What Is Cable Internet and How Does It Work?

Internet access has become a necessity in modern homes, with cable Internet just one option of many. It uses coaxial cables to deliver reliable, high-speed Internet to end users. Because it's fast, it's well-suited for users with higher bandwidth requirements. This article covers the ins and outs of the service, including what cable internet is, how it works, and how cable providers stack up against other connection types.

What is cable internet?

In telecommunications, cable internet is a type of broadband connection that uses cable television infrastructure to provide homes or buildings with Internet access. It runs through coaxial cables, the same cables used for your cable TV. Because these copper cables are used to deliver TV services, this type of internet is typically bundled with TV channels when offered by Internet service providers.

How cable internet works

Functional cable internet requires several key pieces of equipment. These include:

  • A modem. This small device allows communication between your computer and an ISP's systems. The device receives data from your cable provider and then distributes it throughout your home.
  • A WiFi router. The router connects to the modem to provide Internet access to multiple wired and wireless devices, like PCs, laptops, and tablets, all at the same time.
  • Copper coaxial cables. As mentioned, these cables are the transmission medium for this type of internet. Your Internet service provider will send internet data through these coaxial cables to your modem; one coaxial cable can carry between 100 and 700 MHz of data.
  • A switch. A cable switch helps provide online access to a large number of devices once connected to an Ethernet port.
  • An Ethernet cable. These standard cables connect your electronic devices to your network's router.
A cable Internet connection

Cable internet works through preexisting cable infrastructure, the same infrastructure used for cable TV. The broadband cable connects your modem to the provider's cable modem termination system (CMTS) through a coaxial cable. Your Internet provider sends data signals over underground or aerial coaxials to your modem. Then, once in your home, the modem transmits signals to your router and other internet-capable devices around you.

Your devices can either use an Ethernet cable for direct connection or a WiFi signal for wireless connection. Direct connections provide fast internet speeds and greater security, but they limit the user in terms of location and number of devices that can be used simultaneously.

Advantages and disadvantages of cable internet

Before you start looking to switch over to cable, it makes sense first to consider both the benefits and drawbacks.


There are several advantages to using this form of internet connection.

  • Cable internet offers a fast connection. With cable installed, you can achieve more than sufficient speeds for most purposes. Users will likely get internet speeds from 50 Mbps up to 1000 Mbps depending on their budget. An average household needs around 50 Mbps to 200 Mbps, meaning cable connections work well for most homes.
  • It's widely available. Because it uses coaxial cables, most homes have already set up the necessary equipment. Even urban areas possess the necessary infrastructure for this form of internet.
  • There are many options for bundling. Many cable companies offer bundled packages that include both television and internet, which is cost-effective.
  • Cable internet is reliable. Unlike other forms of internet like satellite internet, cable isn't affected by seasonal weather or storms. It also isn't affected by your proximity to your ISP like DSL.
  • It's easy to install. You can install it yourself as long as your home is properly wired for internet service. An ISP will charge about a hundred dollars for installation, which you can opt for, but you can also do the work yourself and save the money.


Though there are many advantages, cable also has its disadvantages.

  • It requires a cable connection. Though it sounds obvious, to access wired broadband, your home needs to be fitted with the necessary cable connections. If you're not already rigged with coaxial cables, your installation cost might be higher.
  • It uses shared bandwidth. Speeds tend to fluctuate during high-traffic hours. With cable, you have to share bandwidth with your neighbors. If other subscribers in surrounding residences are using too much upstream or downstream throughput at the same time, you're likely to experience network congestion.
  • It uses data caps. Some operators monitor the bandwidth each subscriber uses. What your ISP does next is impose data caps, limiting the amount of internet data that can be used in a given time period.

How fast is cable internet?

Cable wires deliver a fast connection. Typically, this type of internet uses coaxial cables to deliver high-speed services to your home. It can reach speeds of up to 1000 Mbps, or 1 Gbps.

