Fiber vs. Wireless Internet (5G): Which is Best in 2022?
Fiber vs. wireless Internet connectivity doesn't have the same Hatfields and McCoys adversarial relationship as iOS vs. Droid, PC vs. Mac, or FiOS vs. Xfinity. This is true even with big telecom’s push toward 5G wireless as the savior for all your business communications.
You may already have a bias towards fiber and wireless Internet and honestly, many are not even in a location where they have such a choice to make. In fact, it's even possible to argue that they coexist quite nicely when set up to complement each other in a Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery configuration.
But, what happens when you have to choose between the two? If they were in a head-to-head match-up of fiber vs. wireless internet, which would be the better choice for your business?
We'll share an objective look at the pros and cons of each and help you weigh them accordingly for your unique requirements.
Fiber vs. Wireless Internet: A Direct Comparison
Availability in Washington D.C. area and Northern Virginia
Wide availability through Atlantech’s fiber-lit locations
Up to 100 Gbps
Anywhere between 3 to 1000 Mbps
✔ - stays consistent regardless of distance from
X - needs a direct line of sight, obstacles can cause disruption
✔ - much harder to infiltrate, easier to spot breaches
X - easier to infiltrate, and much harder to identify breach points
X - higher initial costs for digging and wiring fiber cable (unless your building is already lit with fiber)
✔ - Low upfront costs
✔ - much less maintenance required as fiber cables are resistant to corrosion
X - maintaining wireless networks and hardware can cost up to 80 percent more than initial installation costs
✔ - if your building is already lit with fiber
X - if your building ISN’T already lit with fiber
✔ - can be as little as 7-10 business days
Fiber vs. Wireless Internet: Evaluating the Best Option
How much is slow and unreliable internet hindering your business? In one analysis, multiple companies cited poor internet connectivity as the culprit for 71 lost hours of productivity per employee per year. Multiply this by your employee count, and you’ve highlighted a huge opportunity to increase your efficiency.
Still, high Internet speeds often come with a high Internet bill, and for some, that may not be necessary. What’s important is that your network isn’t the source of limited productivity.
There’s a lot of work that comes along with planning your business Internet service. By looking at requirements from your business internet access providers and weighing their importance, you’ll be able to make a more educated decision.
Once you know your requirements, use the list below to help you understand the possibilities of fiber and wireless Internet so you can make the best choice for your company.
Pros and Cons of Fiber Internet
Fiber Internet is the wired choice of our present times. It has replaced traditional copper-based facilities such as T-1, DSL, and Ethernet over Copper. With high speeds and extremely reliable service, we have found that our customers are only choosing copper when fiber isn't available or too expensive to obtain.
Pro #1: Connection Quality
The top benefit of fiber optic Internet is the quality of your connection. Unlike other wired connections, and especially wireless, fiber’s signal barely degrades the further it moves from the source of the connection. For example, copper has a distance limitation that can't even be addressed adequately with repeaters. At a certain distance, you simply run out of signal.
Additionally, fiber has a significantly higher resistance to electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio-frequency interference (RFI), meaning the signal won’t be disturbed by things that carry an electrical signal, like power lines or your building’s physical infrastructure.
Since environmental factors have little effect on fiber, it can reach speeds anywhere from 50 Mbps to 100Gbps. This speed is unmatched by competing technologies.
Pro #2: Security
Another advantage for fiber is its ability to maintain a more secure network. With DDoS attacks on the rise, it’s essential to keep your business safe in any manner possible.
The only way to disrupt fiber optic Internet is to cut a cable. If a fiber cable is compromised, the entire system is impacted due to a disrupted signal, allowing you to identify breaches more rapidly and react accordingly. This is as opposed to copper circuits which can be tapped and data can be intercepted without you knowing it.
Since there are no signals radiated externally from the cable, it also makes it impossible for others to “listen in” on your transmission, further securing your network.
Pro #3: Scalability
Optical fibers are five times smaller and twenty times lighter than copper wires making them easier to install than other options. They also allow for easy upgrades of equipment since new cables can be laid over the original fiber. This makes it a great solution for growing businesses or those looking for network expansion.
