiber internet has many benefits, but is not available in all areas due to the higher costs that companies face when building a fully fiber network.

Fiber internet is a form of internet service which uses fiber optic cables to carry signals in the form of light. At your home, a special piece of equipment called an optical network terminal (ONT) translates these signals into information your networking equipment can use. Fiber internet has many benefits, but is not available in all areas due to the higher costs that companies face when building a fully fiber network.

Advantages of fiber internet:

  • Lightning-fast speeds with low latency. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, which makes internet service delivered through light signals the fastest type of internet available.
  • Symmetrical upload and download speeds. Many ISPs advertise their super-fast speed, but some advertisements only refer to download speed. However, fiber internet allows customers to upload and download information at the same speeds due to the higher bandwidth available.
  • High bandwidth capacity. As mentioned above, fiber internet offers uniquely high bandwidth capacity. The use of light-speed photons allows data to be sent both upstream and downstream equally fast.
  • Reliable and stable. Fiber internet, unlike some forms of internet such as fixed wireless and satellite, is not affected by adverse weather conditions. This means you will receive the same ultra-fast internet, even when it’s stormy outside.
fiber vs cable internet

Typical uses of fiber internet:

Fiber internet can be used for anything from sending text-only emails to streaming on multiple devices simultaneously. However, fiber internet excels in some areas when compared to other types of internet service. This is because of the high bandwidth capacity and symmetrical speeds, which make a difference when trying to upload large amounts of data, such as during video calls. The uses fiber excels at include:

  • Streaming
  • Online gaming
  • Remote work and video conferencing

Although fiber internet has a higher cost of build out, the price for the consumer remains affordable. With much higher speeds available than with other forms of internet, the price for fiber-to-the-home is highly competitive. For example, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, EPB offers 1 Gig Fi-Speed internet for only $67.99 a month

What is Cable Internet?

Unlike fiber internet, cable internet does not use fiber optic cables to transmit light. Instead, cable internet uses coax cables, which are also used to transmit video signals for cable TV. Cable internet uses RF signals to transmit analog data, which is converted into digital signals your devices can use through a piece of equipment known as a modem. Some companies provide a combination modem-router, which allows you to use Wi-Fi without having to buy another networking device. When compared to fiber optic internet, cable internet offers some advantages regarding availability.

Advantages of cable internet:

  • Wide availability, with many areas having existing cable internet infrastructure. Cable internet is more widely available than fiber optics at this time.
  • Competitive pricing. Many cable internet providers offer low bandwidth packages for low prices. These may suit the needs of some internet users, who do not want to pay for higher speeds they do not believe they will use.
  • Suitable for moderate internet usage. For many applications, the bandwidths available through cable internet are sufficient, although they may experience slow-downs and disruptions when connecting more devices or downloading large files.

Cable internet has limitations which may not make it suitable for all customers.

Limitations of cable internet:

  • Speed and performance. Cable internet is inherently a slower medium than fiber optics, which limits performance. For heavy-duty internet users or businesses with many connected devices, the performance of cable internet may not meet expectations.
  • Asymmetrical speeds. Cable internet does not generally offer symmetrical download and upload speeds. This can hinder performance when it comes to things like video calls or cloud-enabled security devices, which require higher upload speeds.

Comparing Fiber Internet and Cable Internet

Is Fiber Internet Faster Than Cable Internet?

Cable internet speeds tend to top out around 1 Gig, or 1,000 Mbps. Comparatively, fiber internet can reach speeds of more than 3 Terabits per second—although this is much higher than the speeds available to most consumers, which top out around 25 Gigabits per second. The upload speeds of fiber are much higher than upload speeds for cable internet.

Often, cable internet upload speeds are below 40 Mbps, even when you are paying for 1 Gig download speeds. Fiber does not have these limitations on upload speed. Another important thing to consider when it comes to internet speed is latency. Latency is how long it takes for your internet to respond to something you have done, such as clicking “next page” on an e-book.

compare fiber and cable

Cable internet has higher latency than fiber internet. Because of the higher bandwidth and speed, as well as the lower latency, fiber outperforms cable internet in all speed-related metrics.