Under optimal conditions when fewer users are on the network, cable offers an average speed of 100 Mbps. However, the speed you get ultimately comes down to your personal needs, your budget, and your Internet usage habits.

Cable internet sees a lot of traffic at night, when users are home for the day and on the Internet. It's during these hours that you'll likely experience more network congestion. Bandwidth caps, service glitches, malfunctioning routers, and device issues can all slow down cable internet speeds.

Comparing cable Internet to other connection types

Cable is a solid all-around internet choice for many households. Whether you live in residential or urban areas, cable service is available to you. However, it's worth seeing how it stacks up against other internet options in terms of structure, availability, reliability, speed, and more.

Cable vs. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

Cable internet and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) are both forms of broadband internet, though they use different technologies to deliver services. DSL uses telephone lines, while cable uses coaxial television cables. DSL isn't as fast as cable, but internet plans are much cheaper. Cable internet costs more because it's faster.

While DSL technology is sensitive to distance, cable isn't. The proximity to your ISP's location won't affect the stability of your connection. However, DSL doesn't share bandwidth like cable internet does. Both types are widely available.

Coaxial cables used in cable Internet

Cable vs. fiber optic

Fiber optic internet is arguably the best connection available. The technology uses fiber optic cables to send data at high speeds. Fiber is more impressive; most fiber internet providers offer as much as 1.5 Gbps, which is ideal for watching videos in HD quality. It's faster than cable internet.

However, fiber internet is more expensive than its competitors, including cable. Cable is also significantly more available than fiber optic.

Fiber optic internet is highly reliable, even at distances. Cable, on the other hand, has higher attenuation that affects the signal.

Cable vs. satellite

Satellite internet is wireless. It solely relies on the power of satellites orbiting around the exosphere to draw internet signals, unlike cable internet, which uses existing TV infrastructure to deliver high-speed internet. Those living in rural areas should consider satellite, but cable offers faster speeds and has a larger coverage area.

How to get internet without cable

Though almost all people live in areas supported by cable ISPs, if you don't have the infrastructure installed, you can still get high-speed internet. Consider these alternatives if you need them:

  • Fixed wireless internet. It's a cable-free option that uses broadcast towers to transmit internet signals. You need an outdoor antenna or small dish at home to receive these signals.
  • Satellite internet. As mentioned, it works through satellites to draw internet signals and send them to your home.
  • Mobile hotspots. They provide connection to the Internet on the go. You can turn your smartphone or iPhone into a mobile hotspot.
  • 5G home internet. Although many areas don't have access yet to 5G, it provides internet to your home without needing a cable.

Frequently asked questions

Which is better, cable or wireless connections?

For the most part, a cable connection is faster than a wireless connection. Ethernet connections have low latency and offer consistent speeds. However, wireless connections are more convenient.

What are the best cable internet providers?

There are a lot of cable ISPs. All cable providers aren't the same, so pricing, reliability, speeds, and service terms may vary by provider. Consider these factors when evaluating which provider to go with.

You can sign up with great cable providers like Xfinity, Spectrum, Optimum, and more.

How much does it cost per month?

Average costs for these internet services range from $30 to $100 per month depending on your geographical location, desired speeds, and provider.

Can I add cable internet to my TV service?

Yes, many companies offer bundled TV and cable internet services. Check with your ISP to find out if you can bundle these services together.

How can I watch TV without cable or internet?

Cable TV is expensive, but it's possible to get your favorite TV shows without paying for cable. You can try a digital TV antenna; getting an indoor antenna installed is straightforward. Furthermore, modern antennae offer high-definition TV channels for free.

If you don't want an antenna, offline viewing is another way to access TV channels without cable or internet. Consider using IPTV services offline. While downloading content requires an internet connection, you can stream from your phone service using a phone plan cell signal or a hotspot. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, and other streaming services all offer options for this. You can also download shows when on an internet connection to watch them later when you don't have a connection.