Have you been hearing about fiber internet and seeing ads about its ultra-fast speeds? Wondering if it’s worth the hype? But wait, are you also wondering what fiber is? Don’t stress. Let’s walk through the technology and what makes fiber different than other types of connections.

What is fiber internet?

Fiber internet refers to a network connection that transmits data over fiber-optic cables. Fiber-optic cables are comprised of strands of hair-thin glass or plastic that transmit light signals over long distances. In other words, fiber internet transfers data from location to location in the form of light. That means two things: it’s very fast, and it’s capable of transferring large information loads.

Fiber internet providers use strategies to keep data moving almost at the speed of light. Wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) increases the amount of data and allows for multiple wavelengths on a single fiber optic cable. And when you have fiber installed to your home, you get your own line. That means you’re not sharing bandwidth with your neighbors, town or city, and therefore you’re not competing with anyone else for speed. And with more speed comes more connection stability.

This differentiates it from the older forms of internet technology, like cable and DSL, which are still highly used but notably slower and less reliable.

How is fiber different from cable or DSL?

The differences between fiber and cable or DSL come down to the technology used to transfer the data. Cable uses coaxial lines, while DSL (short for Digital Subscriber Line) relies on telephone lines. Both cable and DSL are copper based. Coaxial cable lines serve more purposes than DSL. As the name implies, cable TV employs copper coaxial lines to transmit the signal. (Fun fact: the first Transatlantic communication in 1858 used copper coaxial cable before the technology was fully understood or patented.) This reliable but very old technology is finally getting a run for its money with fiber, which offers much faster speeds at competitive rates.

Of the three connectivity types, DSL is the slowest of the bunch, with download speeds in the single digits of megabits (Mbps). You can do basic activities, like checking email, but streaming anything in high definition is going to be tough. Cable is more common, and faster, with download speeds between 100 and 300 Mbps but up to one gigabit (1000 Mbps). Fiber blows cable out of the water, though, with symmetrical upload and download speeds up to 10 gigabits. While 10-gig internet is not mainstream (yet), this number shows the sheer speed at which fiber-optic lines can transfer data.

Is fiber really faster?

So, what do these speeds mean, practically? Megabits refer how many millions of “bits” of data can transfer per second. Gigabits refers to how many billions of bits of data can transfer per second. So, 10 Gbps is 10 billion bits of data per second versus, say, 300 million bits of data per second. That’s the power of fiber.

Most fiber customers are working at speeds of around 1, 2 or 5 Gbps. This is significantly faster than cable speeds. Another reason fiber stands out is because it’s not subject to network congestion. While cable internet traffic can (and does) get stuck in a jam, especially during peak daily usage times, fiber travels along its own pathway. It’s a little like having your own very HOV lane...for your Tesla. This means less latency (slowdown) and faster data transmission. To put it another way, there’s less of a chance your face will get frozen in an unflattering expression during a video call with your coworkers. And you won’t miss those annoying “loading” wheels either.

What equipment do I need for fiber internet?

The most important thing you need for fiber may be out of your hands: the fiber itself. If fiber exists in your area, then it can be installed to your home either by overhead wires attached to the telephone pole or by burying it on your property. On connection day, your technician will thread that wire into your home via an existing port or by drilling a small hole. The wire then needs to be connected to an optical network terminal (ONT), which serves a similar purpose to a modem in that it transmits the pulses of light carrying data. You won’t need a modem if you have an ONT, but you will still need a router to blast the WiFi signal into your house. You may likely need WiFi extenders, too, if your signal doesn’t extend far enough into the home. Your technician should be able to guide you through the installation and everything you need to set up your connection.

OK, so do I really need fiber?

Since the dawn of the internet era, connection speeds have been getting faster and faster. Home internet has evolved from dial-up and local-area networks that required plugging desktop computers into phone lines and ethernet ports, to being able to connect our phones to WiFi to do almost anything we want almost everywhere we go. The point is, our growing and continuing reliance on fast, reliable internet is not changing, and our desire for improved connectivity will follow.

So, whether you think you need it or not, fiber internet is the future—and the present.

In recent years, fiber internet has emerged as a popular alternative to traditional broadband internet services. This technology has many advantages over traditional broadband, including faster and symmetrical download and upload speeds, more reliable connections, and lower latency.

If you work from home, like to stream shows and movies off internet-based platforms (such as Netflix or YouTube), create video content for work or pleasure, or if you like to play video games (especially interactive multi-player games), fiber is the best choice for speed and efficiency. With fiber, you won’t get bogged down with delays, glitches, buffering wheels and other annoying hallmarks of slower, older technologies. And if you’re on the fence because you have a cable TV-internet bundle, know that you can still watch your favorite channels with a variety of streaming services or satellite TV. You really don’t need cable for much anymore.

If fiber is available in your area, inquire about switching your plan. If it’s not built out yet, get on the list to find out when it will become available so that you can be first in line for fast, reliable fiber internet. Ziply Fiber is rapidly connecting Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana with fiber—even rural and underserved areas.

Check your address to see if we’re nearby: ziplyfiber.com/fiber-construction.