What Is Fiber Internet & How Does It Work?

Fiber internet is internet signals that send through fiber optic cables at the speed of light. These transmissions give households internet speeds up to 10 Gbps. Fiber plans are ideal for remote workers, home server management, and 8K streaming.

If it’s available, get fiber over any other internet type.

As an internet enthusiast, I want to know everything about how the internet works. This is why I put together this guide covering fiber optic internet connectivity.

I’ll cover the following throughout this guide:

Let’s go.

Key Takeaways

  • Supports speeds up to 10 Gbps
  • More bandwidth & speeds because fiber optic cables transmit information through light pulses
  • Less signal losses since the glass wires don’t conduct electricity
  • Works best for competitive online gaming, home server management, & cloud-based home security systems
  • Often as fast upload as download speed

What Is Fiber Internet?

A fiber connection uses fiber optic cables to transfer fiber cable services to your home.

Fiber optic cables use glass fibers to transmit data at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) [1]. Because of such intense speeds, fiber internet providers will deliver speeds up to 10 Gbps.

Did I say cables with glass fibers?

Yes. Despite using glass materials with the thickness of human hairs, manufacturers design these cables as resilient to bending.

Fiber cable makers will coat these cables with Kevlar coating. The glass in these cables make them immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI). And radio frequency interference (RFI).

The latter 2 acronyms help protect your connections from hacking attempts and other disruptions.

What Is Dark Fiber?

Dark Fiber network cables are cables with no service traffic running through them. Leasing or buying unlit connections from providers requires you to manage and deploy equipment to light these cables.

This fiber type only works for businesses that want unlimited scaling for their fiber optic services.

Some equipment you’d need to run Dark Fiber include:

  • Optical transceiver: transits signals
  • EDFA (Erbium Doped Fiber Amplifier) amplifier: speeds up light signals without converting them to digital signals
  • Optical attenuator: reduces the power needed from signals
  • Optical transponder: converts optical signals to digital signals

Dark Fiber costs more and is only applicable to businesses. But it allows unlimited scaling.

How Does Fiber Optic Internet Work?

Internet service providers send data through fiber optic cables at the speed of light. Meanwhile, it uses binary code (like cable internet) to communicate with your devices.

Binary code is the language computers speak that uses ones and zeroes.

How Optical Fibers Work

Fiber optic cables have glass fibers less than a tenth as thick as a human hair. And these fibers consist of 2 parts:

  1. Core: innermost glass part of the fiber where light signals travel
  2. Cladding: thick plastic or glass layer that surrounds the core

These parts work together to create total internal reflection. Which makes it so light can shoot through fiber cables without escaping. When light signals transfer through the cables, they’ll hit the glass at less than 42-degree angles and reflect off the various glass cables.

And these lights will carry binary data (your internet).

Providers will use one of 2 types of optical cables:

  • Single-mode fiber: smaller core, which lessens attenuation
  • Multi-mode fiber: larger core enables more light bouncing

Single-mode fiber optic cables work better for carrying light signals along long distances. Because the smaller opening isolates the light into a single beam. This offers the light a more direct route.

Multi-modes work better for carrying signals along shorter distances. The larger cores allow multiple light signals to shoot through the core. However, it comes with a greater chance of signal loss.

What Is Fiber Internet Good For?

Fiber internet works best for the following uses and individuals:

  • Remote workers: symmetric speeds reduce bottlenecks slowing file downloads & uploads
  • Cloud-based security cameras: higher upload speeds allow you to use more cameras
  • Competitive gaming: lower latency from 100% fiber connections may give you an advantage
  • Smart homes: use more devices simultaneously with increased bandwidth
  • Managing home servers: transfers data quicker

There are a million other uses for fiber internet. But I listed the big dogs. Get this internet connection type if your home relies on the internet for daily tasks.

And if you can find fiber products for a reasonable price.

Let’s find out how ISPs will install your fiber internet.

