Fiber Internet vs Cable, Satellite, & Wireless: What’s the Difference?

From the days of dial-up to today, there are now a variety of ways to get your internet. Depending on where you live, you may have access to one or many types of internet. So, what are the differences between each type? And which is the fastest? 

Cable Internet

As the name suggests, cable internet uses the same infrastructure and cables as cable TV. Known as a coaxial cable network, the signal is sent through copper wires to your home. Once it reaches your home, your modem provides you with internet through an ethernet cable or a wireless router, giving you wifi. 

Cable internet is a type of broadband internet, which means a large number of messages can be sent simultaneously. With cable internet, the transmission speeds are just as fast as cable TV. Depending on your connection and service provider, cable internet can give you high-speed internet with speeds 10 times faster than dial-up and DSL.

The other main advantage of cable internet is the infrastructure. Because it relies on the same cables used for cable TV, cable internet is available to any home with a cable TV connection. Many providers bundle internet with cable and phone plans as well, making cable internet an affordable and enticing option. 

Its convenience is also its downside, however. The more people who use cable internet, the slower your connection will become. During peak use times, like in the evening, your internet speeds will become noticeably slower. Additionally, copper cables make cable internet prone to outages due to the conductive nature of copper.

Satellite Internet

For a satellite internet connection, the signal is sent from its source, to a satellite orbiting in outer space, down to your satellite dish, and finally to your modem. It’s the same principle and equipment used for satellite TV, making satellite internet an option for people with satellite TV, particularly those outside service areas for cable access. 

Like satellite TV, satellite internet can have the same connectivity issues. Because satellite transmissions are sent through the air rather than through a physical cable, they are more likely to experience interference. Harsh weather like wind and rain and physical obstructions like trees or buildings can all compromise a satellite internet signal. 

a satellite dish used for satellite internet

Given the connectivity issues, satellite internet usually isn’t a reliable or high-speed internet source. It might work for web browsing, but can’t be used for video streaming or other demanding internet tasks. Most satellite internet service providers also place data caps on their internet plans, meaning your internet speeds will slow dramatically if you reach a certain threshold of internet use. 

Satellite internet does not rely on physical cables, so while it might slow from data caps, it won’t slow due to bandwidth issues like cable internet. However, satellite internet is still much slower than cable internet in its upload and download speed capabilities. 

Wireless Internet

While you probably hear internet service providers talking about wireless internet all the time, it’s not actually a type of internet connection. Wireless internet, or wi-fi, is merely a method of distributing internet around your home, whether you get your internet from cable, satellite, or fiber. 

Some companies provide strictly wireless internet that requires no physical connection, only a modem and a router. It works similarly to the cellular internet on your phone, although this type of internet is much less common. In most cases, your internet comes to your modem via cable, satellite, or fiber, and is then turned into a wi-fi signal through a wireless router.  

Additionally, more and more public spaces are offering wi-fi. Many spaces like malls or even smaller businesses offer free wi-fi for customers or wi-fi on a pay per use basis. The principle of the technology is the same, although on a much larger scale to allow for more users. 

Fiber Internet

Fiber internet uses fiber optic cables to send information as a coded beam of light. This beam of light travels through the cable using total internal reflection, similar to a series of mirrors, to send internet at incredibly high speeds.

The principle of fiber internet is similar to cable internet; the information is sent through a physical cable to your house. The main difference is cable internet uses copper cables, while fiber internet uses fiber optic cables. 

Fiber optic cables are made from glass or plastic and are much more reliable than copper cables. They aren’t sensitive to extreme weather and don’t have the same bandwidth issues. No matter how many people are using fiber internet, you’ll still have high-speed service. While cable internet might have speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) on the high end, fiber internet can provide speeds upwards of 1,000 Mbps. 

The main reason people don’t choose fiber internet over cable? While cable internet connections are very common in homes across Alberta, fiber internet cables aren’t nearly as common. The initial cost of installing cables makes it prohibitively expensive for most people to get fiber internet.

However, both the Government of Canada and independent businesses are working to bring fiber internet infrastructure to Canadians, especially to rural Canadians. At Tether, we’re working to bring fiber internet to rural Alberta. If you’re interested in high-speed, reliable internet for your home, take our survey and let us know.

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