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How Does Fiber-Optic Internet Work?

A fiber connection lets you hop online thanks to fiber-optic cables, which use light signals to send data to and from your computer.

Because of the newer technology behind it, fiber internet far surpasses DSL and cable internet in terms of speed and reliability.

Still curious? Here’s more on how fiber internet works, why it’s worth the money—and how to get a fiber connection of your own.

What is fiber-optic internet?

Fiber internet uses fiber-optic cables instead of copper wires. Fancy.

We mentioned before that fiber internet lets you surf the web thanks to fiber-optic cables filled with glass filaments. Those cables send data back and forth thanks to lasers and light signals. (Cue dramatic echo.)

An illustration of a fiber-optic cable

But that may be too simple of a definition for the tech-savvy among us, so let’s dig in a little more.

“Fiber-optic cable carries light very well over relatively long distances with low attenuation and distortion of the light signal,” says Frank Cornett, a retired electrical engineer for Intel.What is attenuation?

Info Box

In terms of your internet connection, attenuation means the strength of the signal sent to your computer gets weaker over time. That change makes the signal harder for your computer to process overall. With fiber, the signal stays stronger so you get faster internet and better streaming. Zoom.

That light signal uses binary to communicate with your computer. “. . . The presence of light might indicate a binary one and the absence of light would indicate a binary zero,” says Frank. Pretty cool.

Differences between fiber, cable, and DSL internet

Fiber connections don’t get as distorted over long distances like copper-wire connections do.

You might now be wondering why fiber is so much better at transmitting data than cable or DSL internet connections. Well, the answer lies in the types of cables used.

DSL and cable internet both rely on copper wires to transmit data—the same kind of wires that transmit your voice over a telephone line. That goes to show you just how long this technology has been around.

“In contrast to fiber-optic cable, which carries light with relatively low attenuation and distortion, copper wires significantly attenuate and distort the voltage signals they carry,” Frank explains.

That’s a bad thing, and it gets worse.

Distance is a big problem for cable and DSL

The problem of attenuation and distortion for copper wires gets worse the longer those wires get—so the farther away from your neighborhood node and internet service provider (ISP) you live, the worse your signal could get. Attenuation and distortion also get worse with your internet speed. (That’s why DSL and cable internet can only go so fast.)

That’s why “a link made up of fiber can provide much faster data transfer than copper,” Frank says. That means faster load times, higher-quality streaming, and less mashing of the reload button when your favorite website won’t load fast enough. (Yes, we’re button mashers and we’re proud.)”Fiber transfers data faster than copper wiring. That means faster load times, higher-quality streaming, and less mashing of the website reload button.”

Your internet speed also depends on how much data the infrastructure can handle.

Like we mentioned, fiber-optic internet lines transfer data using modulated light instead of electricity. That gives them much higher bandwidth capacity, since they’re not bound by the physical limitations of electricity conducting through metal.

Editors Team
Editors Team

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