Fiber internet is one of the smartest options to go with these days if you are considering installing or upgrading your internet. Everyone has heard of fiber, or at least about how the government plans to expand its availability across the country. Many experts see the service provided by fiber optic internet providers as the next step in the evolution of digital communication, and the following is a look at why that is probably not too far off the mark.
Fiber internet is basically internet that gets delivered to you via fiber optic lines. This kind of access is unique because unlike cable and DSL, which send information as electric signals through copper lines, fiber optic lines make use of tiny glass or plastic strands that carry data in the form of light. The system employed by fiber optic internet providers uses binary transmissions, and delivers immense speed and reliability to users.
Why is Fiber So Fast?
The speed of internet is highly dependent on the amount of data your infrastructure is capable of handling. DSL and cable use traditional copper wires which were initially meant for only voice communication, and that limits how much data they can carry within a certain time. Satellite internet too falls short in this regard, mostly because of tremendous distances that the signals have to traverse to get from one end to the other. In fact, satellite internet gets you much the same speeds as cable and DSL, but brings the problem of high latency, which in this day and age is hard to work past.
Fiber optic lines, on the other hand, send modulated light in place of electricity, and that raises their bandwidth capacity. Typical connections from fiber optic internet providers deliver speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second – a hundred times as fast as data coming in through old copper wires. Gamers and avid streamers get the best out of connections from fiber optic internet providers, because they need something that can transfer tremendous amounts of data quickly and reliably.
Fiber Optic Cables: Anatomy
Fibers individually surrounded by multiple layers of strengthening material that protects them and keeps the light signals from leaking out. A typical cable laid by one of the fiber optic internet providers packs several individual fibers of this sort, which enables transmission of high volumes of data using a single connection.
Single-Mode vs. Multimode Fiber
Single-mode optical fiber contains a smaller core and relays laser diode transmissions for very long distances. Multimode fiber relays LED light with the help of a bigger core by making the light “bounce” until it reaches its destination a shorter distance away. The latter type of fiber is considerably cheaper, which is why it is commonly used inside city networks.
Ribbon vs. Loose Tube Construction
Ribbon fiber optic cable packs fibers in a close formation and is a lot cheaper than its main alternative, loose tube fiber optic cable. The latter gives more emphasis to protecting the fibers, and achieves this through the use of greater padding to ensure external damage is kept to a minimum. The number of fibers a cable contains can be two, several hundred, or anywhere in between.
A lot of the times, all the fibers inside a cable happen to be of the same type. In these cases, the outer layers are accordingly color-coded. On top of that, fiber optic internet providers also mark individual fiber bundles inside the cable to ensure ease of installation when cables need to be spliced together.
Simplex vs. Duplex
Since it is usual for connections to go two ways, cables are mostly sold in one of two packaging styles: duplex and simplex. Duplex cables carry two separate fiber cables joined by a mutual outer coating, and have two exits on each end. Each cable only relays data in one direction, making duplex cables highly suited to high-traffic connections such as at fiber switches, servers, and backbone ports.
It is not uncommon for cables to be installed with surplus unused fibers. These are called “dark fibers”, and can be used in the event that more capacity is required in the future. As a result, fiber optic networks are highly scalable especially in relation to coaxial cable and DSL. A network set up by one of the fiber optic internet providers has the potential to easily grow as and when the need arises.
Parts of a Fiber Network
- Fiber optic cable: Nothing works without this; it is a cable, which carries pulses of light between two different places.
- Transmitter: This is the device, which converts digital signal into pulse form, and then transmits the same through the fiber cable. Some transmitters are capable of sending multiple signals at once by keeping these at different wavelengths, and effectively enhancing the capacity of each fiber. The technique is called WDM or Wavelength Division Multiplexing.
- Receiver: This is the device, which the turns arriving light pulses back into digital signal, and then feeds them to a digital device. If WDM was employed, it falls to the receiver to translate all the different wavelengths used in a single fiber. Transmitter and receiver are often the same product, in which case it is called a transceiver.
Differences between Business and Residential Fiber Internet
Business fiber internet service invariably costs more than what a residential subscriber would have to pay, despite the underlying technology being the same. Small businesses may not initially understand why they have to pay higher prices for essentially the same thing. What is overlooked though is that business fiber internet carries many guarantees which residential fiber lacks.
- Flexible configurations: Fiber business users usually require different things from an internet service that their residential counterparts. These usually include sophisticated configurations that bring about much higher performance after, say, switching over from cable. Multiprotocol Label Switching or MPLS directs data among various network nodes through short paths to prevent routing lookups, increasing reliability. Border Gateway Protocol or BGP exchanges routing information for use in routing autonomous systems. Besides, many businesses have the need for larger IPv6 or IPv4 subnets whether for security or speed, or both. This applies particularly to organizations that have complex network infrastructures, where fiber connectivity can bring the necessary flexibility they need to meet their requirements.
- Cloud service and data center access: Fiber-optic internet for businesses allows configuring point-to-point circuits for use in Wide Area Networks (WANs), as well as in inter-office VoIP telephony. To top that off, business fiber can also be tweaked to open up direct access to cloud services or a data center. With more and more companies relying heavily on hosted cloud options for data storage, it makes sense that these organizations would need quick access to their data, while not having to compromise on security. Fiber connectivity allows applying the direct connectivity concept to on-site resources called Storage Area Network (SAN). As long as the business is connected directly to this via a WAN, the firm gets to enjoy appreciable speed, availability, and security when it comes to their data.
