As you explore high-speed internet options for your business, you may see fiber optic internet as an option. This connection type is one of the fastest and most reliable, but that can come at a cost. Our guide breaks down what you need to know about fiber internet and how it compares with other types of internet connections so you can make an educated decision about whether or not fiber optic internet is best for your business.
What is fiber optic internet?
Fiber optic internet is a type of connection that uses specialty cables to deliver internet service from the provider to your business. It's widely regarded as one of the fastest internet options available, providing speeds faster than what other internet networks can handle.
How does fiber optic internet work?
Fiber optic cables convert electrical signals that carry data to light. This light – which transfers data more efficiently and with less interference than signals sent through copper lines or coaxial cables – is transferred via the glass core contained inside each cable. Fiber optic cables transmit data faster than cable wires and other methods of transferring data over the internet.
Fiber optic internet cables are composed of two types: Lit fiber and dark fiber. Lit fiber optic internet cables are cables that businesses pay to access, as they are already "live" and delivering internet to their customers. Dark fiber refers to infrastructure in place but not yet in use. Dark fiber exists because fiber optic networks are still relatively new; many are still expanding to new areas around the country. If your business plans to connect to dark fiber, you may face additional installation or equipment costs to activate it.
The fiber optic cables themselves are ultrathin – less than the width of a human hair. In addition to their glass core, fiber optic cables contain a protective layer of plastic or glass around the core called "cladding." The cladding ensures that the light signals that transfer the fiber optic internet won't get lost, reinforcing the connection's high speeds.
How is fiber optic internet installed?
Fiber optic internet installation requires two significant components: Construction completed outside your business and work completed inside your business.
Fiber optic cables are typically buried underground, but some can be placed along telephone poles above ground. This infrastructure must be in place before your business connects to fiber internet.
Before installation, you need to confirm whether your area is serviced by fiber optic internet. You can confirm this by searching online for providers near you that support and install fiber optic internet. Your local internet service provider (ISP) may determine this by ZIP code, neighborhood or your precise address.
Once you determine that your business can access fiber optic internet, you can proceed with scheduling installation. You can opt for either a dedicated fiber internet connection or a shared fiber internet connection. Here are the differences between the two connection types:
- A dedicated fiber optic connection is reserved solely for your business. Only activities related to your company are conducted on the network. This can help ensure that the network doesn't lag, it delivers promised speeds on time, and that you have full control over precisely which devices are using and sharing the network. The downside, however, is that installation may be more expensive, complicated and lengthy. Installation for a dedicated fiber optic connection is a much more involved process than it is for a shared connection. Requirements for a dedicated fiber optic connection include a path, which leads from the provider network to your router; the right power source to maintain the connection; and equipment to properly ground the fiber optic cables.
- A shared fiber optic connection splits the service between your business and other businesses in your area, whether those businesses are located in the same building as you or your neighborhood. Naturally, sharing a fiber optic connection can reduce your monthly bill, but your connection may be slower during peak times (but still very fast by other internet connection standards). Installation is also less complicated, as the infrastructure is already in place. A shared fiber optic connection utilizes a single strand to service several companies at once. To prepare a shared fiber optic connection to serve your business, the ISP will place "splitters" to send the signals to different businesses, allowing each company to receive the service.
Once you choose a dedicated or shared fiber optic connection, the next step is to set up the connection in your company's space. Choose a place where the fiber optic equipment is safe; this sensitive equipment cannot be exposed to heat, humidity or dust. The ISP will install the equipment and test the connection to ensure that it's working before completing installation.
How fast is fiber optic internet?
Fiber optic internet is widely regarded as one of the fastest connection types for both businesses and home use. It is capable of delivering speeds up to 10 gigabits per second (10 Gbps), although most fiber optic connections typically clock in at 1 Gbps to 2 Gbps, sometimes under that. The speed of a fiber optic connection can be limited by the provider's offerings and whether your connection is hardwired or via a Wi-Fi setup, among other considerations. Even at 1 Gbps or under, though, your company can transfer large files, stream video, rely on cloud-based software and conduct other high-intensity tasks faster than other types of high-speed internet.
How much does fiber optic internet cost?
The cost of fiber internet varies depending on the ISP, the minimum guaranteed speeds and your location, among other factors. Prices can be as low as $20 per month or as high (or higher) than $160 per month. You may also face additional costs, including installation fees, equipment purchases or equipment rental.
