What is fiber internet?
Fiber is an internet connection type that uses light to transmit data over fiber-optic cables. It’s the fastest type of internet connection and often costs about the same as cable. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering fiber internet for your family.
Here’s how fiber internet works
Fiber internet works by using pulses of light to transmit data over fiber-optic cables made of glass or plastic optical fibers. This technology is newer, faster, and more reliable than other wired connection types. Compared to the copper coaxial cables and phone lines used by cable and DSL, fiber has higher bandwidth capacity and can transmit data more quickly, even over long distances. Fiber internet also has symmetrical speeds, meaning uploads happen just as fast as downloads, something cable and DSL can’t offer.
Fiber internet can give you much faster speeds than any other type of internet connection. Fiber providers offer plans that far surpass the maximum download speeds for DSL (100 Mbps) and cable (3,000 Mbps/3 Gbps), with speeds up to 10 Gbps (10,000 Mbps).
The best kind of fiber connection you can get is called fiber to the home (FTTH), also known as fiber to the premises (FTTP). This is when your home is connected to your provider’s network completely via fiber. But fiber connections aren’t always entirely fiber. The fiber line may reach only your neighborhood or street, instead of all the way to your home. This is called fiber to the node (FTTN). With this type of connection, providers connect your home to the rest of the fiber network with a coaxial cable or a DSL line, which can limit how much speed you get.
If you haven't had fiber internet in your home before, you'll probably need professional installation. If you're already wired for fiber, though, self-install kits are readilly availably and easy to use.
Fiber internet availability is limited compared to cable and DSL
Access to fiber internet is relatively limited. According to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), fiber internet is available to just 42% of the US population, while around 89% have access to cable or DSL internet. (1)
If you do have access to fiber, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a choice between providers. Just 3% of people nationwide have access to more than one fiber provider.
Fiber internet is more commonly found in urban areas. In rural areas, fiber is available to only about a quarter of the population.
Fiber internet has the fastest speeds you can get
Fiber internet is an excellent choice for any home because it has the best performance of any type of internet connection. There’s a broad range of download speeds available with fiber plans, from 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps (10,000 Mbps), so getting the right speed for your family isn’t difficult with fiber.
Fiber internet can far exceed the capabilities of DSL and cable, which have maximum speeds of about 100 Mbps and about 3 Gbps, respectively. Fiber is unique in that its speeds are symmetrical, so it's possible for your upload speed will match your download speed (if your provider supports it). That means you’ll get better performance from a fiber plan than another type of internet plan with the same download speed. Fiber is also reliable and has very low latency, so you’re less likely to experience performance issues or lag. It’s the best choice for streaming, gaming, video calls, uploading large files, and accommodating multiple users simultaneously.
Better value than cable
Monthly plan prices for fiber internet usually range from $40–$180, but the most expensive plans can be up to $300. For 1 Gbps plans, you can expect to pay $65–$90 per month, which is a good value. Fiber internet plans typically cost around the same as cable plans with comparable download speeds.
If you’re choosing between cable and fiber plans, keep in mind that fiber will have much faster upload speeds, so it’s the better choice for video calls and gaming, especially if multiple people in your home are online at the same time. You can also get fiber plans that have over twice as much download speed as cable and give you much more speed per dollar. Examples include Google Fiber’s 2 Gbps plan, AT&T’s 5 Gbps plan, and Xfinity’s 6 Gbps plan.
Most fiber providers don’t have data caps, contracts, or price increases after 12 months, which are all things you have to look out for with cable and DSL. Some fiber providers will require you to lease one of their routers for a reasonable cost of around $10–$15 per month, while others provide one at no cost or let you use your own. Is purchasing your own equipment the right decision for you? Find out.
Fiber internet installation can sometimes be free, but it usually costs between $50 and $100.
Is fiber internet right for you?
Fiber internet is a great choice over other internet connection types if it’s available at your address. It’s a great value compared to cable plans because it has similar pricing and better overall performance at the same download speeds. Fiber providers also offer speeds much faster than cable internet, up to 10 Gbps. It’s a lot faster than most household need, but it's an excellent choice for large households with multiple simultaneous users or individuals who use the internet heavily for working from home, gaming, or streaming.
Have a look at our guides to the best fiber internet providers and the best internet providers to find the right provider for your needs.
Frequently asked questions
Is fiber internet the fastest type of internet connection?
Yes, fiber is the fastest internet connection type. Fiber internet plans can reach 10 Gbps, far beyond what most cable internet providers offer for home internet. Fiber also has symmetrical speeds, so upload speed is as fast as download speed, which is something you can’t get with cable or DSL.
Is fiber internet better for gaming?
Yes, fiber is the best type of internet connection for gaming. Fiber has the highest download and upload speeds available. Fiber also has the lowest latency, so there won’t be any lag while you play games online.
How much does fiber internet cost?
Fiber internet plans can cost between $40 per month and $300 per month. Monthly plan prices for fiber internet are similar to prices for cable internet plans with the same download speed. At 1 Gbps download speed, fiber internet typically costs $65–$90 per month.
Brittany is a Contributing Writer for Switchful with over five years of experience writing about technology in the US and Europe. Her primary focus is on mobile and internet topics. She is passionate about helping people choose the right tech for their needs at the right price.
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.