Super fast high speed internet services of 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) or more are now available in many areas. We explain the the technology behind this service, and discuss costs and service considerations.
There are two primary technologies used to offer 1 Gbps internet service to the home. Traditional telecom providers and specialized internet service providers offer Fiber Optic, or "Fiber-to-the-home" service while cable providers offer Gigabit internet using upgraded DOCSIS 3.1 modem technology.
Fiber Optic Internet
While traditional copper-wire telecom infrastructure uses electrical currents to transmit data through a network, fiber optic technology uses specialized cables that transmit signals as pulses of light. Achieving 1 Gbps in the home requires that the provider upgrade their infrastructure from copper to fiber optic cable regionally. Most telecom companies have been slowly upgrading their infrastructure to fiber, but this is a costly and time-consuming process. Upgrading to fiber involves laying new lines throughout a community. Since this process is incremental, many providers will slowly roll-out fiber service to individual neighborhoods. In areas where the local and regional infrastructure has been upgraded to fiber consumers may benefit from improved DSL speeds and service availability, but achieving 1 Gbps requires that the provider also run fiber directly to the home and install a fiber-capable modem.
While cable providers have their own copper-line infrastructure, improvements in cable modem technology have helped them to avoid fully upgrading to fiber. Instead most cable providers are offering 1+ Gbps speeds using the improved DOCSIS 3.1 cable technology standard. Offering this service requires a relatively modern cable network that includes a hybrid fiber-copper backbone and gigabit capable equipment on the operator's end. The end-user also requires a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. As with fiber service, the necessity of infrastructure upgrades means that gigabit service is rolled out to communities as available - usually starting with the more densely populated areas.
While advertised speeds are certainly possible, local congestion can reduce performance during peak times. As with other internet services upload speeds are typically reduced to a fraction of the maximum download speed.
Users will likely find that the limiting factor for fiber or gigabit service is not the internet provider, but the device or devices used to access the service. In order to take full advantage of the service users should ensure that their in-home network is capable of 1 Gbps speeds. That said, this service is generally intended for users who want responsive internet service while using multiple devices and services such as online streaming and gaming. A 1 Gbps download will rarely be necessary from single device for extended periods.
Many providers are offering introductory speeds of $70-80 per month with long term rates as high as $150/month. Pricing may depend on the length of the contract with the provider and the required equipment may or may not be included. Data download caps may apply and activation fees may also factor into your plan. Be sure to read the fine print and fully understand your total cost.
There is little point in installing this type of service without making some upgrades to your home network and devices. Your provider may include a gigabit wireless router but they can also be purchased separately to support high speeds for wireless devices. Wired home networks can be upgraded to support gigabit ethernet by changing out cables and upgrading PC components.
Be sure to evaluate all options before choosing a fiber optic or gigabit internet provider.