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Is Gigabit Internet a Gimmick?

If you live in a bigger city, especially in the United States chances are a local internet service provider (or ISP) has tried to sell you “blazing fast fiber gigabit internet”. Yes, 1,000 Mbps or 1 Gbps is really fast and it sounds really cool. But, is it worth the high price? Let’s take a look.

Shortfalls of Cable

For most people, your internet comes from a local cable provider like Spectrum or Comcast. Because there is not enough bandwidth or space in the physical cable for TV, phone, and internet to pass through the download speeds, like when opening this post or watching Netflix, has to be capped at around 500 Mbps. Since most consumers are downloading more than uploading, like posting a picture on Facebook, uploads speeds typically capped at 20 Mbps or less. If your a DSL or satellite customer your connection suffers from the same issues.

Fiber

Before getting to gigabit internet let’s talk about the core technology which as allowed this fast speed to come to your front door.

Currently, the only way to get gigabit internet to your house is by using a fiber-optic network. At the time of writing this, fiber-optic networks are being rolled out to larger cities by big telecom companies. Fiber is a glass wire insulated by plastic that uses light to move data back and forth. Fiber is great because it has more bandwidth, or has space to send more data back and forth than a copper cable wire.

Fiber cables are used as the backbone of the World Wide Web. An example being the fiber optic cables that wrap around the oceans connecting whole continents and islands to the internet.

Through fiber, telecom companies can offer higher data speeds, such as gigabit, without the rest of the network suffering.

However, there is a drawback. Fiber is incredibly expensive. Rolling out fiber entails running a 100% fiber connection from the internet service providers hub all the way into your house. That’s a lot of fiber cable which is not cheap. Because it’s not affordable for the internet company they, most likely, are not going to make it affordable for you, at least at first.

What Can You Expect with 1000 Mbps Up and Down?

Mbps (Megabit per second)Download Movie: 3GB (or 3,000 Mb)Download file: 1GB (or 1,000 Mb)
25 Mbps16 Min5 Min and 20 Sec
100 Mbps4 Min1 Min and 20 Sec
200 Mbps2 Min40 Sec
500 Mbps48 Seconds16 Sec
1,000 Mbps
(1 Gbps)
24 Seconds8 Sec

This chart shows how long it would take to download a 3GB movie and a 1GB file.

With a gigabit connection, you can download a movie that’s 3GB in size in about 24 seconds which is about 3.5 minutes faster than with a 100Mbps connection. A 1 GB file can download in about 8 seconds which would take a little more than a minute with a 100 Mbps connection. Then you should be able to upload those same files and get roughly the same times. That’s a huge time saver.

But, note that the download times listed in the chart are theoretical. It does not take into account real-world variables. Essentially you will never actually reach those times.

Which now gets us to our original question: is gigabit fiber internet worth it?

The short answer is no. Let me explain.

If you have the option for gigabit internet in your neighborhood your internet provider may have played it up a bit with the advertising. Let’s talk about my two issues with fiber.

1. False Internet Speeds

As of now when you subscribe to gigabit internet chances are you won’t actually get that speed. The key is to read the fine print. One thing that you will read is that although your internet provider may be sending between 1,000 and 990 Mbps into your house, you will find that due to “overhead” the fastest speed you can get on your device is 940 Mbps. Which still sounds super fast until you realize that the most you will actually get is about half that. Why? I’m working off the assumption that you only have mobile devices connect to the internet wirelessly via WiFi. If this is the case the fastest speeds you can get are at most 600 Mbps. This is not because of your internet provider nor your mobile device. Current WiFi standards are just not strong enough to carry that speed. If you want the full speeds your paying for you will have to plug your device directly into the internet, which for some mobile devices like iPhones is not an option.

You would think running a speed test with speedtest.net would tell you the actual speeds your device is receiving. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. When you run a test it will pick a server that it thinks will work best. However, that is not always the case. Your speed test can be affected by too many people testing their speeds on that server or the server might not be able to test such high speeds.

To sum this up, you may never reach the speeds you’re paying for, especially with your mobile devices.

2. Unnecessary Speeds

It may sound awesome that you can theoretically download a movie in a couple of seconds, or never have Netflix buffer again. But ask yourself: how often am I actually downloading big files? And if you don’t, what else can you use all that fast speed for? Definitely not for streaming. According to the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) streaming an HD (1080p) video only requires between 5 Mbps to 8 Mbps with 25 Mbps being recommended for streaming 4k video. Video chat apps need between 1 Mbps and 6 Mbps. Even online gaming is recommended to be between 4 Mbps and 8 Mbps. So if not for streaming how about just loading websites. No again.

When we look at the internet today, out of the whole world there are few who have gigabit internet. Optimizing the World Wide Web for gigabit users would make the internet unobtainable for most people on the planet. Even in the United States of America the FCC says that you only need 25 Mbps to be classified as broadband internet.

Any big site that you try to access will load incredibly fast whether with 1,000 Mbps or 100 Mbps. At the end of the day, your Google search results will still load in a blink of an eye.

Who is Gigabit Internet For?

Who is gigabit internet for then? No telecom company rolls our fiber for no reason.

For one thing, it’s getting ready for what the future will hold. Maybe sometime in the future, there will be an online application that requires a super-fast internet speed.

Another reason, fiber is just a higher quality cable. With its extra bandwidth, telecom companies can issue more services to consumers without being held back by a bunch of small copper cable.

With the upload speeds matching the download speeds, fiber is a great option for creators and developers who find themselves uploading large files often.

Gigabit and fiber are also great for gaming due to it’s latency

Lastly, this can be appealing if you have multiple devices connected to your home internet network. With faster internet speeds, there is more bandwidth to share between all of your devices.

So to conclude, gigabit internet may sound like something special. Its fast speeds make it easy to advertise to the consumer. If you can afford the high price, go for it, try it out, and see if you can tell the difference. Although you may never obtain gigabit speeds it may give you a better range than your previous plan. But also look out for specials. Many companies are looking to sell their fiber services to more consumers by offering great bundle deals and including extra perks like a free streaming service. However, if you don’t have fiber in your area, you’re not missing out on much.

Resources:

Updating to Fiber Resources:

United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Resources

Internet Service Providers (ISP) Resources

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