Benefits of fiber optic internet for business
Fiber optic internet is certainly an appealing option for many businesses. However, it's not as simple as being "faster" than other high-speed internet options. Here's what makes fiber optic internet a good option for your business.
Great for high bandwidth use
If your employees stream video, transfer large files back and forth, run webinars or conduct other high-intensity tasks at the same time, fiber optic internet can support these uses without impacting your overall speed.
Fast upload time
Files typically upload and download at different speeds, as internet networks are designed to download faster than they can upload. (This is seen in the FCC's minimum download and upload speed requirements: Minimum download speeds are set at 25 Mbps, while minimum upload speeds are set at 3 Mbps.)
Fiber optic internet takes the need for uploading speed into account. This is especially important for livestreaming content, which requires steady upload speeds. Fiber optic networks offer download and upload speeds much closer to each other than other types of high-speed ISPs.
Delivers performance without sacrificing speed
With other internet connection types, many devices using the network simultaneously can slow the network's overall speed. Fiber optic internet can sustain these dips and ensure fast speeds, no matter how the network is being used.
Latency is the time it takes for the internet signal to travel. This time, measured in milliseconds, helps determine the speed of your internet connection. Because fiber optic cables offer superior data transfer compared to other cables, they boast less latency than other high-speed internet types.
Most fiber optic cables – those buried underground – are not affected by wind, storms, rain, snow or other elements. This means that a storm is less likely to knock out the internet, creating more uptime for your business and your employees who rely on fast, reliable, and stable internet to do their jobs.
How does fiber optic internet compare with other high-speed internet types?
As you evaluate your business internet options, you'll come across many types and read pros and cons for each. Here, we compare the major differences between fiber optic internet and other internet types.
Fiber optic internet vs. cable
Cable internet utilizes the same coaxial cables used to transmit television to deliver internet service to your business. These copper-core cables use electrical currents to transmit data from the ISP to your business. Access to cable internet is ubiquitous: If your business already has a cable TV hookup, adding cable internet will generally be an easy process.
Cable internet connections can support fast speeds, reaching up to 1,000 Mbps, but they are nowhere near as fast as fiber optic internet. Cable internet also does not support relatively equal download/upload speeds – that is unique to fiber optic internet. However, cable is still much faster than DSL and other connection types, but it is subject to more power outages than fiber optic internet.
Fiber optic internet vs. dial-up
The primary difference between fiber optic and dial-up is how the internet is delivered. Dial-up internet utilizes phone lines, while fiber optic internet utilizes dedicated cables.
Dial-up internet was one of the first available technologies to deliver internet to businesses and homes, but that also makes it one of the slowest. Dial-up modems cannot support speeds beyond 56 kilobytes per second (Kbps) due to the technical limitations of the device.
The adoption of new and emerging technologies has made dial-up internet a less-utilized option over time, but dial-up is still the only option for some businesses and homes in rural areas not yet serviced by fiber optic and other high-speed internet options.
Fiber optic internet vs. DSL
Short for "direct subscriber line," DSL internet was innovative when it was first introduced: These lines separated internet from the phone connection, so users can use the phone and the internet at the same time. Clearly, this is a must for today's businesses, many of which are reliant on the internet to stay connected and perform daily business functions.
Like dial-up, the major difference between DSL and fiber optic cable is one of speed. DSL speeds typically do not exceed 6 Mbps, a far cry from the 1 Gbps or greater that fiber optic internet can reach, though they can sometimes reach as high as 100 Mbps.
DSL can be difficult to work with if your workforce frequently downloads or uploads large files or streams content. DSL connections may also be overburdened by multiple devices using the network at the same time, greatly dissipating the already slower speeds this connection type offers.
When it comes to pricing, DSL is typically more affordable than fiber internet. This is because DSL's infrastructure already exists through the phone lines. It's also more readily available than fiber optic, because it utilizes these existing networks.
Does your business need fiber internet?
Deciding whether to move forward with fiber internet depends on your company's needs and the cost you're willing to pay. For small companies on a budget, the higher cost of fiber internet may not be worth the speed.
If your organization regularly uploads and downloads large files, participates in videoconferences or relies on cloud-based software that requires the internet to operate, fiber internet may be your best option.
However, this all depends on if fiber internet is available for your business: As an emerging technology with infrastructure still being built out, you may not be able to easily access fiber internet. For more information, check your local ISP.