The Fastest Internet Connection?

Category: Networking

Everyone wants the fastest Internet connection they can get. Today, the giants in high-speed Internet are DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable modem service. But a newer technology called fiber optics blows them both out of the water, if you can get it. Here's how they stack up, speed-wise...

Which Internet Connection is Fastest?

DSL is the original "broadband" consumer Internet technology. It operates over the same copper wires that bring telephone service into your home. Those wires are connected to a "central office" facility. The maximum speed you can get on a DSL connection is highly dependent on how far your home is from the central office (CO). The theoretical maximum download speed of DSL is about 40 Mbps.

Cable modem technology runs over coaxial cable, the thicker, shielded wire that brings cable TV into your home. Coaxial cable may be connected to cable service provider facilities up to 100 miles from your home. The theoretical maximum speed of a cable Internet connection is 400 Mbps - ten times faster than DSL.

fiber optic internet

But you won't see anywhere near the maximums from either cable or DSL. Service providers throttle download speed to each home in order to serve more customers. Additionally, the number of users in your service area will affect how much cable bandwidth is available to each user. You may have noticed that your Internet connection is slowest in the late afternoon and early evening, when all of your neighbors are online.

Generally speaking, cable service providers deliver significantly faster download speed compared to DSL providers. Typical cable modem download speeds average around 10 Mbps, while DSL is likely to be in the 3 to 6 Mbps range. In most cases, you can pay a higher monthly subscription rate to get a faster connection.

By comparison, old-school dialup Internet connections max out at about 40-50 kbps, which makes even the slowest DSL connection seem like rocket speed. A 5Mbps cable internet connection is about 100 times faster than dialup service.

If you live in a rural area, you might not be able to get high-speed internet access via cable or telephone wires. That's where high-speed mobile broadband can save the day. If you have a strong 3G or 4G signal from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile in your area, you can purchase a USB modem or mobile hotspot device that converts the cellular signal into wifi. Similarly, some smartphones can create a hotspot that allows other devices to share the mobile Internet connection. Expect about 1Mbps on a 3G connection, and around 10Mbps with 4G. Of course, that all depends on the weather, the phase of the moon, and other things mere mortals cannot comprehend.

For completeness, I'll point you to my related article on Satellite Internet Service. Download speeds for satellite internet are even slower than DSL (ranging from 1-5 Mbps), they can be impacted by the weather, and you'll probably be annoyed by limits on monthly data usage. So consider this option as a last resort.

Fiber is Faster!

Fiber optic technology replaces copper wires with glass fibers, and uses light instead of electricity to carry Internet signals to the home. Fiber requires the build-out of an all-fiber network to every residence in a service area, whereas cable and DSL networks are already in place. Thus, fiber is only slowly spreading across the country. But when fiber reaches your home, it will make a big difference in your Internet experience. Because fiber is an end-to-end connection, your internet service isn't shared with all your neighbors, and won't bog down at peak usage time periods.

Verizon's FIOS is a fiber optic internet offering, available in a limited but rapidly expanding number of coverage areas. Download speeds range from 15 to 150 Mbps. I'm fortunate to live in an area where FIOS has been available for several years, and I can say my 50 Mbps connection is blazing fast, all day long. AT&T's U-Verse is a competing fiber optic product, but they max out at 24Mbps. See the coverage maps for Verizon FIOS and AT&T U-Verse.

Want to go even faster? Move to a location where gigabit (1000Mbps) Internet service is available. Google turned heads in September 2012 by announcing the availability of Google Fiber in Kansas City. They're planning to expand the service to Austin, TX and Provo, UT soon. See this list of cities for other places in the USA where gigabit service is available.

Check with the telephone company and cable operators in your area to see what they currently offer, and if they will be offering fiber optic service in the near future. In the long run, fiber optic will likely replace copper-based cable and DSL for residential and business Internet access. But bear in mind that the fastest Internet service might not be the best for you. If your Internet use is mainly for email with some casual web browsing, even low-end DSL or cable internet speeds will suit you just fine. But if you're into online gaming or video on demand, if you're a big downloader, or you maintain a website, paying more for speed can be a good thing.

What's the fastest internet service in your area? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 24 Sep 2013


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Most recent comments on "The Fastest Internet Connection?"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

InHicksville
24 Sep 2013

We live only 20 miles from Lincoln, NE, but we might as well be in northern Alaska. There is no cable service and the DSL to our home is almost 20,000 feet from the switch. Hence, we're paying the same rate for service as someone in town with 3 Mbps, but we only get 0.5 Mbps. Talk about inequity! Some others who live the same distance from town in a different direction can't even get DSL. What was that about the rural broadband initiative? :)


Posted by:

Doc
24 Sep 2013

In NE California and much of Nevada FAST is 56.6K in most areas. About 60 miles east of Sacramento it ranges from 56.6 for rural areas, to about 20 or so for a ring a few miles of radius around our counties three large cities though most settle for the3-6 meg lines. Prices for the most part are in the $30-$50 range. For $125 a month you CAN get a 40Meg line if you are in a 'lucky' area.

