What Is Fiber Optic Internet?

What Is Fiber-Optic Internet?

Fiber internet is a type of broadband transmitted over fiber-optic cables, offering fast, reliable service. However, fiber internet isn’t as well-dispersed as many would prefer, thanks to last-mile infrastructure challenges. Read on to learn more about the benefits of fiber internet, what to consider if you want to build your own and how SelectROW can help.


How Does Fiber Internet Work?

Fiber internet brings consumers the quickest speeds today, but many have a hard time grasping how these connections work.

The Transfer of Data Using Light

Fiber-optic internet starts with cables made up of bundled optical fibers. While copper cables send data as electrical impulses, fiber cables use light. Each optical fiber has a glass or plastic core to transmit the light, surrounded by cladding that reflects the light and keeps it from escaping the core.

Light travels through the cable in pulses that can travel long distances, with optical amplifiers boosting the signal along the way and preventing data loss. When the signal reaches its endpoint, an optical terminal converts the light to electrical signals.

The optical fibers inside these cables are incredibly thin — so thin that some are the same size as a single strand of human hair. In order to transfer data and establish a stable connection, key parts of every optical fiber must be working properly.

Parts of an Optical Fiber

The core and the cladding of an optical fiber work together in moving data from point A to point B. Both sections act as protective linings for light to pass through. The core consists of glass and encases the light required for fiber internet. The cladding of an optical fiber encases the core. Cladding layers are produced with a thicker plastic to enhance the structural integrity of the cables.

Both the core and the cladding are responsible for total internal reflection. This describes how light for fiber internet can travel through a cable without bleed. The light running through the fiber cable reflects against glass surfaces — the core — and the outer cladding assists in keeping the light moving to both ends of the connection. The cladding has a refractive index lower than the core’s, so light is unable to escape from the wiring as long as the connection is free of damage and constructed properly.

Fiber Internet and Data Pulses

You might be wondering how information travels through fiber connections. The light inside fiber cables moves at an incredible rate. The cables rely on a unique binary coding system to translate words and media we find online. This coding system is understood using the following terms:

  • Bits: The text or data language fiber-optic networks use to make sense of information. Bits are written as numerals instead of alphabetical characters. Only the numbers zero and one are used.
  • Bytes: Bytes are strings of zeros and ones that are structured in eight-part numeral patterns.
  • Amplifiers: The pulses moving through fiber connections can stretch great distances before degradation occurs. To improve data pulse signals, an optical amplifier may be necessary to ensure data can travel for thousands of miles to a user.

The Last Step of the Connection Process

Before data can reach its destination, the signal must cross the last mile — the final step that connects the endpoint consumer to the backbone of the internet. This step is typically the biggest stumbling block for fiber internet providers. In many places, the copper wiring that transmits telephone and television signals is the only existing infrastructure for last-mile connections. With a lower bandwidth and greater attenuation than fiber-optic cables, copper presents challenges for this crucial last-mile connection.


Fiber-Optic Last-Mile Connections

Establishing a fiber internet connection requires careful planning to solve the last-mile challenge. An internet service provider (ISP) must balance cost and customer desire to reach the best solution. Providers can choose one of three fiber-optic last-mile connections:

  • Fiber to the premise (FTTP): These are the most direct connections, establishing a fiber connection from beginning to end with no copper wiring. Since they call for new infrastructure for each endpoint, they are also the most expensive for the ISP.
  • Fiber to the neighborhood (FTTN): In this connection method, the fiber endpoint is an outdoor cabinet positioned in a central location. From there, cables distribute the connection to individual locations. This method allows ISPs to use the existing infrastructure, keeping initial costs down. However, customers at the edges of the connection may notice slightly lower speeds as the signal travels farther.
  • Fiber to the building (FTTB): An FTTB connection offers a fiber-optic solution for buildings with multiple residents like apartments and commercial properties. It can function as a mix of the options above. Like FTTP, the fiber cable runs all the way up to a building where it connects to a distribution point, like the street cabinets that FTTN uses. The data might travel to individual offices or apartments via fiber cables or preexisting copper connections.


What Are the Benefits of Fiber-Optic Internet?

Investing in fiber internet lets providers offer benefits that outweigh other internet options:

  • Faster download speeds: Most United States internet customers currently have download speeds between 10 Mbps and 25 Mbps. Fiber-optic internet speed commonly reaches 1,000 Mbps, meaning fiber-optic internet is good enough for five or more people to use high levels of bandwidth at the same time with no interruptions.
  • Matching upload speeds: Average broadband download speeds are about twice as fast as average upload speeds, while fiber offers matching upload and download speeds. With dramatically faster upload speeds, fiber internet is better for video calls, sharing high-resolution images and live streaming.
  • Reliability: Fiber internet maintains speed and connectivity during peak hours, over long distances and during severe weather events. Additionally, fiber cables are more durable than the copper counterparts that DSL and cable internet use. Since the cables last longer without needing replacement, fiber internet customers face fewer maintenance outages.

