How does Cable Internet Work?

Cable internet is just one of the many ways you can get internet. Operating over buried coaxial cable TV lines, cable internet snatches some cable TV channel space for itself – and gives you some high speed broadband internet to watch all the cat videos you want. 

But how does cable internet work? How fast is it, and how does it compare to DSL internet? Most importantly: should you get it? Read on to learn more. 

How cable internet works

Provider Speeds View plans
Xfinity Internet 25-2000Mbps View plans
Spectrum 100-400Mbps View plans
Cox Internet 10-1000Mbps View plans
Optimum 200-400Mbps View plans

Let’s start at the beginning: a local cable provider sends internet data over a dedicated cable TV channel. It travels from them by fiber-optic cables to a box in your neighborhood, where the signal is changed over to electricity and continues to your home on copper coaxial cables. 

At your home, the signal meets the cable box, then enters your home and travels to the cable modem. From the modem, the signal continues to your router, which then distributes the connection to your devices by Wi-Fi or ethernet cable.


That was a lot of moving parts, and there’s actually a little more to it. So with that in mind, let’s break down the equipment cable internet – and by extension, you need. 

  • Copper coaxial cables: Cable companies often utilize fiber-optic cables to send internet a greater distance; however, once it reaches your neighborhood, they change over to existing copper coaxial cables to travel the rest of the way to your home.
  • DOCSIS modem: The modem is a small electronic box that receives the data from your cable ISP, then distributes it to your home. The DOCSIS modem is a modem that meets a certain set of specifications and gives you faster speeds than an older one.
  • Ethernet cable: An Ethernet cable connects from your modem to your router or directly to your computer. It provides faster, more secure internet than Wi-Fi does.
  • Router: This isn’t strictly necessary – you can get internet by simply connecting your computer directly to your modem via Ethernet cable. But if you want Wi-Fi, or you want to connect multiple devices via Ethernet cables, you’ll need a router.

Cable internet speeds

Cable speeds
1-1000Mbps download, 1-50Mbps upload

Cable internet averages speed around 100Mbps, but they can be as slow as 1Mbps or as fast as 1,000Mbps. Xfinity even reaches 2,000Mbps in some regions.

However, unlike fiber-optic internet, which offers symmetrical upload speeds, cable internet has asymmetrical upload speeds. You’ll see those ranging from 1-50Mbps in most cases. 

Cable vs DSL: How do they compare?

Internet type DSL Cable
Speeds 10-100Mbps 1-1000Mbps

In many areas, both cable and DSL are available, although DSL does edge cable out slightly. So if that’s your case, which one should you choose? Which one’s better? Let’s compare. 

Cable vs DSL: Speed

DSL goes as high as around 100Mbps, but can be as slow as 10Mbps or less. 

Cable internet can start as low as 10Mbps (like DSL), but typically begins at around 25Mbps and goes as fast as 1000Mbps. 

Cable vs DSL: Distance

Both DSL and cable internet are sensitive to distance. The further they have to travel from their origin to reach you, the slower they will become. However, updated versions of DSL decrease this; as does the fiber-optic cables delivering cable internet to your neighborhood. 

However, distance can be a factor with both. 

Cable vs DSL: Bandwidth sharing

With cable internet, you share the same cable network with any neighbors who also have your internet service provider (ISP). That means during peak usage times – i.e. when a lot of people are online – your internet speed is going to slow down, potentially by a lot. 

DSL, in contrast, does not have this issue, so your speed will typically be more reliable.

Cable vs DSL: Cost

Cable internet typically costs more than DSL. That’s because it’s often faster. 

Should you get cable internet?

Cable internet can be a great option for many people. The number 1 criteria is that cable service is available to you – if you live in a more rural region, there may be no cable infrastructure in place, making cable internet a moot point.

However, cable is widely spread, so here’s who it’s typically best for: 

  • If you do a lot of gaming online; 
  • You download a lot of files/videos/movies;
  • You do a lot of streaming/live streaming; 
  • You have a lot of internet devices or users in your home;
  • You want plenty of speed.

How to get cable internet

If that sounds like you, then here’s how to get cable internet. 

Start by checking out our round-up guide on the best cable internet providers of 2019. Then, check out our individual reviews: 

Last – but definitely not least – call or order online. Don’t forget to check out bundling options, either – you could save as much as $60 a month. 

Written by: Luke Pensworth

Luke is the managing editor and site manager of Dailywireless. As a wireless enthusiast/consumer, he reviews a lot of services based on his own experience. Disgruntled as he may be, he tries to keep his articles as honest as possible.

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