Since fibers can be turned on or off as required, businesses can install fiber optic cables in preparation for future growth and route their service until it’s required.
Pro #4: Overall Cost
While the initial cost may be higher (more on this later), the overall cost of using fiber optic Internet is lower than other methods.
Fiber cables require fewer maintenance costs as they’re resistant to corrosion, making their connection much more reliable. This makes them the leading option in areas where other wires may be exposed to elements and require replacement over time.
A study by Grand View Research forecasts a consistent growth in fiber usage. As it becomes more popular on the market, prices will continue to reach competitive levels, making it even more cost-effective for businesses.
Con #1: Risk of Damage
While there are benefits of fiber optic cables being light and thin, they're also at a higher risk of physical damage. If unprotected, it is significantly easier to damage these cables during rewiring or renovations to your infrastructure. It’s important to hire companies that understand how to work with fiber cables during installation as cables can be damaged, especially around corners.
The higher risk of these cables being physically damaged also leads to the potential of more people being affected. Since more employees are using the same cable, an outage could lead to a larger disruption in productivity throughout your business.
Con #2: Initial Cost
With lower overall costs, compared to other traditional methods of connectivity, there’s still an initial setup cost that may raise some red flags with your CFO. Along with the cost of the cables comes the installation fees, permits, connection nexuses, and fiber endpoints, as well as the specialized tools for setup and testing. Many of these costs can be mitigated or dropped completely if your building is already wired for fiber.
Pros and Cons of Wireless Internet
Wireless, whether it uses licensed or unlicensed spectrum, has been around for years. I first set up a customer with a wireless connection to the Internet in 1998! The technology has progressed dramatically since that time and a bandwidth of 1000 Mbps or more is possible, at short distances. It provides a low-cost entry to getting your company on a network and the freedom to move about, but its limited bandwidth and security risks may be enough to point you in another direction.
Pro #1: Initial Cost
Wireless networks offer a solution to fiber-optic’s high initial cost in places where fiber is not already built out. Much of the installation fees are diminished as wireless networks don’t require as extensive an operation as fiber. For a short-term fix, wireless could be the best option for your company. You'd only need an antenna and network access that the antenna connects to.
Pro #2: Quick Installation
With wireless Internet connectivity, it is possible to set up a connection in a day, if an antenna is available. There is no digging required and no reliance on a third party such as the phone company or a fiber carrier. I had a customer in a downtown Washington DC townhouse that we set up on a 100 Mbps wireless connection in less than a week.
Pro #3: Hot Spots
Depending on your type of business, having the ability for customers to access hot spots within your network could be a great benefit. This could be separate from the network your employees use, providing a bit more security for your internal use.
Con #1: Signal Strength
One of the largest issues with wireless Internet is that signal strength degrades the further you move from a broadcast station. Fiber optics mitigate this through a wired network, but wireless, even at its best, isn’t able to provide the same high speeds to your company.
Con #2: Security
Maintaining security with wireless networks is far more demanding than with a fiber optic network. Where a fiber optic cable must be cut for access, anyone with the right skills can access a wireless network.
There are also limited ways for them to be tracked. It's harder to crack when using licensed spectrum, but with wi-fi, security risks may result in use just for general use transmission rather than data that really should be protected from compromise.
If maintaining a secure network is of extreme importance to your business, using wireless Internet connectivity, especially unlicensed spectrum, may not be the right choice for you.
Fiber vs. Wireless Internet: Which is Best for Your Business?
While the decision comes down to your business’s goals and future plans, nothing says you can’t have the best of both worlds.
A wireless network is a great backup solution in case your fiber optic Internet goes down. The two can, and should, complement each other, providing the speed and reliability of fiber, with the mobility of wireless. It also has utility for rural locations where it is prohibitively expensive to run fiber. If transmitting any kind of sensitive data, it is available to use licensed spectrum so you're not using public frequencies which are vulnerable to compromise.
For those in the Washington D.C. area and Northern Virginia, where fiber optic cables have already been run, consider adding them to your own infrastructure and making use of the fastest Internet speeds on the market.
While you're making your decision, you should check out our Insider's Guide to Fiber Connectivity. It has everything you need for understanding the capabilities of fiber and how to get started with high-speed internet in your company.