Fiber Optic Internet – A Complete Guide

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This Fiber optic Internet guide will give you high-level information about everything you need to know about Fiber. It should help you understand essential information about how to make your WiFi better and how fiber fits into that.

In this article, we will cover:


What is Fiber?

Fiber optic Internet is being offered by more and more Internet Service Providers as the technology of choice.  This is because Fiber optic Internet, also known as Fiber, is highly reliable, capable of extremely fast speeds and is not as susceptible as other Internet technologies to severe weather conditions (reducing the number of outages).

Fiber optic Internet uses fiber optic cables. These cables contain multiple fiber-optic strands of optically pure glass that sends beams of light across each strand to carry digital information over long distances. In other words, an Internet connection.

Fiber is different than Ethernet, however they are all wired connections providing reliable Internet connections.


How Does Fiber Internet Work?

Fiber-optic Internet connection works like this:

A light beam travels down the core of a fiber-optic cable and bounces off the walls of the cable repeatedly. This activity is what carries a digital Internet connection across long distances of wire. And because each wire (or cable) has multiple fiber-optic strands, everything travels fast.

Fiber requires fiber-optic cables to create a PON (Passive Optical Network), to transmit data between an ISP and the devices in the home. Ethernet or Coax come into play after the ONT breaks the single optic signal into multiple signals, sending it to individual devices in the home. Fiber does not directly connect to your local area network (LAN) connected devices like a cable modem, router, or cable modem router do via Ethernet or coax to get Internet access.


Fiber Internet vs Cable Internet Compared

A Cable Internet uses coaxial cable, the same cable used to deliver cable TV services.  A Cable Internet connection is capable of providing multi-Gigabit download speeds but are restricted in its upload speeds capability.  Cable Internet is typically a shared network connection within urban neighborhoods, often impacting speeds during peak usage times.  Cable Internet speeds are not affected by distance from your Service Provider, unlike DSL.

A Fiber Internet connection is usually dedicated to each home or location, because the “last mile” connection can either be Fiber or Copper from the ISP.  When your connection is dedicated, your Internet speeds are more reliable.  Fiber Internet is capable of providing symmetrical speeds, where the download speed is equal to the upload speed.  Fiber Internet is capable of reaching speeds up to 940 Mbps.

Fiber Internet

Pros Cons
Fast Speeds Higher Monthly Price
Capable of Symmetrical Download & Upload Speeds Availability is Limited
Reliable Connection


Cable Internet

Pros Cons
Fast Speeds Shared Network – Slower Speeds
Speeds not Affected by Distance from ISP (unlike DSL) Not Available in Rural Areas
Competitively Priced with DSL Internet


There are other key components to a fiber-optic network that are important to understand. For example, a passive optic network (PON).


What is a Passive Optic Network (PON)?

PON stands for passive optic network. There are various types of PON networks, which we will touch on later on this page. The key advantages of a PON are that it is:

  • Cost-effective
  • Offers high speeds
  • Delivers a reliable Internet connection
  • Delivers more than just an Internet connection
  • Is flexible and scalable


A PON system brings optical fiber cabling and signals from an Internet service provider (ISP) to the end user. A PON system is designed to deliver broadband Internet access to a location by connecting the subscriber to an ISP. Depending on where the PON ends, the system will be considered different names:

  • FTTC – Fiber-to-the-curb ends at a central point in a neighborhood
  • FTTN – Fiber-to-the-node ends at a node within the Carrier’s network
  • FTTH – Fiber-to-the-home ends when it goes to a subscriber’s home



The difference between a PON, GPON and EPON comes down to how each protocol serves an Internet connection and other services like video and phone services. Here’s the difference:

GPON stands for Gigabit Ethernet passive optical network. GPON uses Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) for voice, Ethernet for data, and proprietary encapsulation for voice. It uses fixed-sized cells instead of variably sized packets of data and offers faster Gbps than EPON.

EPON stands for Ethernet passive optical network. EPON uses Ethernet packets instead of ATM cells and uses Internet Protocol (IP) to carry data, voice, and video data.

GPON is purposely built as a point-to-multipoint protocol while EPON calls upon Ethernet to function the same as GPON. In other words, GPON is more efficient than EPON.


Fiber Internet Connections Explained

Within a Fiber system there are specific components to know about. The external components that make up a fiber system are:

Optical network terminal (ONT) – The ONT is the endpoint that exists at the end user’s home, the office, or near the curb location that qualifies as FTTC (Fiber-to-the-curb). Sometimes you will hear this referred to as an Optical network unit, or ONU.

Optical line terminal (OLT) – The OLT is the endpoint that exists at the ISP central hub.

Inside of your home is the fiber optic router, which is specifically equipped to support fiber Internet.


Do you Need a Modem with Fiber Internet?

For Fiber Internet, the ONT/ONU stands in for the cable modem, so you do not need a traditional one. The ONT within your home acts as a “modem” to transform the optical signal from your Fiber connection to an Ethernet port on another device such as a router or gateway.  Your Router or Gateway should be capable of delivering the Gigabit speeds available from a Fiber connection, but the router or gateway is not fiber-specific.  Your router or gateway will then connect the rest of your devices to create your home network.


There are different ways to get an Internet connection in the home. Typically, you use a traditional modem and router setup. There are different kinds of modems, such as cable modem and DSL modem. But there is also fiber technology. Each have their pros and cons. Fiber requires specific fiber cable installation and also requires a specific fiber modem (ONT) and a router that can handle the fast speeds that Fiber can deliver.

Does Fiber use Ethernet or Coax?

The short answer is that fiber doesn’t use Ethernet or Coax, it works with them. Fiber provides Internet, TV and home phone services and operates on a PON. While Fiber, Ethernet and coax all get you online, they are not the same.


Last-mile Fiber

Most Fiber network connections don’t reach all the way to subscriber’s homes since creating those connections are very costly to an Internet Carrier/Service Provider.  The distance between the Carriers main Fiber connection and your home is often referred to as the “last-mile”. The connection making up the “last-mile” can be either Fiber or Copper, depending on your Internet Carrier’s network facilities in your area.


Dark Fiber

The term “Dark Fiber” refers to any portion of a Fiber optic network that is leased to a third party by an Internet Carrier on a long-term basis.  Typically, the Fiber is connected between two locations but it is not connected to the Carriers’ larger network, hence its dark to the Carrier.


For more information on fiber optic networking, check out Hitron’s Learn Page and blog.


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