Winner: Fiber optics.

Which is More Reliable: Fiber Internet vs. Cable Internet?

Another consideration when it comes to choosing an internet service is reliability. Some types of service, such as satellite internet or fixed wireless, may be less reliable during storms or during certain times of year. Both fiber and cable internet do not suffer from these problems, and are considered highly reliable forms of internet service.

Winner: Tie

How Much Does Fiber Internet Cost vs. Cable Internet

Cost based on Location
Fiber internet is generally an affordable option, if it is available in your area. Median monthly costs for fiber optic internet are around $75, although depending on your speeds, it can range anywhere from $30 a month to around $200 a month.

For those in Chattanooga, EPB Fi-Speed Internet is available for only $57.99 a month for 300 Mbps, or $67.99 a month for 1 Gig, giving you the option of lightning fast speed for prices well below the national average.

For those who do not live in an area with fiber optics available, cable internet is often an affordable option as well, with prices averaging from $25 for very slow speeds to $150 or more for gig-speed internet service.

Installation Fees
Another cost to consider when choosing internet service is installation fees. Some fiber optic companies, but not all, offer free installation of the optical network terminal (ONT) that is needed to translate the light signals from the fiber optic network into digital signals your equipment can use.

For companies that do charge installation fees, these generally range between $49 and $99. Installation fees are also necessary for some cable installs, when a technician will place a cable modem inside your home. These fees range between $50 and $110, depending on your provider.

Cost of the Router
The final cost to consider when it comes to fiber optic service is your router. Some fiber optics provide free routers, or build them into the cost of service. However, most services simply let you choose between renting a router from the company at a monthly fee or purchasing your own.

Router rental fees can range from $10 to $20 per router or access point. While many homes can be served by one router, you may need to add multiple access points to receive full coverage. It is important to consider the size of your home when choosing the right router setup for your budget. Cable internet companies may provide a combination modem router during install, or they may charge for routers and access points. These are between $11 and $20 per month, per router or access point.

Winner: Fiber internet is more affordable for higher speeds.

Is Fiber Internet Available In Your Area?

As it is a technology that has been in use for many years, cable internet is available in most areas, except for the most rural and remote. As a newer technology, fiber internet is not built out as well and may not be available in all areas. If you are in Chattanooga, EPB fiber internet is available to you. However, in other areas, you may need to do some research. You can find out if fiber optic internet is available in your internet by searching “fiber optic internet near me.” There are many websites that compare the different plans available in your area to help you choose the best one for your needs.

fiber or cable internet

Is Gaming Better on Fiber Internet or Cable Internet?

Fiber is better for gaming because games need fast speeds with low latency. The symmetrical speeds of fiber internet also allow you to chat with others or stream your gaming with no issues, unlike the asymmetrical upload speeds from cable internet.

Is Streaming Better on Fiber Internet or Cable Internet?

Fiber is better for streaming because it has faster speeds with low latency and unlimited bandwidth. The faster download speeds of fiber internet mean that buffering is kept to a minimum, leading to better streaming performance.

Is Working From Home Better on Fiber Internet or Cable Internet?

Working from home is better on fiber internet because of the fast speeds, low latency, and symmetrical download and upload speeds which are necessary for video conferencing.

Should You Get Fiber Internet or Cable Internet?

Fiber is the clear winner. Due to its low latency, fast speeds, and symmetrical upload and download speeds, fiber internet is the ideal choice for streamers, gamers, people who work from home, and anyone who is concerned about getting the best performance from their internet.

Unfortunately, fiber internet is still not available in all areas, so do your research before choosing a provider to bring internet service to your home. And keep an eye out for projects that will be near you soon—many fiber service providers are beginning to expand their networks across larger areas.

While cost may be a concern compared to cable internet, many providers provide affordable, high-quality service. For example, in Chattanooga, EPB Fi-Speed Internet starts at only $57.99 a month with no hidden fees or contracts. If you are in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and aren’t sure if fiber internet is right for you, reach out to EPB’s 24/7/365 customer service at 423-648-1372.

Choosing the right internet service can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Knowing the difference between fiber internet and cable internet can help you make the right choice for your home.

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