Your small business needs fast, reliable internet at a reasonable price. So what’s your best option? Businesses almost always need a higher speed than you can get with traditional DSL, so that narrows your choices to fiber optic and CATV cable that comes with your TV service.


Fiber optic vs. cable

Fiber and cable internet speeds vary, but only a fiber-optic connection gives you equal upload and download speeds. Fiber business internet is an upgrade from cable or HFC, which starts at 25 Mbps. Fiber-optic internet provides 75, 150, 300, and 500 Mbps internet speeds. In addition, fiber to the premises (FTTP) uses 100% fiber lines.

Fiber optic vs cable

What’s the difference?

You’re already familiar with cable internet, sold by the same companies that offer cable TV service. Traditional cable transmits data as electrical signalsFiber internet uses fiber-optic wiring—tiny strands of plastic or glass—to transmit signals using light, which is a faster way to send data.

To compete with fiber’s speed, some cable providers are now offering a hybrid type of internet service, called a fiber-coax network (HFC). HFC uses both optical fiber cable and coaxial cable to carry broadband content. Fiber optic cable carries much of the load, running from distribution centers to hub locations near businesses and residences. From here, existing coaxial cable can be used to bridge the last mile to individual subscribers.

There are three big advantages of a pure fiber optic internet connection:

  • It’s more reliable.
  • It’s faster.
  • It’s often a better value.

fiber vs cable graph

How fiber internet works

A fiber-optic cable includes a core of glass fibers through which light is transmitted. That core is covered by a cladding layer, which helps transmit the light by causing reflections. A coating strengthened by aramid yarns—the material used in bulletproof vests—covers the cladding. It’s then covered by an outer jacket, usually made of polyethylene. Various types of cable, for instance gel-filled ribbon cable or loose tube cable, can be used to protect the network from damage.

Why fiber is more reliable

Unlike HFC or traditional cable internet, the glass or plastic used in fiber doesn’t conduct electricity, so it’s not susceptible to electromagnetic interference. That means nearby power lines or high-voltage electrical equipment won’t hamper the signal

One advantage of fiber optic vs. cable is that some fiber internet services, such as Verizon Fios® internet, use passive optical network (PON) technology, meaning power isn’t required within the system. Because there are few moving or electrical parts, PONs are efficient and less can go wrong, making this technology a reliable choice for businesses.

Cable vs. fiber: the speed difference

Another advantage of fiber optic vs. cable is that fiber’s faster. With traditional cable or HFC internet, the signal from electrical pulses sent over copper-core cables will erode over long distances and slow your data down. Cable bandwidth is shared among subscribers, which slows during peak traffic periods when more users are on the line. Also cable companies do not deliver symmetrical speeds on the upload and often limit the gigs you can upload on the network, which can bring productivity to a standstill. 

With fiber, cable slowdowns don’t apply. Light impulses transmitted using glass fiber are hardly affected by distance. Fiber download and upload speeds are synchronous. Parity is ideal for businesses that send info, sell online, use VoIP or videconferencing, or access cloud-based solutions for efficiency. And there’s no limit to how much you upload. 

In addition, fiber internet can be delivered on a dedicated line to your business, so you’re not sharing bandwidth. That means your service won’t slow when other users are downloading large files.

It’s no surprise that in PC Mag’s 2017 report on the fastest internet service providers (ISPs), some of the top performers use fiber-optic or advanced hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) networks.

According to PC Mag, the leader for 2017 is Verizon. In speed tests, Verizon ranked 71.8—the highest speed score for any business ISP in this annual report.

PC Mag found the top major business ISPs, in order of speed, were Verizon, XO Communications, recently purchased by Verizon, Cogent, Level 3, AT&T Business, ViaSat and Comcast Business.

The magazine ranked providers based on a speed test that collected download and upload speeds in Megabits per second (Mbps). PC Mag used those results to calculate a speed index giving 80% of the weight to download speed and 20% to upload speed.

Why speed matters

Speed is becoming critical as businesses rely more on cloud-based applications. A survey by RightScale shows that 82% of organizations are using the cloud in some capacity.

Small businesses are turning to the cloud because it gives them access to more computing power, more data storage, and cloud-based applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

cable vs fiber photo

Optical fiber cable provides upload speeds as fast as download speeds, which can be critical for businesses storing large files in the cloud. Need to check your connection speed? See our speed test page.

Which is a better value?

Fiber-optic internet can be more expensive in some areas, but the increase in productivity may be worth it. While slow speeds may seem like a mere inconvenience, over time they can actually hurt your ability to compete.

An oft-cited study by SanDisk estimated that the average worker loses one week of productivity a year because of slow connection speeds.

Slow speeds can frustrate employees and hurt morale. More important, a slow connection can hamper your ability to respond quickly to customers; you don’t want to be waiting for cloud-based CRM data to load while your customer is on hold. If you’re wondering how much bandwidth do I need – click the link and read the article we have on that (often confusing) subject.

How much should you pay for business internet?

Business internet prices vary widely, depending on connection speed and local competition. According to one Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report**, small businesses spend a median of $106 per month (adjusted for inflation^) on broadband services.

Fiber solutions start at 15%-20% less than that, so fiber internet costs aren’t prohibitively expensive for most businesses.

business people working

You’ll need to check with your local providers as you’re making the decision on fiber optic vs. cable for your business. Often you can get better prices if you bundle services or sign a two-year contract

If you’re running your business out of your home, you may want to consider upgrading to business-class internet. It is more expensive, but generally you get a more reliable connection and better access to professional IT help if things don’t work right. We have a short article on the subject of business internet vs residential if that applies to you.

Connecting your business with fiber

If you opt for fiber internet, you can use various connection types to link to your computers, including twisted-pair cable, coax cable, wireless, and fiber optic patch cable (or fiber patch cable).

While you don’t have to use Ethernet cabling, if you do, it’s best to use Cat5e or higher Ethernet cables.

If you use optical fiber for connections within your business, you’ll probably need multi-mode optical fiber. Single-mode fiber is used for transmitting signals long distances, while multi-mode fiber is used for shorter distances (up to 1,000 meters).

How to get fiber internet

One disadvantage of fiber optic is that it is not available everywhere, while cable internet is nearly ubiquitous.

Access to fiber is growing. In fact, most of the internet backbone is fiber, but in parts of the country, so-called “last mile” connections—from the fiber backbone to homes and businesses—are still copper-based. You may not have fiber to the premises (FTTP) in your area.

Fiber to the curb (within 1,000 feet of your business) or fiber to the node (within a mile of your business) are more common but may not give you the superior speeds you’re hoping for.

Verizon has the nation’s leading FTTP fiber-optic network service, called Fios internet. Verizon Fios business internet has many advantages, including the option to add a dedicated line to your business.

If you’re wondering “Is Fios in my area?” With one click, you can check Verizon Fios availability in your neighborhood.

Contact Verizon for the fast, reliable connections your business needs.

*Griffith, Eric. “The Fastest ISPs of 2017,” PCMag, June 2, 2017.

**FCC, “Business Broadband Capability Survey Results November 2010.”

^Bureau of Labor Statistics, “CPI Inflation Calculator.”


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