Fiber vs. Cable and DSL
Other than being much faster in comparison, fiber scores over cable and DSL in some other ways as well.
- Fiber-optic lines are better suited to carrying data over long distances: Both light and electricity degrade when they travel long distances, and when that happens, the signal grows weak, or the bandwidth drops; suffice to it is never pleasant for a user. Copper cable links cannot be laid continuously for more than 328 feet if you want to uphold signal strength. Fiber optic cables, on the other hand, can maintain signal strength for up to around 25 miles. This is why so many people sign up for connections from fiber optic internet providers.
- Radio waves and electricity do not interfere with fiber optics: Copper may be a great way to get electricity from one point to another, but not in a closed system, and the flipside of this is the issue of possible radio or electromagnetic interference. Higher this interference, the lesser the signal strength will be as a consequence. Sometimes, the signal may get cut entirely. This, however, is not an issue shared by plastic and glass lines laid by fiber optic internet providers, which are sufficiently insulated against interference.
- Fiber optic lines have less chance of incurring wear and tear: Copper, being a soft metal and good heat conductor, is more prone to damage when exposed to the elements. It generally breaks down after a few years. Fiber endures longer and better for the simple reason that it is much harder. Regarding pressure, copper can take about 25 pounds before it is irreversibly damaged, while fiber easily stands up to between 100 and 200 pounds.
Basically, if speed, reliability, and efficiency matter to you, then fiber is a choice that is hard to beat. If you are already convinced it is the one for you, the next step is to sign up for a connection offered by one of the fiber optic internet providers servicing your area. Google “fiber optic internet in my area” and you are bound to get a list to start working with.
Shortcomings of Fiber Optic Internet
Fiber internet does have its downsides, but not enough to knock it off the top when you consider internet service options. Still, it is important to know everything you can about what you sing up for. The following are the main disadvantages of signing up for a connection offered by one of the fiber optic internet providers servicing your area.
- You probably will not need all that speed: Most people are used to lower speeds than fiber internet offers, and still manage to satisfy their work and entertainment needs inside what they get. The problem with this is that while a new fiber connection’s speed may seem enticing at first, the attraction can easily fade after you realize you do not have much use for it on a regular basis. The FCC says a single user on average need just 1 Mbps to browse the web, and 4 Mbps to stream HD videos or play an online game. To qualify as “advanced telecommunications”, a service needs to provide speeds of 25 Mbps, but that is already the case with many cable providers. Although fiber optic internet providers beat them easily at this, you would not be squeezing the juice out of the bandwidth unless someone in the home was streaming a Blu-ray movie while another was playing a game.
- Availability is very limited: Not many fiber optic internet providers offer widespread service, and as of 2104, less than 25% of the country has fiber-optic lines in their neighborhood. DSL and cable, in contrast, are available to 90% of the population. Fiber internet is mainly provided in the north Atlantic coast and the Midwest. A few fiber optic internet providers such as Google and Verizon have promised nationwide network expansion, but that is still some ways in the future. To know what options you have, go online and check for provides by zip code.
- New lines require new infrastructure: The main reason cable and DSL are still around despite fiber’s undeniable superiority in so many areas is that they have an existing infrastructure which can be used to relay internet signals to subscribers’ homes. These are the lines originally put in place for phone and TV service. Fiber-optic lines are not so common in the country, and whenever one of the fiber optic internet providers wants to service a new area, they are required to lay the necessary infrastructure. This means most fiber internet companies are looking to compensate for that initial cost they have had to up within multiple locations, consequently hampering further availability because expansion brings most costs.
Is Fiber Internet Right for you?
In a nutshell, you need to be a gamer or HD streaming aficionado to be able to fully utilize the best that fiber internet has to offer. Otherwise, cable or DSL can just as easily meet your needs, and at far lower prices no less.
Assuming your household is deep into HD streaming or gaming, and you are lucky enough to be living in a neighborhood already serviced by one of the major fiber optic internet providers, you should definitely sign up with them and partake in the superior benefits it offers. A 1 Gbps plan from Google or Verizon would be priced similarly to the typical 25–50 Mbps plans from most cable companies. This makes sense after knowing the many advantages fiber optic carried over cable. However, the availability of fiber internet is so limited that most people who want it have to wait until it starts up in their area.
Questions to Ask
Before signing up with one of the major fiber optic internet providers servicing your area, there are a few important question you should not neglect to ask.
- What download speeds can you expect? Most ISPs are clear on the top speeds in their various plans. If there is any vagueness here, make sure you focus on what the download speeds will likely be, because that decides how well you would be able to stream movies or play games.
- Will there be a data cap? As a way to make keep people from cutting the cord, many ISPs have begun putting caps on the amount of data each user gets to use inside a month. Going over this gets you charged an extra fee, or stuck with intentionally slowed internet. It is best to avoid deals with data caps, especially ones that you are highly likely to exceed.
- What about additional costs? The advertised price is what you are supposed to end up paying at month’s end, but we do not live in an ideal world where service providers value and uphold transparency. What is likely to happen is that you find out they have been charging for the modem or router they gave you, and this goes into the monthly bill. Make sure you know beforehand if this is the case, and are all right with it.
- Is it just an introductory deal? Even fiber optic internet providers give insane offers to draw new customers, and you do not want to get addicted to that pie. Think for the long-term, and be clear on whether you will be getting an introductory deal, and where that would leave you after it ends.