How Fiber Optic Internet Is Installed

Internet service provider technicians will install an optical network terminal (ONT). Either inside or outside your home. Or apartment utility rooms.

An ONT is a small utility box that intercepts the fiber internet signals from your provider, then converts them to digital signals. The digital signals allow your router and other devices to understand the light signals your ISP sends.

Homes or apartments may have existing optical network terminals from a previous tenant. Check with the property manager or previous owner whether your home has an ONT for “X” provider.

Equipment Used for Fiber Broadband Internet

An optical network terminal serves as a modem for fiber optic internet plans. Thus, you won’t need a modem. You can’t use third-party modems or network gateways with fiber providers.

Internet service providers will usually let you use a third-party router. Ensure they support your plan’s maximum internet speeds, though. Let’s use Frontier’s 500 Mbps fiber plan as an example.

When getting a router, it must support AT LEAST 500 Mbps internet speeds. Otherwise, your internet’s doomed to suffer from slower speeds. If you’re having trouble finding a router for fiber providers, check out recommendations we’ve tested:

Many providers will offer free routers. But they may not offer features ideal for your household. For instance, homes larger than 1,500 square feet should consider mesh Wi-Fi setups. To avoid wireless dead zones.

Different Types of Fiber Connections

As fiber optic signals shoot through optical fibers, they’ll need to end.

Upon reaching their destination, ONTs will convert light pulses from the fiber optic cables into digital signals. It’ll serve as a translator among your devices and the ISPs node.

You’ll find various Fiber to the “X” connection (or last mile connection) types that include the following.

What Is FTTP?

Fiber to the premises (FTTP) runs fiber optic cables directly from the internet service provider to your home. Thus, ensuring you receive a 100% fiber optic connection.

How Fiber to the Premises

Other labels for FTTP include:

  • Fiber to the building (FTTB)
  • Fiber to the desk (FTTD)
  • Fiber to the home (FTTH)

Since these offer “pure” fiber optic connectivity, you’ll likely pay the most for these plans.

What Is FTTC?

Fiber to the Cabinet/Curb (FTTC) involves running fiber optic cables from the telephone exchange equipment. They’ll stop at your neighborhood’s phone cabinet. From there, a copper cable will run from the phone cabinet to your home.

Fiber to Cabine

Other names FTTC goes by include:

  • Fiber to the node (FTTN)
  • Fiber to the street (FTTS)

These are the most common fiber optic connections and will usually cost less than FTTP.

What Is FTTN?

Fiber to the neighborhood provides optical connections to customers residing within a 1-mile radius of the ISP’s fiber node. Since connections all stem from the node, the further you’re away from the source, the weakest of a connection you’ll get.

Fiber Internet Pros & Cons

Advantages of using fiber optic internet include [2 PDF link]:

  • Less interference from RFI and EMI signals
  • Latency as low as 5 milliseconds
  • Less susceptible to signal hacking: more secure internet
  • Usually equal download/upload speeds

Areas where fiber internet isn’t the best are:

  • Expensive installation costs
  • Limited availability
  • Unnecessary speeds for most households
  • Requires new infrastructure

How Fast Is Fiber Broadband Internet?

Most providers offer fiber optic internet plans ranging from 500 Mbps to 2,000 Mbps download and upload speeds. And for the most part, you’ll see symmetric speeds (equal download and upload).

500 Mbps speeds will suffice for most households. 20 devices could stream 4K video simultaneously or download an hour-long 20 GB 4K UHD video file in around 5 minutes [3].

Every fiber plan I’ve reviewed offers symmetric 500 Mbps speeds. Making it ideal for livestreamers and remote workers. The former will find this beneficial. Since streaming on Twitch would require 5.7 Mbps upload speeds per device [4].

Those who work from home won’t have to worry about bottlenecks when downloading and uploading files from employers or clients. And likely won’t deal with connectivity and image quality issues when calling through VoIP and Zoom.