When I'm on a dig or survey (as opposed to a quest) in the desert, our U gives us staff a 1meg satellite link (when we aren't too close to one of the 214+ mountain ranges in Nevada that always seem to create a radio shadow!)


Posted by:

bob price
24 Sep 2013

Much as I dislike Comcast for their bundling fees, their high speed cable is wonderful. I get 50/Mbps consistently, and since I live downtown, those businesses are closed at night so I share with very few users.


Posted by:

lmill
24 Sep 2013

Way to throw politics in there Jon...


Posted by:

Sheri
24 Sep 2013

'A newer technology called fiber optics'? Newer? We've had fibre optic cable broadband from Virgin Media (formerly Telewest) in the UK for years! So I can't believe that it's still considered 'new technology' in the states! LOL


Posted by:

Unitary
24 Sep 2013

Bob, Please allow me to correct some errors.

>>>> Generally speaking, cable service providers deliver significantly faster download speed compared to DSL providers.

Wrong. A DSL subscriber has a dedicated physical connection to the Central Office (CO), which is the subscriber’s phone line, and can therefore use the maximum possible data rate facilitated by the quality of the line and the distance to the CO.

A DSL subscriber, on the other hand, shares the allocated bandwidth with his neighbours. Therefore, the data rate depends heavily on the time-of-day.

>>>> ...while DSL is likely to be in the 3 to 6 Mbps range.

Wrong. A DSL connection can provide a by far higher rate. The highest rate is achieved when the provider combines DSL with Fibre-To-The X (FFTX) and thus brings the CO nearer to the user. The rate depends on X. When X= Curb, the data rate can be as high as 100 Mb/sec.

The practical data rate is no longer determined by the infrastructure between the user and his service provider. It is mainly determined by the data rate provided by the server at the FAR END!

EDITOR'S NOTE: You're talking theory, and I'm talking about what telcos are actually offering to consumers. Can you point me to a consumer DSL package that promises 100 Mb/sec? 50 Mb/sec? 20 Mb/sec?


Posted by:

Salman Khan
24 Sep 2013

Fiber optics has been around for a while now. This is what Verizon offers.


Posted by:

Jack in Canada
24 Sep 2013

I have been using Shaw Cable for 15 years and have a good internet connection, but, being 73 years old, and a retired pilot and mechanic, I surf a lot and download lots of flightsim stuff. It all seems to work OK, but what are your thoughts for improvement? Thanks for all your interesting topics. Jack.


Posted by:

Gary
25 Sep 2013

I live in the Philippines and MyDSL is as fast as anything I had in Michigan. I pay for 1 Meg download and most of the time I get 2 Meg. I have seen 6 Megs but not for a while now. Sure was nice when the extra speed was there. I was born in KCMO. Maybe I should move back. :-)


Posted by:

Richard
25 Sep 2013

Hi Bob,

Paxio is another FTTH network in parts of Northern California. The services range from 5 mbps ssymmetric $38 per month to gig symmetrric for $138 per month.

http://paxio.com/residential/internet/

Another service you forgot to mention is Utopia in parts of Utah. Their gigabit service is $65 per month. Longmont Co doesn't have FTTH service yet, but it should soon.

http://muninetworks.org/content/utpoia-latest-network-offer-super-affordable-gigabit

Unfortunately like most of the country where I live in, Southwest LA our best option for speed and service overpriced as it is is Time Warner Cable. They can offer 50 mbps up, but they choose not to.


Posted by:

Charles Eldredge
25 Sep 2013

Fiber optics have been available in my neighborhood for a few years. However, I have kept my DSL copper line for many years, until recently. DSL worked pretty good for me... I email and surf the web, but I also do a lot of streaming from Netflix and other websites. Streaming on DSL was pretty good, but I did have some buffering from some websites. I never had a problem streaming from Netflix.

I recently dropped my DSL internet and landline. I picked up a hotspot device from Virgin Mobile and I get better streaming that I ever got on DSL...rarely ever does it buffer. $35 a month for unlimited 4G Internet for up to five devices in my home.

I'm loving it ...much better pricing than either DSL or FiOS fiber optics. It suits my needs perfectly.


