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What Is Cable Internet and How Does It Work?

Cable Internet leverages the cable TV network to deliver broadband Internet access. Cable Internet delivers ISP-to-end-user access like DSL and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH)

Cable internet is usually faster than DSL, but it does have some limitations, such as slower speeds during busy times. Since cable internet is both fast and reliable, it is a good choice for people who need more bandwidth for things like gaming, streaming, or uploading and downloading large files. In this article, we’ll talk about how cable internet, DSL, and the ever-growing fibre internet are different.

What Is Cable Internet?

Cable internet, which is very similar to cable television, connects your home to your internet service provider (ISP) by way of underground cable networks using a coaxial cable. These cable networks then plug straight into your modem or gateway, which allows you to build your own WiFi network or connect directly to your device via an ethernet connection. Gateways are combinations of routers and modems.

So, cable Internet usually comes with TV channels, and most of the time, the service comes from a local cable TV provider.

How Does Cable Internet Work?

A cable operator facility, also known as a headend, houses a cable modem termination system (CMTS) for broadband cable Internet access. High speed fibre trunks are used to connect the headend to the switching centres. Each switching centre has a fibre optic cable connecting it to one or more fibre nodes. The consumer, who uses a cable modem to access the services, is connected by a local coaxial connection.

cable internet system layout

What’s the difference between Cable Internet and DSL?

As was already said, cable internet is the most popular type of internet service. DSL is the next most popular. And even though both cable internet and DSL do the same thing, they do it in a slightly different way.

DSL, which stands for “Digital Subscriber Line“, is not the same as dial-up. DSL uses our landline telephone connections (more specifically, our phone jacks) to give us access to the internet. And since most of us still have telephone jacks, even though landlines are almost extinct, having DSL installed should be pretty easy as long as a DSL provider serves your area.

The problem with DSL, though, is twofold:

If you don’t have a phone jack in your home, setting up a phone will be harder, and you’ll almost certainly have to drill a hole and wire it by hand.

Your internet connection’s stability and speed will almost always be affected by how close you live to your ISP.
If you don’t care about any of those things, DSL could be a good choice for you. Keep in mind, though, that DSL speeds are usually much slower than cable internet speeds, with a maximum of 50Mbps for DSL and 1Gbps for cable (1,000Mbps).

On the plus side, you won’t be affected during peak hours because DSL is a dedicated connection and doesn’t share bandwidth like cable internet’s underground cable network. Also, plans for DSL internet are usually much cheaper than plans for cable internet.

What’s the difference between cable internet and fibre?

Technically, cable internet is a type of hybrid internet connection called Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC). This type of connection uses both coaxial cable and fiber-optic cable to connect to the internet. HFC is not to be confused with the newer, more impressive dedicated fibre internet connections, which are still not widely available in most parts of the world.

Dedicated fibre connections are currently the fastest way to connect to the internet, with speeds reaching as high as 1.5Gbps in some cases. With these speeds, you can download a full-length movie in 4K resolution in just a few seconds. Just a few years ago, this would have taken hours.

The reason fibre internet is so fast is because of how it works. Unlike DSL and cable internet, which use electricity to send data, fibre internet only uses fibre optic cables and light pulses.

As you might have guessed, fibre is the most expensive of the three internet services we’ve talked about. This is mostly because the technology is still fairly new. As we’ve already said, fibre optic is still only used in a small number of places, so there aren’t many places where you can use the technology (for the time being).

Fibre broadband

Fiber broadband is a fairly broad term. It just means that fiber cables are used at some point in the connection from your provider to your home. Unless you have ADSL broadband, which uses the old copper telephone network, you probably have some kind of fiber broadband.

Run a speed test to find out what kind of connection you have at home.

To get those top speeds, you’ll need fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband, which is sometimes also called fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). This means that your connection is entirely served by fiber optic cables, from the exchange to your street cabinet and then from the street cabinet to your home.

At the moment, BT and Hyperoptic are the only companies that offer FTTP broadband. If you can get FTTP broadband, you can get speeds of more than 200Mbps.

What is a coaxial cable?


Coaxial cable is made up of a copper wire wrapped in a conductive shield and separated by a material that doesn’t conduct electricity. This type of cable, which is also called “coax cable,” is great for sending electrical signals with a high frequency and low loss.

Traditional copper wires aren’t as good as coaxial cables because their shielded design lets the center conductor wire send data quickly while being protected from damage or interference from the outside.

Coaxial cable is much cheaper for providers to put in than fiber-optic cabling, but over longer distances, it can cause the signal to go out. They are easy to set up and last a long time, which makes them a good compromise between copper wires and fiber-optic cables.

Cable broadband speeds

Because coaxial cables work better than they used to, cable broadband connections are much faster than so-called “superfast” broadband connections that still use copper wire. Speeds for cable broadband can start at 36Mbps and go as high as 300Mbps for the most expensive packages.

Check out our guide to broadband download times to learn more about how fast your internet connection is and how long it will take to download things at that speed.

How is cable broadband installed?

If cable broadband is available in your area, there should be a dedicated provider socket outside your house. In most cases, this will be from Virgin Media.

If it was already installed in your home, you’ll find a master socket that matches up with it. In this case, installation is pretty easy, and all you have to do is use the cables provided to connect your router to the master socket.

If your building has cable broadband but it hasn’t been installed in your home yet, an engineer will need to put in a “master socket.” Most of the time, this means drilling a hole in the outside wall and running a cable through it.

Then, the technician would connect the main plug to your hub and TV by installing and securing the right cable where it was needed. If all of these steps need to be done, the installation can take up to two or three hours at most.

The benefits of cable broadband

Cable broadband has a lot of advantages, especially if you want to get better performance from your broadband service:

  • Fiber-optic and coaxial cable technology make it very fast, with ultrafast connection speeds of up to 1Gbps.
  • Cable broadband is much more reliable than connections like ADSL and superfast broadband that still use copper wires.
  • You can bundle services like cable TV, phone, and devices that can connect to the internet to save more money each month.
  • Use Un switch to find out more about ultrafast broadband, like if you can get it.

On our page for fiber-optic broadband, you can compare all of our fiber and cable deals to see which one is best for you.


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