Comparing Internet Connection Types

graphic of internet connection types

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Have you ever wondered why your neighbors three streets down have access to fiber internet while you’re stuck with DSL? Oftentimes, it comes down to the very street you live on. Internet availability varies greatly by your physical location and tends to get better the closer you are to a major city.

There are six main types of internet today including fiber, cable, DSL, satellite, fixed wireless, and 5G. Depending on where you live, the connection you subscribe to will have a big impact on the performance and cost of your WiFi. So, which one is best for you?

In this guide, we explain how the different types of internet work, what speeds each offers, and how much they typically cost to help you understand your options. Once you have an idea of what may fit your internet needs, you can use our comparison tool below to find available options near you.

Internet Connections At a Glance

To give you a general overview, here is a table outlining what each internet connection type typically offers. We compare them based on download speed ranges, starting price ranges, and the percentage of the U.S. population with access.

Internet TypeDownload Speed Range*Starting Price Range*% of US Pop. with Access**
Fiber200 – 2,000 Mbps$35.00 – $299.95/mo.40%
Cable25 – 1,000 Mbps$19.99 – $120.00/mo.88%
DSL10 – 150 Mbps$19.99 – $69.99/mo.89%
Satellite12 – 150 Mbps$49.99 – $99.00/mo.99%
Fixed Wireless5 – 50 Mbps$29.99 – $99.00/mo.43%
5G50 – 10,000 Mbps$50.00 – $70.00/mo.N/A
*All speeds and prices are ranges based on current market plans, which vary by location and are subject to change.
**Percentages are based on the FCC internet availability data as of 9/13/21.
Internet TypeFiber
Download Speed Range*200 – 2,000 Mbps
Starting Price Range*$35.00 – $299.95/mo.
% of US Pop. with Access**40%
Internet TypeCable
Download Speed Range*25 – 1,000 Mbps
Starting Price Range*$19.99 – $120.00/mo.
% of US Pop. with Access**88%
Internet TypeDSL
Download Speed Range*10 – 150 Mbps
Starting Price Range*$19.99 – $69.99/mo.
% of US Pop. with Access**89%
Internet TypeSatellite
Download Speed Range*12 – 150 Mbps
Starting Price Range*$49.99 – $99.00/mo.
% of US Pop. with Access**99%
Internet TypeFixed Wireless
Download Speed Range*5 – 50 Mbps
Starting Price Range*$29.99 – $99.00/mo.
% of US Pop. with Access**43%
Internet Type5G
Download Speed Range*50 – 10,000 Mbps
Starting Price Range*$50.00 – $70.00/mo.
% of US Pop. with Access**N/A
*All speeds and prices are ranges based on current market plans, which vary by location and are subject to change.**Percentages are based on the FCC internet availability data as of 9/13/21.

Top Internet Providers By Connection Type

ProviderConnectionContract Required
CenturyLinkFiber, DSLNocall877-326-1814
EarthLinkFiber, DSLYescall844-543-6292
ViasatSatelliteYescall855-339-3045
AT&TFiberOptions Availablecall877-326-1812
SpectrumCable, FiberNocall844-538-8801
CoxCableYescall844-538-8797
FrontierFiber, DSLOptions Availablecall877-326-1815
OptimumCable, FiberNocall844-538-8802
SparklightCable, FiberNoView Plans
VerizonFiber, DSLNoView Plans
XfinityCable, FiberOptions AvailableView Plans
ProviderCenturyLink
ConnectionFiber, Dsl
Contract RequiredNo
call877-326-1814
ProviderEarthLink
ConnectionFiber, Dsl
Contract RequiredYes
call844-543-6292
ProviderViasat
ConnectionSatellite
Contract RequiredYes
call855-339-3045
ProviderAT&T
ConnectionFiber
Contract RequiredOptions Available
call877-326-1812
ProviderSpectrum
ConnectionCable, Fiber
Contract RequiredNo
call844-538-8801
ProviderCox
ConnectionCable
Contract RequiredYes
call844-538-8797
ProviderFrontier
ConnectionFiber, Dsl
Contract RequiredOptions Available
call877-326-1815
ProviderOptimum
ConnectionCable, Fiber
Contract RequiredNo
call844-538-8802
ProviderSparklight
ConnectionCable, Fiber
Contract RequiredNo
View Plans
ProviderVerizon
ConnectionFiber, Dsl
Contract RequiredNo
View Plans
ProviderXfinity
ConnectionCable, Fiber
Contract RequiredOptions Available
View Plans

What Type of Internet is Best?

As it stands, fiber is the best internet if you can get your hands on it. It’s extremely fast and reliable compared to other internet types, offering equal download and upload speeds of up to 2,000 Mbps (though 1,000 Mbps is more common). This makes it ideal for heavy users who have larger homes, multi-person families, or bandwidth-heavy jobs.

However, since it’s a newer technology, fiber internet is the least available connection type today. Internet service providers (ISP) are still working to build infrastructure to support it, which takes time and money. This also explains why fiber plans are generally more expensive, too. If you can’t get fiber where you live, check out what other connections have to offer below.

