Q: I was recently contacted by a company that is going to provide fiber internet service in my area. The company representative said the price would match what I’m paying now. What are the advantages and disadvantages of switching to fiber? Would it be better to wait until the company has been in the area for a while? Thank you very much.
– PH Shalimar, Florida
A: From where this Geek sits, it’s just a matter of advancing technology. The question you asked may have been asked in the era when everyone was on dial-up and broadband services were starting to make the scene in both Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable form. At the time, both technologies were available and stable, but not widely known by the typical consumer, and therefore there were many questions about them. Today, they are generally considered a solid, tried and true method of connecting to the Internet, although this depends more on the quality of the provider than the underlying technology.
For those who don’t know, “fiber” in this context refers to fiber-optics. This technology completely rejects metal conductors and instead relies on light pulses passing through glass fibers. There was a time when no other technology could touch fiber for the speed delivered to your home router. Today it’s a race between cable and fiber. Cable tops out at about 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps), and the fiber packages I’ve seen offer competitive speeds with room for upward growth.
Fiber cables are more reliable than copper or aluminum cables. Traditional cables use electricity to transmit data signals, making them vulnerable to weather phenomena such as electromagnetic interference (EMI) from events such as storms, extreme cold, and lightning, or from adjacent power lines or even other data cables. Fiber-optic cables do not suffer from any of these problems.
I’m not so sure I believe the sales rep telling you the price will be “about what you’re paying now”. First, the word “about” leaves a lot to be desired, and second, fiber has always been more expensive than cable. If this changes, it will be good for all of us, because competition should lead to lower prices as different companies try to win people’s business. I would caution you to read the fine print to make sure you don’t sign the first deal where the price is fixed for a certain period of time but then goes up.
Unless the company is new and starting in our area, I don’t see anything to be gained by waiting until it has been in our area for a while. Trust me when I say that I understand my desire to not be an early adopter and live on the bleeding edge of technology, but I think these pointers apply more to new software releases and the emergence of new types of hardware. In this case, fiber is a solid technology that has been used for years. Concern (and rightly so) is about this company’s ability to deliver and its commitment to its customers. As I said above, if the company is not new, you should Google them and find out how they perform in other markets.
One thing you didn’t ask about, but I’ll mention it because it’s a “gotcha” that a lot of people don’t think about, is the network devices that make up your own home LAN. You can bring the fastest, shiniest speed you can find right to your door, but if you tie it to a clunky old hardware that you can use to connect devices on your side of the firewall, you’re severely limiting your potential. . This is true, of course, regardless of what technology your chosen ISP uses to provide your Internet connection. So make sure you have a router and switches with gigabit speeds, and remember that Wi-Fi only works at a fraction of those speeds.
Personally, I’m excited about the possibility of upgrading to fiber. If nothing else, it gives me choice so I’m not stuck with just one provider. When you only have one choice of companies to go to, they don’t have much motivation to go above and beyond for their customers.
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