“Fiber-Optic Gigabit Internet” may sound like a mouthful, but it’s a phrase worth getting used to. Many are calling it the future of the internet, so we’ve assembled some need-to-know facts to bring you up to speed on the internet’s next big thing.
The Fundamentals of Fiber and Gigabit
For average internet users, “gigabit” may not be a familiar word—yet. Currently, we measure most internet speed in megabits per second (Mbps), and the national average download speed is around 27.33 Mbps. With the expansion of fiber networks, some providers now clock gigabits per second, over 36 times faster than the current average.
Internet that fast may seem over the top, but remember that connectivity isn’t just for your laptop or phone anymore. You wear it in your smart watch, use it in your smart locks, and chat with it via your Amazon Alexa. The more smart tech you own, the more speed you need. So, gigabits, anyone?
Now that you get the gigabit part, let’s talk fiber optics. Fiber-optic systems send binary flashes of light through strands of glass or plastic, allowing data to travel farther at higher speeds than it does through copper cables or satellite waves.
The Main Drawbacks: Availability and Cost
Unfortunately, fiber-optic lines aren’t available in every building or town. In fact, only 25% of the nation currently has access to fiber internet. You can have it installed, but depending on your location, the build-out can be pricey.
Speaking of price, fiber costs at large tend to run higher than other connection options, even in areas with existing fiber networks. For many, the speed is worth the extra money, but it might not be in the budget for every household.
On the bright side, the promising future of fiber has motivated some internet providers to build their own networks in high-density locations throughout the country. In addition, some communities have installed city-wide networks, many of which are fiber optic.
And as availability goes up, so will competition, meaning the price will start to dip. So keep your fingers crossed, and fiber internet may find its way into your home—at an affordable rate—sooner than you expect.
The Main Advantages: Medicine, VR, and More
As lightning-fast fiber internet becomes more widely available, new products rise to meet it. This isn’t just about connected devices but entire industries and their web-related services. We’ve already seen huge growth in “telehealth,” with more people using tools like video chat to connect with health care providers.
Responding to a Pew survey, Google’s chief economist Hal Varian predicts that with widespread gigabit internet, “you will be able to purchase health-monitoring systems just like you purchase home-security systems. Indeed, the home-security system will include health monitoring as a matter of course.” Other experts predict a boost in robotic surgeries similar to LASIK and smart diets based on lifestyle and genetics.
Another obvious beneficiary of better data is virtual reality. Experiences will be more immersive, more diverse, and more accessible than ever.
Education could also shift to incorporate more smart tech, perhaps supplementing traditional teaching environments with apps or gamified learning systems. It’s a wild guess for now, but the services created for widespread gigabit internet will be revolutionary.
Getting Set Up for Fiber Success
In order to really jump on the gigabit train, you may need some new gear. First, you’ll need to have a technician check your wiring. Depending on the available setup, they may run fiber lines straight to your home or business, or they may have to run cables to the nearest fiber hub. To support gigabit speed, you’ll need at least Cat5 cables, though Cat6 may be better for some situations.
Next, do some research on your current modem and/or router. Do they support gigabit speed? If not, you’ll need to invest in new ones.
Aside from cables, modem, and router, it’s not imperative that all your other smart devices be gigabit approved. You can check the speed capability of your laptop and phone, but even if some aren’t built to take advantage of gigabit speed, they’ll still function as they did before, and you’ll have lots of extra bandwidth to split between many devices.
There’s a lot to look forward to with fiber-optic gigabit internet making its way into more homes and businesses. The future is only getting faster, so get excited about what changes are waiting in the shadow of this next big boost in speed.