Plans that offer 2,000+ Mbps internet speeds work for households who frequently stream 8K cloud games or videos. Or who manages off-site servers. Otherwise, these speeds are overkill.

Fiber Optic Internet vs. Other Connection Types

Here’s how fiber optic internet connections compare to other connection types:

Internet TypeStrengthsWeaknessesBest For
FiberSpeed & reliabilityLimited availability, expensive, & requires ONTRemote workers, home servers, & constant file downloads/uploads
DSLMost affordableAccessibility & low upload speedsHomes who browse the internet & want to budget
CableBalances affordability, speed, and reliabilityNot as accessible in rural areas & may slow during peak timesGaming & online video streaming
LTE HomeCompetitive pricing & high speedsReliability & low upload speedsThose in suburban areas who want fast internet
SatelliteMost accessibleSlow & expensiveAnyone living in rural areas
Fixed WirelessReliable & quick installationMore users lead to throttled speedsBusinesses in remote locations
Different types of internet connectivity methods compared.

Fiber Internet vs. Cable Internet

Fiber internet is best when:

  • Equal download & upload speeds
  • More reliable internet connections

Cable internet is best when:

  • Bundling with cable TV products

Internet service providers share cable internet connections from a central node among 100–2,000 homes. Because of this sharing, customers will suffer from throttled internet speeds during peak hours.

Here’s an example. Say you’re using cable internet and hop on YouTube after getting off work. Everyone else on your node which gets off at a similar time will likely have a similar idea. Thus, you’ll experience slower internet speeds.

Partially because of the above paragraph (and money), cable broadband providers will also enforce data caps. These data caps limit the amount of usable data before adding a data overage surcharge to your internet bill.

Xfinity Comcast, for instance, enforces a 1.2 terabyte (TB) monthly data cap. Upon passing this cap, you must pay an additional $10 per 50 gigabytes (GB) your entire home uses.

Learn more about this in our article on Fiber Internet vs. Cable Internet.

Fiber Optic Internet vs DSL Internet

Fiber internet is best for:

  • Speed
  • Remote work

DSL internet is best for:

  • Affordability
  • Availability outside metro areas

Fiber optic internet connections won’t suffer from distortion when traveling long distances. Whereas, DSL connections suffer from this weakness.

DSL copper wires and cable internet both suffer from attenuation. Which means the signal’s strength sent to your devices weakens while traveling. Fiber travels long distances with low attenuation.

Because of such a weakness, DSL internet isn’t the best connection type for homes having intense internet usage. If you have 3 people in your home who watch Netflix and play Fortnite all the time, DSL won’t provide an optimal experience.

But it’s usually cheaper, but not always. 

Learn more about this in our article on Fiber Internet vs. DSL Internet.

Fiber Internet Buying Guide

Consider the following factors when shopping for a fiber optic internet provider:

  • Provider perks: freebies & discounts
  • Extra fees: installation fees, contracts, equipment rental costs, etc
  • Symmetric speeds: do they offer equal download & upload speeds?
  • Availability: ensure it’s available in your ZIP code
  • Bundles: whether they bundle internet with TV, cellular, or landline products
  • Price guarantee: prevents the ISP from raising your rates
  • Contracts: does “X” provider require a contract or term agreement?

Let’s talk about perks before comparing fiber providers.

Verizon Fios does an excellent job at offering perks and discounts for bundling. They offer $20 off Fios plans when bundling with their 5G mobile plans. And they’ll give you a 10-year price lock.

Google Fiber provides 1.0 terabytes (TB) of free storage on Google Drive and doesn’t charge an installation fee.

Check out every popular fiber internet provider.

