The market for telecommunication services looks different from many other markets in the United States: The companies and products available to you depend on your zip code, and within each zip code, you have about two to four companies to choose from.

These market differences are cost-related. Behind every residential and business internet connection, there’s an extensive infrastructure the provider has to install and maintain long-term. Since these infrastructures are such a sizeable investment, it’s difficult for a new provider to come along in an established area; they’re more likely to vie for new areas than risk millions on a redundant network.

Main network types and their characteristics

The network—what it’s made of, how it’s configured, and how quickly and reliably it sends and receives your data packets—is the real product offered by your internet service provider because it’s the most influential factor determining how your internet performs.

The four main types of internet network available today are satellite, DSL, cable, and fiber.

  1. Satellite
  • How it works: The provider sends your internet signal to satellites orbiting Earth. The satellites receive the signal and direct it back toward Earth to the dish installed outside your business.
  • How fast it is: Popular advertised download speeds range from 5 to 12 Mbps (Megabits per second), and popular advertised upload speeds range from 1 to 3 Mbps.
  • How reliable it is: Satellite connections can be impacted by weather, and even static landforms like mountains can interfere with the signal.
  • Where it’s available: Satellite is widely available in rural areas, where many consumers and businesses still rely on dial-up for internet access. Satellite is also available in urban and suburban areas, but there may be more physical barriers that could interfere with the signal.
  1. DSL
  • How it works: DSL is run on the copper telephone infrastructure and sends signals through a direct line to each subscriber. However, unlike dial-up, DSL internet signals can be sent over a phone line without interrupting the phone signal itself.
  • How fast it is: Popular advertised download speeds range from 0.5 to 45 Mbps, and popular advertised upload speeds range from 384 Kbps to 6 Mbps.
  • How reliable it is: DSL is a fairly reliable service since the phone line creates a direct path from the provider to the customer.
  • Where it’s available: DSL is generally available in urban and suburban areas, as well as most rural areas.
  1. Cable
  • How it works: Cable networks are built somewhat like a tree, with lines branching off the main “trunk” out to nodes, which then branch out to individual users. Cable networks are generally made of a combination of coax cabling and sometimes fiber as well.
  • How fast it is: Popular advertised download speeds range from 15 to 300 Mbps, and popular advertised upload speeds range from 768 Kbps to 35 Mbps.
  • How reliable it is: Cable is a fairly reliable service, although the local node configuration may slow speeds during peak usage periods.
  • Where it’s available: Cable is widely available in urban and suburban areas, as well as some rural areas.
  1. Fiber-optic
  • How it works: Fiber-optic networks are made of long strands of fiberglass rather than metal wiring, and data is sent in pulses of light. Providers can configure a fiber network to send data through direct lines, like DSL, or through nodes like cable.
  • How fast it is: Fiber-based internet is capable of faster speeds, with download speeds ranging from 75 to 940 Mbps and upload speeds usually equal to downloads. Equal download and upload speeds is a feature unique to fiber internet.
  • How reliable it is: Fiber-optic internet is highly reliable because light is such an efficient transmitting medium. Fiber sends data packets more reliably than copper or coax, even in node configuration.
  • Where it’s available: Fiber is primarily available in urban and suburban areas.


How to get business internet at home

If you’re a bootstrap operation run from a home office—as 52 percent of small businesses are 5—you don’t have to rely on residential internet. You can get business internet at home.

Business internet accounts often come with service benefits you won’t get with residential internet:

  • Priority troubleshooting and network repair: Providers understand how connectivity problems can hurt business, so they may respond to network issues with more urgency.
  • Higher top speeds: Sometimes, providers offer higher speed tiers to businesses, since they may need more bandwidth than average residential customers and may also get more returns from investing in higher speeds.

Summary: What to remember about internet types when you’re looking for business internet

  1. Network type is the main differentiating factor between any competing internet services because it influences the speeds and reliability that your connection will be capable of.
  2. Satellite is more readily available in rural areas with limited access to the other types of internet access.
  3. Fiber-optic networks offer faster upload and download speeds.
  4. Business internet accounts usually offer quicker responses to connectivity issues.


Onward to Part 2: Speed & Reliability

Back to the Intro


  1. FCC, “Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report 2016
  2. FCC, “Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report 2016
  3. FCC, “Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report 2016
  4. Based on Verizon Fios® speeds for small business
  5. Forbes, “16 Surprising Statistics about Small Businesses

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