Posted by:

zachelect
25 Sep 2013

For those too far from the provider:
(i.e. response from InHIcksville)

Ask your service provider if they offer Pair-gain technology. Basically they use two lines to try and give you faster service. The two lines are combined at the house end. In my case I went from 200kb to 1200kb. 5X the previous speed!)


Posted by:

Charles
25 Sep 2013

Don't know if it is offered in much of the states, but some rural areas around here are served by Multi-point Microwave. without using a cell providers network.
http://www.xplornet.com/how-it-works/about-xplornet%27s-network-technology/


Posted by:

Unitary
25 Sep 2013

Bob, I wrote of what many millions of consumers DO GET using DSL connections.

When you wrote that “DSL is likely to be in the 3 to 6 Mbps range”, you obviously referred to what is available in your area and perhaps elsewhere in the U.S. Some of your readers are fortunate to live in more technologically advanced countries.

For example, my DSL+FTTC package provides 100 Mbit/sec for download and 3 Mbit/sec for upload. I am not “talking theory”; I did verify these data rates.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We might be having a semantic disagreement. FTTX uses fiber to bring the signal from the CO to the curb or building. The DSL (copper wire) link is only used for the last few feet/meters. Pretty much the same as the Verizon FIOS service I've had at my home since 2005. But at least in the USA, that's not what is referred to as DSL Internet service, which runs entirely over copper wire from the CO to the home.


Posted by:

BallyIrish
25 Sep 2013

"DSL Fast" from the only telephone company in South Africa (no competition) is anything but fast, giving me an average download speed of 90 kbps, and for that I pay ZARands 144.74 (about $14.50 US). Then comes the intermediate speed, - and then the fastest, which costs about ZARands 350.00 per month ($35.00 US)

Telkom SA is a quasi Government setup.

We used to use the dial-up system about ten years ago, before DSL arrived, which gave us
about 3 Kbps, so to we South Africans, the speed of 90 Kbps is phenomenal!
Emigrate to South Africa for a real fast DSL service! Whilst downloading you get time to think! Nice article Bob, Thanks.


Posted by:

Nick
25 Sep 2013

Australia was going to have optic fibre rolled out to every single home, except some remote areas, Then there was a change of government and I think our current (non geek) leader needs to desperately subscribe to Ask Bob Rankin.


Posted by:

Chuck
27 Sep 2013

AT&T U-verse is available in my area. The phone company wants to change me over to it from my DSL. The speeds will be about the same rating for both, 5-6MBPS, but they say it will be faster. I also don't understand U-verse, it will still be coming into my house on the same old copper wires. The central office is about 3/4 mile from my house. So how does it get faster?

Also, Jon, nothing is free-you just haven't been billed yet. Or someone else is picking up your tab!


Posted by:

Richard
26 Nov 2013

There's one more internet provider that has ftth. They're a smaller provider, but they charge only $50 per month for either 100 or 200 mbps symmetric. The site is:

http://webpass.net/residential


Posted by:

Gary
03 Jan 2014

I live in Kansas City and have Google Fiber and it's phenomenal! In fact my computer is slower than my internet connection. the other day I was downloading a large file and it was coming through Google fiber faster than my hard drive could save it. And the drive was a 7500 RPM SATA drive! I would have trouble going back to anything else after Google Fiber.


Posted by:

John
07 Feb 2014

Fiber optic will be the future of Internet. Wireless satellite will improve ten fold. I also predict the internet access will be available to everyone free in the future. I have my whole city mapped for FREE Wi-Fi. Everywhere I travel I look at my map and park or visit places that have open Wi-Fi.

Also in home services we are forgetting the amount of download and upload allowed. Most companies offer between 150-250 gigs per month. CLAIMING average users do not use any more than those amounts. If you use more than the amount contracted your throttled meaning speed reduction is mandated in some cases your sent emails regarding your usage fees extra applied or warning you your service will be discontinued permanently.

Clearwire is one of those companies who shuts you completely down. At&T UVerse charges $10.00 per 50 Gigs extra if you go over their allotment. Comcast has a 250 gig Max allotment. So speed is good however check your allotment when contracting with any provider. They claim it keeps the internet for everybody to use equally.

I have had bad experiences with certain providers who have literally booted me forever for going over my allotted amount. Just by using Netflix on my home devices. Netflix has settings to be able to turn down usage. So you do not go over your allotment.

Personally if your paying for internet services due to graphics being higher in video and audio it should be just unlimited as they claim it is in their advertising. It's in the fine print, read your contracts, it all depends on your activity when using your internet paid for services.

J.Crowder Merced Ca


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