Fiber internet is an outstanding service that offers the fastest speeds on the market and unmatched reliability. If you’re fortunate enough to have fiber, you want to make sure your equipment gets the most out of it. That means diving deep into modems and routers.
Types of modems that work with fiber internet
Fiber internet is a bit different from cable or DSL because it doesn’t use a standard modem. Instead, fiber relies on an Optical Network Terminal (ONT) to decode the signal from the fiber lines into something usable by your devices.
In this way, an ONT serves the same basic function as a cable modem. However, ONTs tend to be much larger, so they are typically installed in closets, garages, or other out-of-the-way places.
This also means that you can’t typically use your own modem (or even choose a self-install option) for fiber internet service. A technician will need to install the ONT and hook it up to the fiber lines running to your home. The good news is that once you’re set up with an ONT, you’re good to go for the future—you can simply plug any wireless router you like into its Ethernet port to set up a wireless fiber home network.
Types of routers that work with fiber internet
In contrast to the modem situation, any router can work with a fiber connection. That’s no exaggeration, either—if it has an Ethernet port (and nearly every modern router does), you can connect it to your ONT and you’ll have a Wi-Fi network.
Fiber providers generally provide a router to customers, sometimes at no additional charge and sometimes for a monthly fee. If there’s a fee, it’s usually around $10–$15 per month.
That said, there is one thing to consider: the maximum speed the router is capable of pushing. Fiber connections can easily reach 1 Gbps or faster, but very few wireless routers are able to handle that speed. If your router is rated for less than the speed of your connection, your Wi-Fi will be capped at the router’s level. In that scenario, you’re essentially paying for internet speeds you can’t use.
Routers usually make it abundantly clear what their max speed is, so if you’re buying a new one, you’ll just need to know the maximum speed of your internet service plan. If you’re using one provided by your internet service provider (ISP), you also won’t need to worry—they’ll make sure you have what you need.
Some ISPs market their equipment as a “fiber-optic router.” These are routers that are capable of handling fiber speeds—usually meaning 1 Gbps or more. However, there’s nothing else special about these, so don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything by going with your own equipment.
Equipment fees of top fiber providers
Our picks for best fiber providers are the following:
AT&T, Google Fiber, and Frontier don’t charge monthly fees for equipment rentals—the wireless router is included at no additional cost.
Verizon Fios is the odd one out here—you’ll pay $15 per month in equipment fees with Verizon, although even this provider waives the fee if you subscribe to the highest-tier gigabit plan.
Recommended fiber routers
We recommend most people use the routers provided by their internet service provider. This is especially true for fiber-optic internet since most of the top providers include router rentals at no additional charge.
That said, there are exceptions to this rule. Some users have a specific need for a different router, such as enhanced security or longer range. Others might want to ensure they can keep the same equipment if they change providers or simply prefer something more top-of-the-line than their internet plan offers.
If you’re looking to buy a router for your fiber internet connection, we highly recommend these options:
- Eero 6 Plus: This is a powerful mesh Wi-Fi system for large houses with a lot of devices. It can handle speeds up to 1 Gbps and covers up to 4,500 square feet.
- NETGEAR Nighthawk R6700: This affordable router can handle speeds up to 1,750 Mbps and offers a number of advanced features to improve performance—all for less than a hundred bucks.
How to choose a router for fiber internet
When choosing a router, there are a few criteria to consider.
You’ll want to ensure your router can support the speed you’re paying for. If you’re paying for gigabit speeds but your router can only handle up to 500 Mbps, you’re wasting money.
Many routers will simply list the speed supported, but if not, the spec to pay attention to is the wireless standard. This is denoted as an “802.11” number followed by one or two letters. The most common standards are:
- 802.11n: speeds up to 300 Mbps
- 802.11ac: speeds up to 1.3 Gbps
- 802.11ax: speeds up to 10 Gbps
For most people, 802.11ac should provide plenty of speed for current connections. However, 802.11ax will be more future-proof.
Coverage area is a much bigger deal than many people may realize. This isn’t just about ensuring your whole home has Wi-Fi, although that’s important—coverage area also impacts signal strength. The farther you get from the router, the weaker the signal will be—and a weaker signal means slower performance. As such, a larger range is almost always better, even if it exceeds the size of your home.
For the ultimate coverage area, a mesh system is your best bet. A mesh system is a group of routers that work together to provide even coverage over a very large area. Examples of excellent mesh router systems include the Eero 6 Plus and the TP-Link Deco.
Finally, there are a few advanced features you can look for on routers to improve performance. These include quality of service (QoS), MU-MIMO, and beam-forming.
- QoS: Otherwise known as device prioritization, QoS basically prioritizes certain devices so that important tasks don’t get interrupted. For example, you can set your work devices to have priority over your streaming boxes (or the other way around—we won’t judge) to ensure maximum performance where it counts.
- MU-MIMO: This acronym stands for Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output. This is essentially multi-tasking for routers, and it makes a huge difference on networks with a lot of devices working simultaneously.
- Beam-forming: Beam-forming is a feature that concentrates a router's signal in a particular direction, rather than spreading it out evenly. This is handy when one device is using a lot of bandwidth—say, 4K streaming or video calls. It can help put the router’s power in the right spot.
Get the most out of fiber with the right gear
The right equipment can help turn your fiber internet into a powerhouse. To learn more about fiber or find a plan that’s right for you, check out our complete guide to the best fiber providers.
Dave Schafer is a freelance writer with a passion for making technical concepts easy for anyone to understand. He’s been covering the world of gadgets, tech, and the internet for over 8 years, with a particular focus on TV and internet service providers. When he’s not writing, Dave can be found playing guitar or camping with his family and golden retriever, Rosie.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.