How fiber internet works

You may have heard the term fiber-optic internet, commonly called "fiber" for short. But what is fiber-optic technology? And why are more internet service providers investing in this type of internet service today?

Below is an overview of how fiber internet works. 

What are fiber-optic cables?

Fiber-optic cables, which run underground, above ground, and under the ocean, form the larger “backbone” fiber-optic network.

These cables (not to be confused with traditional copper cables used in DSL connections) are made up of bundles of thousands of tiny glass strands or fibers. Each fiber is extremely tiny —almost as thin as a strand of human hair. The optical fibers transmit light, which carries data the length of the cable at incredibly high speeds.

There are two essential components of a fiber-optic cable: the “core” and the “cladding.”

The core

The core is made of glass and is the innermost layer of the fiber-optic cable, along which data is transmitted using pulses of light. 

The cladding

The cladding is a thicker layer of plastic or glass wrapped around the core. It’s made of a material with a different density to keep the light pulses inside the core so the light (the data signal) won’t be lost.

By taking advantage of a phenomenon called “total internal reflection,” light can move through these fibers incredibly quickly. The result is that fiber-optic cables can send data at about 70% of the speed of light, or 200,000 kilometers (124,274 miles) per second. Using these fibers for data transmission leads to super-fast, powerful fiber internet networks that have much higher bandwidth and lower latency than other methods of transmitting data. 

How do fiber-optic cables transmit data?

All data can be broken down into what is called “binary” – a series of 1s and 0s – which determines the contents of a piece of data. In fiber-optic cables, small bits of binary are translated into LED light pulses. 

So, data is sent by a sequence of extremely fast light pulses through the fiber-optic cable to the intended destination. When this data is carried across long distances, special devices called “optical amplifiers” are used to boost the signal and ensure no data is lost. 

How does fiber technology make your internet better?

Next you may wonder why all this matters. How is fiber-optic technology better for internet? The two main benefits are speed (including future speed potential) and reliability. 

It's fast

Fiber-optic cables have an enormous bandwidth capacity. Most commercial fiber connections can carry signals above 10 Gbps, while residential fiber internet connections reach speeds up to 940 Mbps (for instance, with CenturyLink Fiber Gigabit). Whether you want fiber internet for at-home use or for your office, fiber internet provides high performance for both uploading and downloading — which is many times faster than many cable internet services and any DSL connection. 

It's reliable

Fiber-optic cables are less prone to “attenuation,” a type of internet signal loss. They also have very low latency, which is the time it takes a signal to travel to another computer and come back to your computer. This adds up to a more reliable, consistent connection compared to other types of internet connections.

How to get fiber internet at your home

Start by checking to see if CenturyLink Fiber is available in your area. If it is, it’s easy to upgrade or order new service and get a super-fast, reliable internet connection your whole household will love. 

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