What is the Difference Between FiOS & Cable?

By Ken Burnside

Internet connections are all about speed, and when it comes to connection speeds, there is nothing on the market comparable to Verizon's FiOS offerings, at the time of publication. FiOS stands for Fiber Optic Service, and for the areas where it's available, Verizon charges rates comparable to cable Internet prices; by itself, FiOS is usually more expensive -- when it's bundled with other services, the price of the bundle packages is fairly close but varies by region. There's more to compare between the two services than just price.

Internet Connection Speed

FiOS more closely resembles a DSL connection rather than a cable Internet connection. Where cable Internet bandwidth is divided among all subscribers on a physical subnet or location-based network and can suffer Internet congestion, both DSL and FiOS connections are dedicated connections. Verizon advertises Internet connection speeds ranging from 30 Mbits per second to 50 Mbits per second for most FiOS customers, with the discrepancy largely determined by how far away the customer is from the central switching station. By way of comparison, cable Internet connections can range from 2 Mbits per second as a top speed up to 10 Mbits per second, and DSL connections will run around 0.7 Mbits to 1.5 Mbits per second.

TV Bundling

Verizon offers bundle packages, where the FiOS connection is also used to provide digital television services. This is a direct competitive offer to cable companies bundling Internet and premium cable connections into one package. FiOS offers, depending on the region, anywhere from 200 to 300 digital television channels, and 20 or more local and national HDTV channels -- the exact channel lineup will vary slightly by geographical region. Verizon also offers an extensive library of OnDemand movies, though the high speed connection makes streaming services like Netflix and Hulu useful adjuncts. FiOS TV-Internet-digital phone bundles are comparable in price to cable TV-Internet-digital phone bundles in most markets.

Physical Installation

FiOS is available in limited regions of the country, mostly places where Verizon has run fiber optic cables. Many new home constructions from 2007 onward have had fiber optic cable installed as part of the utility hookups, and in the urban areas of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard. While FiOS runs fiber optic cable to the home, the connection inside the home is run through standard cable TV coaxial cable.

Hardware Limitations

The high bandwidth opportunities for FiOS -- 30 to 50 Mbits per second -- are faster than real world Wi-Fi connection speeds. Wireless G connections are, in theory, 54 Mbits per second, but they can drop off to less than half of that if the computer and router are more than 30 feet apart. Wireless N is theoretically 300 Mbits per second, but the connection speed falls off more rapidly with distance. Because of the discrepancy in data transfer speeds from wireless routers, Verizon strongly recommends running Ethernet cables from your FiOS connection to all computers on your network. This is a marked contrast to cable modem and DSL connections, where the wireless connection speed is usually faster than the "network to Internet" connection speed.