Internet Connection Type icons

Fiber Internet

Fiber internet uses light, rather than electric signals, to transfer data along fiber-optic glass cables. These “cables” are thin, transparent glass fibers that transmit data at the speed of light, which explains why it’s so much faster than other connection types.

Overall, fiber offers the fastest speeds, delivers the largest home coverage, and supports the most device connectivity among internet options. However, since fiber is not as widely available as DSL and cable internet and can cost a pretty penny, it only makes up 1 in 5 internet subscribers today (or 19% of all U.S. households).

thumb_upPros

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    Fast download and upload speeds

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    Most reliable connection

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    Supports the most connected devices

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    Can get pricey

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    Limited availability in the U.S.

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    Slow overbuild process

Our Top Fiber Pick:

Cable Internet

Far more common than fiber, cable internet uses electrical signals to pass internet connection from a provider to the home. It piggybacks off of pre-existing infrastructures to deliver internet, using the same coaxial cables that TV service runs on. While DSL is similar in that it relies on older networks, cable internet is usually more reliable than DSL.

Cable service offers fast download speeds and is widely available, which makes it the leading choice for households today. Currently, 3 in 5 internet subscribers use cable internet (64% of all U.S. households).

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    2x the availability of fiber

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    Supports gaming and streaming

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    Fast download speeds

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    Slower speeds during peak hours

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    Limited availability in rural areas

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    Moderate to high prices

Our Top Cable Pick:

DSL Internet

DSL internet, which stands for digital subscriber line, is the most common connection in the United States due to its availability. Similar to cable, DSL uses pre-existing copper phone lines to transmit internet signals to your home.

Based on its speeds, DSL is a step up from dial-up service but is still known to cause dead spots, latency issues, and all-around slower speeds compared to cable and fiber internet. It’s best for smaller households, users with fewer connected devices, or those looking for cheap internet.

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    Affordable

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    2x the availability of fiber

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    Faster than dial-up

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    Slow to average speeds

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    Doesn’t support gaming well

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    Weak home coverage

Out Top DSL Pick:

Satellite Internet

Satellite internet is a wireless connection that uses space technology to transmit internet signals between 3 satellite dishes. One is set up at your provider’s main hub, one is set up on your property, and one is in space. This connection type has the unique advantage of being available virtually anywhere, but it is subject to service interruptions caused by bad weather or poor equipment.

There are only a few satellite internet providers available today. For the most part, it’s an internet solution meant for rural homes that can’t get wired connections to their property easily.

thumb_upPros

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    Available virtually everywhere

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    Can overcome physical barriers

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    Faster than dial-up

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    Tends to be expensive

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    Data caps are common

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    Unreliable due to physical elements

Our Top Satellite Pick:

Fixed Wireless Internet

Fixed wireless internet uses cell towers to transmit internet signals over radio waves. Like satellite, fixed wireless is most common in rural areas where hard-wired cable connections are difficult to lay, yet it’s limited by line of sight requirements due to the way it transmits internet signals.

This connection is only recommended for households with minimum internet usage. It can support light activities like checking emails or browsing social media, but it won’t get you very far during Netflix marathons.

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    Delivers internet to underserved areas

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    Easy installation

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    Local customer service

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    Line of sight limitation

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    Slow speeds

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    Can be expensive

Out Top Fixed Wireless Pick:

5G Internet

Fifth-generation internet technology, or 5G, is the next evolution in wireless networks set to replace 4G, 3G, and LTE with far better performance. 5G networks are powered by new technology referred to as millimeter wave (mmWave) that runs on three different bands: low-band, mid-band, and high-band. Each band has the capacity to carry different speeds, 100 Mbps, 1,000 Mbps, and 10 Gbps respectively.

While very limited at the moment, 5G internet is capable of delivering faster speeds, lower latency, and increased connectivity than even fiber internet. After years of anticipation, internet providers like Verizon are starting to lay down 5G networks in select regions across the U.S. However, we aren’t holding our breath. Fiber has been around for two decades and still only covers about half of U.S. households. 5G still has a ways to go before the masses adopt it.

thumb_upPros

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    Fastest speeds among all connections

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    Increased connectivity for more devices

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    Low latency

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    Cost and labor obstacles to overbuilding

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    Difficulty penetrating barriers

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    Very limited availability

Our Top 5G Pick:

Picking Your Internet Connection

Picking the right internet connection really comes down to your usage and household needs. Do you live in a large home that requires greater WiFi coverage? Will you be streaming or gaming frequently at home? Does your family include more than two people? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, consider finding cable or fiber internet options. If not, you may do just fine with a slower connection that costs less.

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Paula Novo
Written By
Paula Novo
Written By
Paula Novo
With over four years of telecom experience, Paula Novo is the Site Editor for HighSpeedOptions. She has helped develop the criteria by which HighSpeedOptions reviews and recommends internet service providers. Paula also leads HighSpeedOptions' coverage of the digital divide, broadband policy, and ISP reviews.