When shopping around for broadband providers who utilize fiber optic connections, you’ll often encounter claims that a company uses “100% fiber networks”.

However, in today’s marketing-fueled world, this can often be a stretched definition; it’s very common for providers to utilize fiber up to a certain point, then switch to a lesser connection like coaxial or ethernet to make it the rest of the way to the actual end-user (in this case, to your apartment or home).

In today’s post, we’ll be breaking down the most common types of fiber setups (cumulatively referred to as FTTx) you’ll find in towns and cities throughout the US, looking at their individual strengths, weaknesses, and configurations so that you can feel more confident and informed on the services you’ll be paying for.

The various types of fiber optic connections, defined

Fiber to the neighborhood, or node (FTTN)

This configuration is one of the more common ones used in densely populated residential areas, because of its ability to service an entire neighborhood using a single point. It is one of several different methods of delivering service to multiple homes simultaneously.

Essentially, fiber is run to a common network box, otherwise known as a node. From here, the connection is often converted to copper-based wiring for the “last mile”, which goes directly into your home. Users must be within a one-mile radius of the node in order to receive service from it using this configuration. In exchange for slower speeds, this implementation method is simple and inexpensive, relative to several of the other types of fiber connections listed below.

Pros

  • Inexpensive and widely available
  • Offers speeds decent enough for many basic Internet users

Cons

  • Speeds are much lower than FTTH
  • Speeds vary depending on distance from node
  • Can be intermittently affected by network load

Fiber to the curb (FTTC)

The primary difference between FTTN and FTTC is that with the latter, fiber optic cable runs all the way to the curb near a business or residence. Essentially, the difference lies in the distance between the connection point and fiber optic termination point, or node. For instance, while FTTN refers to those who are greater than 1,000 feet from the node, FTTC refers to those who are less than 1,000 feet away.[1]

Multiple customers can still be serviced using this method, but generally speaking, there are less individual connections per node when a neighborhood utilizes this connection setup. Although this also results in greater overall speeds to the end-user, the unfortunate reality is that FTTC is more expensive for providers to implement, and for this reason, it is not as widely implemented in the US just yet.

Pros

  • Faster connection speeds than FTTN
  • Less users sharing one connection point

Cons

  • Not as widely available as FTTN
  • Still slower due to the limitations of the cables going directly to the home or business

Fiber to the building (FTTB)

This setup centers around a fiber connection brought all the way to a building or shared property, where it is then distributed to individual users using similar methods to the ones described above. This is commonly used for high-rise apartments, skyscrapers, and other shared residential and business properties.

Outside of the fact that it can service many different individuals at once in a close area, there is little difference between this type of configuration and FTTC, or fiber to the curb.[2]

Pros

  • Allows for generally faster speeds than FTTN
  • Enables high-speed Internet access in commercial and residential high-rise buildings

Cons

  • Still slower than FTTH setups
  • Speeds can vary depending on distance from node

Fiber to the home (FTTH)

Rounding out the list of fiber connections is fiber to the home, or FTTH. This connection type enables fiber optic cables to be run from the provider directly into your home or apartment, using no intermediary cables like coaxial telephone line cables. The obvious benefit here is that you get the fastest speeds possible through your provider, as well as the highest bandwidth capacity.[3]

The main limiting factor in terms of the rollout of FTTH connections is the massive cost of delivering fiber directly to properties themselves. This still remains one of the most cost-prohibitive ways of delivering service to the end-user, and as a result, it is still quite rare to find in the US.

Pros

  • Enables the fastest possible speeds directly from your provider
  • The connection comes directly to your home, and is usually not shared between multiple properties

Cons

  • Very expensive to enable, contributing to its rarity in the US
  • May not be beneficial depending on your plan’s Internet speeds

Hybrid fiber coaxial network (HFC network)

Guy rolling internet cable on the street.
Fiber and cable are generally installed underground by trained ISP technicians.

Hybrid fiber coaxial networks involve providers installing fiber optic connections to a central node located close to residential or commercial customers. From here, the connections are converted to coaxial connections, allowing existing infrastructure to be used to still allow for users to experience some of the benefits of fiber optic connectivity.

Another form that is similar in execution is referred to as FITL, or fiber in the loop. This methodology relies on converting existing plain old telephone service (POTS) to be viable for use in data transfer roles. It is commonly associated with DSL service.

Understanding which connection is available in your area

When shopping around and searching for the right broadband provider for you, be sure to ask each company directly what type of configuration they deliver in your area. You might have to call technical support in order to get this information, but if you’re looking for the fastest possible speeds, this extra effort may be well worth it in the end.

Regardless of which setup you ultimately end up utilizing, simply knowing the difference between them–as well as understanding their strengths and limitations–can put you in a much better position to evaluate the providers available in your area. Hopefully, this will lead to you feeling more confident and empowered when you ultimately decide who you’d like to go with.

Have any other questions relating to fiber optic network delivery? Leave us a comment below and we’ll see what we can do to clear things up for you.

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Experts

Tyler Cooper

Tyler Cooper

Tyler Cooper is a former networking consultant and current technical writer in the IT industry. He enjoys sharing his expertise through articles about topics like PC gaming, cord cutting, and technology trends.

Jameson Zimmer

Jameson Zimmer

Jameson Zimmer is a technology and telecom expert hailing from Charlottesville, Virginia. His work with data-driven companies like BroadbandNow has helped bring attention to consumer issues like municipal broadband.

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