A bundle of Fiber-Optic cables pictured against a dark background. Fiber-Optic cables offer the fastest Internet speeds available in the US.

What is the Fastest Internet Speed? | Shentel

Is Fiber-Optic Internet Speed the Fastest? The Facts


Cable, DSL, Fiber-Optic, and more – it can seem like there’s a dizzying range of Internet options to pick from! But most folks are concerned about one thing only: which Internet speed is the fastest? You might have heard that Fiber-Optic Internet is the speediest overall — and you'd be right. But why, and is raw speed really the most important factor? Let's break down the answers in this deep dive.


What is Fiber-Optic Internet?


Fiber-Optic Internet, which can also be called Fiber Internet or just Fiber, is a type of broadband Internet connection with the potential to reach average speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. For context, that means it can transmit (download or upload) 10,000 megabits of information per second – astoundingly fast compared to the Internet speeds of yesteryear.

True to its name, Fiber-Optic Internet leverages Fiber-Optic cables to send data to and from devices and networks. It’s so fast, in fact, that it sends data at speeds of around 70% the speed of light, or approximately 130,200 mi./s.


Understanding Internet Speed


Before we can dive into the speeds of different Internet types, we need to go over Internet speed in general.

Internet speed is usually measured in megabits per second. The more megabits per second an Internet connection or cable can transmit, the faster it can facilitate uploads, downloads, and everything in between.

But don't confuse speed with bandwidth. Though it’s also measured in Mbps, bandwidth tells you how much information can be downloaded or uploaded per second, not download speed. Fortunately, the vast majority of Internet service providers (ISPs) provide broadband Internet connections of all types, so bandwidth isn’t something you likely need to worry about.

So, how does this all relate to Fiber-Optic Internet and other types of Internet connectivity? Let’s see!


How Fast is Fiber-Optic Internet?


In theory, a Fiber-Optic cable can potentially carry up to 44 Tb per second of information. In practice, most ISPs provide Fiber-Optic Internet with speeds ranging between 1,000 Mb per second (1 gigabit) and 5,000 Mb per second (5 gigabits).

Those speeds are very fast (possibly even too fast) for most practical needs. Even 1,000 Mb per second speeds through Fiber-Optic Internet connections are enough to quickly download text files and data packages, stream music or TV shows, and more.

Another good way to grasp the speed of Fiber-Optic Internet is to compare it to DSL and Cable download and upload speeds.


Type of connection

Average download speed range

Average upload speed range


5 to 120 Mbps

1 to 20 Mbps


10 Mbps to 1 Gbps

5 to 50 Mbps


200 Mbps to 20 Gbps

200 Mbps to 20 Gbps


As you can see from the above chart, Fiber-Optic Internet is faster compared to DSL or Cable Internet connections. Of course, Cable Internet isn’t a slouch in terms of speed, either.


Cable Internet vs. Fiber-Optic Internet


Cable Internet is delivered to households and businesses with the same copper coaxial cables used by TV services. Compared to Fiber-Optic Internet, Cable Internet doesn’t require the installation of costly, potentially intrusive infrastructure in your neighborhood – instead, it uses the same infrastructure that’s already in place for television.

Because of this fact, Cable Internet is available to the vast majority of people in the US. Odds are affordable, dependable Internet providers near you offer Cable Internet, but you might not be able to get Fiber-Optic Internet very easily.

Furthermore, Cable Internet offers greater reliability than Fixed Wireless since data is brought straight to your computer or TV via cables instead of wireless signals. Fiber is another step above in reliability, but for streaming, gaming, and many other needs, Cable brings stellar speed and accessibility. For context, 1 Gbps download speed (the average high for Cable) is usually more than enough to enjoy your favorite shows or gaming experiences without lag or stuttering.


WiFi with Fiber-Optic Internet


What about WiFi? You can actually use WiFi in conjunction with Fiber Internet – the Fiber-Optic cables bring the Web to your home's modem, which connects to a WiFi router. That router can then transmit the Internet to your wireless devices, like phones or tablets.

However, WiFi upload and download speeds can fluctuate since devices that use WiFi aren’t physically connected to WiFi routers. Average WiFi speeds hover around 10 to 50 Mbps for downloads and 25 to 50 Mbps for uploads, with plenty of variation depending on your Internet service provider, the type of router you have, and other factors.

If you want to get the most speed out of Fiber-Optic Internet, you’ll need to connect a PC or other device directly to your home’s Fiber-Optic modem/router with an ethernet cable[RP1] .


Why is Fiber Internet the Fastest?


The secret to Fiber Internet’s lightning speed lies in the composition of its cables.

As we touched on earlier, Fiber-Optic cables use glass filaments that are approximately 125 microns in diameter. For a comparison, that means each optical fiber in a Fiber-Optic cable is just a little bigger than the average human hair. The fibers get bundled together into cables, and the cables then carry light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and/or laser light pulses down the line. Those pulses are later transformed into binary ones and zeros.

In comparison, other Internet cables and technologies, like DSL, use copper wires. Copper, while effective, can’t exchange data quite so quickly since it only transmits electrical currents, not light pulses. Put another way, Fiber-Optic cables leverage photons to transmit information. Copper cables leverage electrons instead.

Both options are pretty quick, especially to the human eye! But Fiber-Optic cables are in a league of their own in terms of speed.


Fiber Internet is Fast. But is It the Best Option?


It’s indisputable that Fiber Internet is the fastest Internet type available today. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the overall best option for everyone.

For example, if you live in an area that doesn’t currently offer Fiber-Optic Internet, you’ll need to go with either Cable or DSL instead. In addition, if you sign up for Fiber-Optic Internet in an area where it recently arrived, that new network might have more instability or other issues compared to a tried-and-true, dependable Cable Internet service.


Big Benefits of Cable Internet


Compared to Fiber-Optic Internet, Cable Internet has a few major benefits – even if it isn’t the fastest in terms of raw download or upload speeds. These include:

  • Affordability. Cable Internet is often a little more affordable compared to Fiber-Optic Internet, especially if you bundle Cable Internet with a Cable TV plan.
  • Cable Internet is much more accessible and available to most Americans, as described above. Almost no matter where you live, you can get Cable Internet; the same isn’t true for Fiber-Optic Internet.
  • Speed you actually use. It’s all well and good to have ultra-fast Fiber-Optic Internet speed if you need it. But if your household has average Internet usage – streaming on a TV or downloading photos from your PC, for instance – Fiber-Optic Internet might not be needed, so you could end up paying for speeds you don’t really use.




At the end of the day, Fiber-Optic Internet offers the fastest possible Internet speeds. But while Fiber-Optic Internet is the fastest Internet, it's not always the best choice. Cable Internet is affordable, dependable, and certainly fast enough for most needs – and it’s likely available from Internet service providers in your area.

We offer user-friendly and accessible Cable Internet and WiFi plans for folks just like you, all for affordable prices that won’t break the bank. Take a look at our plans today!