How Digital Cable Service Compares to Fiber Optic Networks
Today's television service providers have expanded the limits of technology, offering multiple options for their customers. The downside to the wide range of choices customers now have is that they need to be educated in how each type of delivery system works, as well as each one's advantages and drawbacks. Two of the most popular information delivery methods are digital cable and fiber optic cable.
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How Digital Cable Works
Digital cable represents a significant step up from the previous generation's technology. In previous years, television providers sent radio waves through analog cable signals, which the set-top box interpreted as images and sounds and sent to the TV receiver. Today, digital cable system accomplish the same process, but employ digital signals rather than radio waves. The digital signal allows the provider to send more data for a clearer picture, crisper sound and additional features.
Digital Cable Advantages
Digital cable subscribers can capitalize on several advantages the service offers. Since the digital signal can carry more data than an analog signal, the digital cable subscriber can use features such as on-screen menus, digital video recording (DVR), video on demand (VOD) and pay-per-view (PPV). Since digital cable systems also incorporate broadband internet and telephone service, subscribers can get all of these services from one source and pay for them all on one monthly bill.
Digital Cable DrawbacksOne major drawback of digital cable service is that the transmission quality depends on coaxial cable with a copper core. If the insulation is degraded or the copper wire does not carry the signal well, the picture quality at the subscriber's end may suffer. Other factors that may degrade the signal include bandwidth issues (if multiple users are on the same cable line), electrical interference or inclement weather at the transmission source.
How Fiber Optic Works
Fiber optic cable delivers data through flexible glass strands, each one as wide as a human hair. These strands carry light beams, rather than digital signals or radio waves, by continuously reflecting light along its mirrored interior surfaces. The strands are bundled into cables which carry the light from the transmission source to the receiver.
Fiber Optic Advantages
The main advantage to fiber optic cable is that it often has much less signal degradation than a similar length of digital cable. As a result, the receiver displays a clearer picture with less downtime. Since the fiber optic cables send light signals instead of radio waves, they are less vulnerable to interference from bad weather or other electrical equipment. Also, fiber optic lines are much thinner and lighter than digital cable lines.
Fiber Optic Drawbacks
Since fiber optic technology is relatively new, the installation process often requires special equipment and installers require special training and tools to complete the process. This specialization can lead to higher expenses for the potential subscriber. Although the glass used in fiber optic cables is flexible and durable, these cables are still more vulnerable to physical damage than traditional coaxial cable. Physical damage to fiber optic cable frequently leads to service interruptions and requires extensive repairs.
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The argument for digital cable vs fiber optic can be pared down to one of price vs quality. Digital cable offers easy installation and lower cost, but at the risk of poor signal strength. Fiber optic systems carry clearer pictures and more bandwidth, but can be expensive to install and maintain. Subscribers who understand the differences between these two innovative technologies will make the most educated choice to suit their needs.Written by Gerald Hanks