What is the Difference Between Cable Internet, Broadband, and Fiber Optics?

Cable internet, broadband, and fiber optics are not mutually distinct ideas. You will hear about cable fiber optics, internet broadband, or fiber optic broadband. None of this makes the understanding easy. So, you might want to understand the basics, first.

For instance, say you have a personal desktop computer and you want internet for your home. You also want quality phone service and television reception. It used to be that television and radio were transmitted by signals received by your antenna, and phone calls were transmitted over wire cables. That’s history.

Once Upon a Time 
There was also a time when your computer would access the internet through your phone lines. A “dial-up” would occur, and the computer would take over your telephone line. For the average user, that was just fine. But, people became impatient with the process, data sources required greater speed, and then mobile phones changed the whole concept of “telephone.”

This approach took advantage of the physical distribution of phone wires to connect across the country. The dial-up could reach anywhere you would find a telephone pole. 

Wire to Cable
Taking advantage of that same telephone infrastructure, providers came to value cable as a better option. Less fragile than wire, insulated and flexible, it transmits electromagnetic waves as opposed to electricity. Without getting too technical,
coaxial cable can carry signals with a more consistent flow and speed and without loss to interference from the outside or loss of energy to the outside. Moreover, cable can piggyback systems and carry electromagnetic waves for different purposes. 

Cable to Optics
Technology races in many sectors pushed cable to the next logical choice in fiber optics. Fiber optics is a transmission guide made of plaited glass threads, each of which carries data in the form of light waves. They are lighter and thinner than metal cabling, carry much more data, and work digitally rather than analogically. Because telephone companies are converting wire cables to optic, you can expect many future communications to run through fiber optics.

The Broader the Band the Better
Broadband is another word for bandwidth. Only one signal channel can cross baseband while multiple signals and signal types flow through broadband. Now, whether the system is analog or digital, coaxial or fiber optics, broadband is the deal breaker. You do not need to know the sciences of physics or acoustics to understand that broadband refers to the higher throughput and additional complexity of transmission. It might help you to understand that dots and dashes transmit on baseband wire, but phone call conversation needs more throughput and live-streaming data.

The Future Foreseen
A lot of money goes into communication.

“American broadband providers have invested $1.2 trillion over the last 15 years deploying and maintaining broadband networks. These companies have invested more than six times the amount spent on the U.S. Space Shuttle program,” (Huffington Post)

That investment drives the future of telecommunications. The complex relationships among providers, networks, programmers, and infrastructure find themselves flexing and tensing as they define markets and serve customers. 

Although broadband can, for example, provide access to a multitude of television channels, the market wisdom and pragmatism in doing so is increasingly debatable. The users who once wanted everything under the sun may find value in bundled channels and packages directed solely at their interests. If wireless phones take transmission off cable, providers and users may think differently about how to “fill that space.”

Television no longer means what it once did. It is no longer simply received commercially sponsored network programming. It functions more as a monitor through which you can view that traditional programming in addition to music, digital cinema, public television, community cable, and made-for-cable programming. It will transmit local area networks, wide area networks, and proprietary software.

From the average end user’s point of view, any distinction between cable, fiber optics, and broadband is of little matter or interest. But, the differences and commonalities rule the technology and distribution in our future. 

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