You may have heard the term Gigabit Internet a lot lately, usually in connection with the rollout of fiber broadband across North America.  But what is it exactly?

Simply put, it means Internet access running at speeds of 1000 megabits a second, or roughly 100 times what we’ve been used to in the past! This speed has become possible over fiber optic networks because it does not have the limitations of copper.

Previously, the choice for broadband was between copper-based digital subscriber line (or DSL) and cable broadband with cable being the faster of the two. DSL typically runs speeds up to 50 Mbps but premium cable in some areas is available with speeds up to 500 Mbps but with a high price tag.

Although fiber has been used for data backbones for years it’s only recently been brought right into the premises. The term FTTP or fiber to the premises means exactly that but a term you may hear more often is FTTH or fiber to the home. At the very least ISPs are bringing fiber as close as possible with FTTN, referring to fiber to the neighborhood.

Sounds great, right? Well, yes, but installing fiber is expensive so getting it to individual homes is a challenge. The homes themselves also need to be retrofitted to accept fiber. Installers can look to new media enclosures available to streamline this process.

FTTH coming to a city near you

One of the pioneers of FTTH service is Google Fiber, which launched Gigabit Internet over fiber to Kansas City in 2012. Since then, they’ve aggressively expanded their network.

It’s now available in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, with plans to expand to 12 more cities including Salt Lake City, San Diego, Phoenix, Atlanta, San Jose and Portland.

Other major players include AT&T, Century Link and Comcast. AT&T call their service GigaPower and is available in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Cupertino, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham, Winston-Salem and most recently San Antonio. That puts them head to head with Google Fiber in some markets, which should be good for the consumer.

Comcast, who advertises their 2 Gbps service as Gigabit Pro, launched in Atlanta and is now available in many cities including Chicago, San Francisco Bay area, Houston, Miami, Portland and Seattle.

But fiber may not be the only way to deliver Gigabit. There is a new cable modem specification called DOCSIS 3.1 that supersedes the current DOCSIS 3.0. It has a minimum speed of 1 Gbps but may eventually be capable of 10 Gbps!

Comcast is field-testing the new technology and it may be a game changer as existing cable infrastructure will be able to deliver speeds comparable to fiber.

One of the big advantages to DOCSIS 3.1 is that cable companies won’t have to upgrade a lot of their systems but then what about the telephone companies? These currently rely on DSL over twisted pair copper cabling but a new technology G.Fast is enabling Gigabit speeds over copper over short distances.

One way or another at the present rate of expansion you can expect Gigabit speeds near you soon.