What The Heck Is Fiber Internet Anyway?

It’s time for some fundamental education. I get a lot of questions about “Fiber” internet, and there is much confusion about what it really means. Here is straight-forward reference information about the major Internet Service types overall, plus recommendations about when a basic service should be used and when a higher-dollar, higher-quality service should be used. The speed references come from those currently available in the Tampa Bay area. There is much more granularity that I could get into, but this is simply a starting point, so you as the consumer can at least be familiar with the basics and can be a savvier buyer. Save this article for future reference.

Fiber Internet Cable

Don’t get all twisted over this stuff…

It’s about Speed versus Stability

Below I’ve listed 3.5 major overarching categories of internet services and get into fundamentals for each. I will not recommend one service type over another, as each has their fit to a particular business need. The modern consumer is pretty lucky, honestly, to have so many options available.

  • Broadband – An internet service type where tiers of high speeds are available, but the services are shared among multiple users within the carrier’s facilities. This means there is not a guarantee of service quality or speed, and the more users online at the same time, the lower the potential stability of each user’s internet quality. Better performance could be found outside of peak usage hours versus at peak usage times (say 3 AM versus 3 PM). All of this depends on how densely subscribed a carrier is in a particular area plus how old the infrastructure is that the carrier’s service operates on. Another term for this broadband circuit type is “Best Effort,” because you pay for a maximum potential speed.

This service type is best for more casual office internet browsing, simple email and when logging into remote systems to view data, versus download it. Small insurance offices or retail locations are examples.

DSL, Cable are local broadband options. The download speed will always be higher than the upload speed, such as 3 Meg download and 768 K upload, up to 1 Gig download and 35 Meg upload. Monthly costs are lower, installation is relatively quick and equipment costs are minimal to non-existent.

  • Dedicated Internet – This internet service type is not shared among multiple users. The name of the game here is Stability. The speed you pay for is the speed you get, 24/7/365. Service quality is guaranteed. The amount of other users on the provider’s network will not degrade service quality. Other -more technical- service degrading terms such as latency and packet loss (which are much higher with broadband services) are significantly reduced with Dedicated Internet, thus further enhancing it’s value. Dedicated Internet speeds will always be symmetrical, meaning the upload and download speeds will be the same, which is a benefit of the “dedicated” nature of the circuit.
    This service type is best when large files are constantly sent and received, remote users are logging into systems based in your office or for large offices which run on VOIP (Hosted Voice) Phones and much more. Architecture and Engineering Firms plus Call Centers are examples.

    T1 and T3 (also known as DS1 or DS3) are older types of Dedicated Internet circuits, delivered over copper cabling. The service speed here maxes out at 45 Meg (for the techies, I’m not getting into bonding, OC-3, etc., so don’t start…). This is typically delivered over older infrastructure and has the possibility of outside interference affecting the circuit quality.

    The most modern, and highest quality, Dedicated Internet type is referred to as Dedicated Fiber with categories such as Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet and Fiber Optic hand-offs. This is actual fiber optic cable, delivered all the way from the provider to your location and does not suffer from the same interference risks as copper circuits. Speeds range from 10 Meg, 1 Gig… even 10 Gig or higher.

    Pricing is higher for these service types, to support the increased value. Installation time-frames are longer, and specialized equipment is necessary for them to function.

  • FTTP – I’m breaking this out in its own category (the .5 category), because it is fundamentally a Broadband service which has an element of Dedicated Internet’s benefit. The option available in the Tampa Bay area is Frontier’s branded, FiOS. FTTP is similar to Dedicated Internet, because it has symmetrical upload and download speeds, such as 100/100 or even 1 Gig/1Gig. Again, this is still a broadband version of a “Fiber” circuit, because there are no guarantees of service speed or quality. Pricing is commensurate with DSL or Cable. Installation time-frames are faster and often equipment costs are minimal to non-existent.
  • Wireless – This is the last category of my list and an interesting animal for sure. I can, and probably should, do a separate post entirely about these options. Microwave Internet is one option and works by a local provider wirelessly beaming an internet connection to a dish located on the client’s roof (most often). Satellite Internet works by beaming a connection into space and back (an awesome sentence to write, by the way). Cellular Internet uses the same carrier networks that smartphones run on, 3G and 4G (5G is coming, but isn’t in Tampa as of this moment). Installation and equipment costs vary by service type.
    Wireless options have often been used for backup internet or for when a location is hard to reach by the normal service types I’ve already listed. An example would be a location blocked or surrounded by railroad tracks, which are difficult to dig under. Some wireless options can be used for a primary internet connection, but like the rest, depend on how it’s used.

The last point I want to make is regarding backup and redundancy. Considering the multitude of service types available, and relatively low pricing for some of them, often the best move is to install multiple types, such as a Dedicated Internet circuit with a Cable backup, or a Cable option with a wireless backup. As stated, options abound!

Keep in mind, the information listed here is just a starting point. Every business is different, and thanks to the amorphous concept known as “The Cloud” there is no longer black and white regarding which service type is needed for any specific business vertical. As the consumer, you are in a great position!

If you have any questions, you know how to get a hold of me. Talk soon.