Switchful Logo

What is fiber internet?

Headshot of Brittany McGhee
Researched by
Brittany McGheeContributing Writer
Headshot of Bri Field
Reviewed by
Bri FieldAssigning Editor
Updated 2/9/23

We’re committed to transparency. We may earn money when you follow our recommendations, but compensation doesn’t affect our ratings. Learn more.

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).

Internet speeds represented by cars. DSL and satellite are slow clunkers, while cable is a regular sedan, and fiber is a race car

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.

A fiber optic cable highlighting how fiber internet has the best performance

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.

city map lines pattern
Find an internet provider in your area.
See all options in your area within seconds.

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.

Switchful article generic thumbnail
Since the birth of the internet in 1983, we have seen several methods of connecting to the internet. These internet technology types include dial-up, integrated services digital network (ISDN), digital subscriber line (DSL), cable network, fiber, satellite, and cellular network technologies. Each of these technologies features a unique speed and mode of operation.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
You’ll probably run into abbreviations like Mbps, Gbps, MB, and GB when researching internet plans. Since these terms are used to measure internet speed and amounts of data, understanding them is important for picking an internet plan that meets your needs.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Our team of speed hounds analyzed max internet speeds from providers in the US, and we found the fastest (and most reliably fast) options out there. These internet plans can handle dozens of simultaneous streams, VR chat, live gaming, and even massive video conference calls.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Fiber is faster and more reliable than cable, but cable is much more available and usually cheaper than fiber. Fiber is the clear winner when it comes to speed and performance, but its limited availability makes it off limits for most folks. That said, fiber and cable are the two best internet types out there, so really you’ll be happy with either—as long as you get
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Cable internet is an internet connection type that uses the same coaxial cables as cable television to bring internet service to your home. Cable internet can reach gigabit speeds, and though it can’t quite match the performance of fiber, it’s good enough for most households. Here's what you can expect from cable internet service.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Wi-Fi and Ethernet are both options for connecting your devices to the internet. The main difference between the two is how they transmit data: Ethernet uses cables, while Wi-Fi networks are wireless. To help you decide which is right for the different types of devices in your home, we explain what Ethernet and Wi-Fi are and compare the two in terms of convenience, speed, and reliability.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Fiber internet is an outstanding service that offers the
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Fiber internet, otherwise known as fiber optic internet, is a type of high-speed internet connection. It works by sending light signals through cables made of long, thin strands of glass. This helps give fiber the tremendous speed and bandwidth that it’s known for—fiber tends to be the fastest and most reliable of all internet connection types.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Fiber is synonymous with speed, but how fast is it really? Fiber internet can go up to 10 Gbps, but 1–2 Gbps plans are much more common. We'll share what speeds you can get with fiber home internet, what you can do with the speed, and which providers offer the fastest fiber plans.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
If you’re moving, you have a lot on your plate already—you don’t want to add to it. However, moving into a new apartment complex can bring an extra challenge: trying to sort out your internet provider.
Switchful article generic thumbnail
Deciding between fiber internet and DSL is mainly a question of speed—fiber packages tend to start at DSL’s

The people behind our research
We believe the best information comes from first-hand customer experience and methodical research by subject-matter experts. We never source information from "content farms," and we don’t generate content using artificial intelligence (AI). You can trust that our recommendations are fact-checked meticulously and sourced appropriately by authentic, industry-recognized people.
Contributing researcher
Headshot of Brittany McGhee
Researched by
Brittany McGheeContributing Writer

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.

Contributing reviewer
Headshot of Bri Field
Reviewed by
Bri FieldAssigning Editor

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.

Endnotes and sources

1. “FCC Broadband Map,” FCC. Accessed 25 July 2022.