Best Fiber Internet Providers Compared

Let’s compare fiber optic internet providers:

Provider* Starting PriceMax. Speed# of States ServicedBest For
Verizon Fios$49.99–$89.99/mo.300–940 Mbps9 (Availability map)Remote work & discounts
AT&T Fiber$55–$180/mo.300–5,000 Mbps21 (Availability map)Home server management, cloud gaming, & video streaming
Frontier Fiber$39.99–$149.99/mo.500–2,000 Mbps25 (Availability map)Online gaming & home server management
Ziply Fiber$20–$300/mo.50–5,000 Mbps4Home server management, cloud gaming, & video streaming
Optimum Fiber$40–$180/mo.300–5,000 Mbps17Home server management, cloud gaming, & video streaming
CenturyLink$30–$70/mo.200–940 Mbps16 (Availability map)Remote work
Xfinity Gigabit Pro$300/mo.6.0 Gbps40 (Availability map)Managing Home servers
Google Fiber$70–$100/mo.1.0–2.0 Gbps9Livestreaming
Windstream$39.99–$69.99/mo.500–1,000 Mbps18Home server management, cloud gaming, & video streaming
Fiber internet service providers compared.

* Does not include taxes and other fees. These will vary by region. Actual internet speed will vary by connectivity method (e.g., Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet) among other factors.

This list doesn’t include local or niche fiber internet providers. Consider checking those out before deciding on a provider. For instance, type this into Google, “fiber internet providers in Seattle, WA.”

Whatever search engine you use may pull up local fiber providers. And once you find a provider, check out reviews on Reddit. Or our reviews if we covered them.

I don’t want to linger on each provider. I’ll cover the main selling points.

Verizon Fios supports a handful of states. But offers discounts to various groups. For example, military personnel and first responders.


Its 940 Mbps internet plan isn’t symmetric. It provides 800 Mbps upload speeds. That’s still enough speed to suit most people’s needs.

AT&T Fiber is pricey. But it doesn’t require a contract and may offer some groups discounts like Verizon.

You may get discounted fiber optic internet when bundling AT&T or Verizon’s fiber products with their cellular plans. You’ll take out 2 birds with 1 stone in that area.

Frontier supposedly has some of the lowest latency. Making it ideal for gamers.

Ziply is only available in the Northwest, but offers stellar pricing. 

Optimum, Windstream, and CenturyLink don’t have exceptional perks to make them stand out. But they’re great if available in your area.

Xfinity’s Gigabit Pro 100% fiber plan provides the fastest internet. Ideal for homes that run off-premises servers and use them to frequently back up files.

Whether you’re a livestreamer or freelancer who frequently works with Google products (e.g., Drive), Google Fiber’s an ideal solution. Since it includes 1.0 terabytes (TB) of free storage. But their 2.0 GB plan has 1.0 Gbps upload speeds.

If you’re livestreaming or sending files to clients, 1.0 Gbps offers ideal internet speed.

Ensure you visit each provider’s website and enter your ZIP code. To see whether they service your area. Otherwise, you’ll waste time researching.

FAQs: Fiber Optic Internet

Read on to find frequently asked questions about fiber optic internet connections.

Is Getting Fiber Optic Internet Worth It?

Getting fiber optic internet services for your home is worth it if you have the disposable income and need fast, yet reliable internet.

What Routers Work With Fiber Optic Internet?

Most routers should work with fiber optic internet services. So long as they support your plan’s maximum internet speeds. Here are some recommendations.

What Affects Fiber Optic Internet Speeds?

Device interference, bandwidth consumption, and router types will  affect fiber internet speeds.

What Type of Cable Is Used for Fiber Internet?

Fiber internet uses fiber optic cables to deliver signals.


Fiber optic internet connections give customers with more bandwidth and lower latency. Due to the glass fibers used within the optical cables. And using light pulses to transmit signals.

Due to their lack of availability and need for building upon existing infrastructure, you should ensure your home’s online activities require a fiber upgrade.

If so, we’ve compared many fiber internet providers in-depth. Weigh their pros and cons before choosing a solution.

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