There are several pros and cons to fiber-optic broadband Internet service. Though the technology offers data transfer speeds that are faster than competing broadband service providers, severe limitations in infrastructure and reliability are also present. Unlike cable broadband and digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet service, fiber-optic broadband features potentially unlimited range with no degradation in signal strength over great distances, and data transfer rates that travel, literally, at the speed of light. Fiber-optics are limited in range, though, due to the high cost involved in constructing large networks that provide service to extensive regions and large numbers of customers.
The primary advantage to fiber-optic broadband Internet is data capacity and transfer rates per line. Light, unlike digital telephone and coaxial signals that currently transfer data for cable and DSL, does not degrade. Even across great distances, full signal fidelity is possible with a fiber-optic system. Shifting ground and inclement weather can cause problems, though. Fiber-optic lines that are bundled together in cables have a tendency to bleed light into neighboring lines when the cable is bent.
One possible solution to this is individual fiber-optic cables for each and every application, but this can be both expensive and logistically overwhelming for providers with aspirations of national or global service. Another remedy is the implementation of a vast network of fiber-optic repeater stations located at relatively short intervals — compared to cable and DSL — from each other. The costs of this solution can be prohibitively high as well.
Another advantage of fiber-optic broadband Internet service is that the technology has the capacity to bundle Internet service with television and telephone service. While cable Internet providers are also able to bundle these services, they tax the more limited data capabilities of the cable distribution infrastructure. Service bundles from fiber-optic broadband providers are often competitively priced against cable and DSL.
The primary drawback to fiber-optic broadband for the consumer is availability. Implementing a fiberoptic network requires a large investment in capital and the construction of a significant infrastructure up front. This fact has priced out numerous potential providers from the market, prompting more rapid development in wireless broadband technologies.
In addition to the large capital requirements and the time necessary for constructing a fiber-optic broadband network, the technology also faces a problem of scalability. Fiber-optics work efficiently in small networks that are confined to a single location where bundled cables of fiber-optic lines can be installed and protected from bending. Bending fiber-optic cables can impede light transfer, and it can lead to permanent damage to the fiber-optics in the cable.
When scaled larger for regional, national, or global broadband Internet service, two obstacles can impede fiber-optic cables that do not impede cable or DSL. Fiber-optic cables cannot be installed above ground on telephone poles or below ground in trenches because there is no practical way to protect cables from bending.