What Is Fiber Optic Internet?


Choosing the Right Internet Connection

Fiber internet is desirable for high-speed connections, but there are alternative options for consumers. The main competition to fiber internet is digital subscriber lines (DSL) and cable internet.

Fiber Internet vs. DSL

DSL internet can be installed in the most remote locations. This service relies on copper cables which were pivotal in the development of telephone connections decades ago. The availability of DSL is its main selling point, but there could be cases where underground connections require replacement because of damage.

With a DSL connection, you run the risk of interference across a network. It’s crucial for copper materials to be installed correctly, or it’s possible for electromagnetic currents to make a network unstable. Additionally, DSL connections can be susceptible to lightning strikes, while you do not have this issue with fiber internet.

Fiber Internet vs. Cable Connections

With cable internet, upload and download speed is a significant compromise. Also, ISPs enforce data caps on how much you’re allowed to use your devices without additional fees. The biggest advantage of cable internet is that it’s the more affordable internet option on the market compared to fiber internet and DSL.

The fastest internet speed you’ll see with cable is around 100 Mbps and ISPs require you to hook up to a local coaxial network where sharing a node with other households is the only solution. This results in slower internet speeds during peak hours. Similar to DSL, it’s common for ISPs to place caps on data usage.


Building Fiber-Optic Broadband Infrastructure

Municipalities and ISPs interested in building their own fiber internet can start with the following steps:

1. Choose Your Method

When you’re ready to begin building, your first decision will be whether to choose an aerial or underground infrastructure.

Since aerial fiber runs cable over utility poles, it’s easiest for ISPs that already have an aerial infrastructure for their copper wiring. The costs of building an aerial infrastructure from scratch can be high, as the ISP will need to either lease the poles or build new ones. This method also faces geographical limitations and possible local restrictions.

While an underground infrastructure offers more options and flexibility, it still presents its own challenges. The Dig Once practice lets municipalities save money and minimize community disruptions, but it may mean facing delays in establishing your infrastructure. You’ll need to consider your route selection and the complications that might come with it if you opt for this method.

2. Hire Qualified Personnel

Consider what areas you already have staffed and where you’ll need to hire on or contract out. To build and maintain your infrastructure, you’ll need trained and licensed professionals who will:

  • Map out where to build the infrastructure.
  • Run heavy equipment.
  • Wire and maintain the network.

Municipalities that want to establish their own broadband infrastructure might consider partnering with an ISP to ensure they have all the necessary personnel.

3. Consider Your Return on Investment

Building a fiber-optic broadband infrastructure requires a significant up-front investment. Before you start, it’s important to understand what to expect regarding a return on investment (ROI).

It might take a long time for ISPs to see a significant ROI, depending on:

  • Where they build their broadband network.
  • How many customers they serve.
  • What prices they charge.
  • What type of last-mile connection they choose.

Municipalities that invest in creating their own broadband infrastructure will likely measure their ROI differently. While an ISP is profit-focused, municipalities are typically more concerned with reaching community goals like attracting new residents and businesses and building a more robust economy.

4. Investigate Government Financing and Familiarize Yourself With Local Regulations

You can offset your investment with funding from government programs that encourage broadband expansion. The Connect America Fund (CAF) gives money to ISPs building their infrastructure in rural areas. Those ISPs can use the funding to connect more homes, broadening access.

Although rural municipalities can also qualify for CAF-funded grants to build or expand their broadband networks, those communities may face other roadblocks depending on their locations. Several states currently have laws prohibiting municipalities from building their own networks, leaving many rural towns without any broadband options. However, should the Community Broadband Act of 2018 pass, those restrictive laws will be nationally prohibited.

What Is Fiber Optic Internet?


How Can SelectROW Help With Your Fiber Projects?

SelectROW’s easement acquisition and negotiation services can help you secure license and fiber access agreements. Our services include everything from pre-acquisition to construction and project management. We’ll help you perform due diligence, negotiate access, settle damage claims and more.

Our telecom permitting services include:

  • Regulation consultations
  • Streamlined application
  • Right-of-way approval
  • Departmental representation
  • Tracking and reporting

Our detailed approach and customized systems will give you project status details and live metrics, and we have the experience and industry connections to acquire the rights you need efficiently. Fill out our online contact form or call us at 888-997-3532 for more information about acquiring easements for fiber-optic cables today.