How FiOS Works

Verizon installers will set up a box on the exterior of the customer's home to receive fiber-optic service. See more electronic part pictures.
Image courtesy of Verizon

The speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second. Fiber optic networks, which carry laser light information signals, are moving that speed closer to the reach of the average home Web user with services like Verizon FiOS, or Verizon Fiber Optic Service.

FiOS uses fiber optic cable made from hundreds of hair-like strands of glass to send pulses of light to carry data directly into a home computer. As the laser-generated pulses of light reach the subscriber's home, a converter changes them into the electrical impulses that computers use.


Business and industry have used fiber optic technology for years to quickly move large amounts of data. Recently, however, fiber-to-the-home, or FTTH, is bringing the technology to the home Internet user.

With more Web surfers using the Internet to download and upload videos, movies, music and pictures, bandwidth and speed are critical. Fiber optic internet service represents a huge step forward. Verizon, for instance, claims FiOS loads music, pictures and video up to 25 times faster than traditional cable.

Although fiber optic Internet access is becoming more popular, FTTH technology such as FiOS is not yet available everywhere. Also, there are many factors -- including network structure and other hardware availability -- that determine the actual speed a subscriber ultimately receives.

FiOS also compares well in terms of price and features such as e-mail and space for Web sites. Verizon offers several plans with different options and pricing structures.


FiOS Technology

FiOS is just one version of fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-the-premises Internet access. More than 10 million homes worldwide already have this service, and experts at the FTTH Council say that number is growing. That's because FTTH technology is seen as "future safe," or capable of handling the predicted vast increase in Web traffic during the coming decades.

There are more than 34 companies prepared to offer FTTH [source: FTTH Council]. Verizon provides FiOS Internet, television and telephone service separately or as a packaged bundle. FiOS is compatible with PCs using Windows Vista, Windows XP and Windows 2000 as well as most Macintosh systems. Specifications vary by service level. While other computer operating systems such as Linux may be configured to work with FiOS, Verizon does not provide support for customers using those systems.


FiOS uses fiber optic technology, to carry more information at faster speeds than traditional copper coaxial cable.In a fiber optic system, light signals travel down an extremely thin tube of very pure glass that's about the width of a human hair. The light reflects off the side of the tube, allowing it to carry information through the tube as it bends and twists.

A computer sending information translates data into light signals and sends it out onto the fiber optic network. On the receiving end, another computer translates the light signals back into the digital information it needs to interface with its human operator.

Fiber optic connections can carry any type of information -- voice, data, pictures, movies and more -- which permits Verizon to offer FiOS Internet, television and telephone service on the same network.

Verizon will install the service to a primary computer at no charge, though there are installation fees associated with month-to-month agreements, as well as charges for additional computers. Professional installers also install special wiring along with any needed wall jacks and an optical network terminal (ONT) on the inside or outside of the residence. The ONT enables other FiOS hardware, including the power supply unit and the battery backup unit.

Once the ONT is installed, the technician evaluates the wiring in the residence to determine whether it's compatible with the new FiOS service and will install the appropriate wiring if needed. He or she also will install the FiOS router and software and connect the subscriber's computer to the Internet.


FiOS Plans and Features

Some FiOS service plans offer at-home television service.
© Verizon

There are a limited number of companies making fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-the-premises a central part of their services.

Verizon markets its services under the FiOS name. The company offers many different plans, feature various levels of service and prices for its fiber-to-the-home technology. Other companies offering this option include AT&T and Cox Communications.


Cox recently began exploring the FTTP option, requesting information from its vendors on the subject. In the past, the company has provided FTTP solutions for planned communities as they are built out.

A few years ago, AT&T resisted making fiber-to-the-home a central strategy, and instead focuses on providing the service for new home developments. The company now focuses on providing fiber-to-the-node, or FTTN, which brings the fiber cable to a local hub, but often uses standard digital subscriber line (DSL) technology to connect a home to the hub. AT&T's FTTP service is called U-verse.

Verizon breaks its FiOS plans into the categories of "fast, faster, faster plus and fastest." Download speeds range from 10 to 50 Mbps, and upload speeds can run up to 20 Mbps. Prices also vary based on whether the customer also has Verizon phone service.

All plans include round-the-clock live technical support from the Verizon Fiber Solutions Center. Plans also include nine e-mail accounts, 10 megabytes of space for hosting a Web page, member discounts and other services. Each plan also includes access to a variety of online entertainment, including video, music and games. Subscribers can read movie reviews and watch film trailers, get album reviews and exclusive Verizon mixes and play games at the Verizon Arcade. Customers can also start blogs, join discussion forums and post pictures of friends and family.

Subscribers also get access to news channels and other comprehensive programs including channels such as ESPN 360, Disney, Max and Soapnetic.

Prices vary based on service-plan download speeds. Though fiber optic lines are high-bandwidth connections, actual connection speeds vary based on a variety of factors. These factors include the way a subscriber's computer is configured, home networking hardware and the number of computers on the home's network.

Available bandwidth is another consideration, along with network and Internet congestion at any given time. The type and condition of the wiring at the subscriber's location and the speeds of Web sites visited are other factors that determine connection speed. To achieve maximum speed, a hard-wired connection is required.

AT&T also offers Internet, voice and television on its U-Verse service. Plans start at $44 a month and range to $124 per month. The top-end plan provides download speeds of up to 10 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps upstream. It also provides up to 320 TV channels, including sports and movie packages, and voice service.

This package allows users to play online games, access to the AT&T blue room for exclusive music events, unlimited online storage with Flickr, a homepage, 2 gigabytes of e-mail storage, 10 additional e-mail accounts and more.


Frequently Answered Questions

What is Verizon Fios called now?
As of July 2020, Verizon Fios is now known as Fios by Verizon.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Crosby, Tim. "How Fiber-to-the-Home Broadband Works."
  • FTTH Council. "Fiber to the Home: Advantages of Optical Access 2008."
  • Verizon.