Multi-Gigabit Internet Is on the Rise: Which ISPs Have It and Do You Need It?
Fiber internet providers are unleashing the power of their networks with new speed tiers up to 5Gbps.
David AndersSenior Writer
David Anders is a senior writer for CNET covering broadband providers, smart home devices and security products. Prior to joining CNET, David built his industry expertise writing for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. In his 5 plus years covering broadband, David's work has been referenced by a variety of sources including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. David is from and currently resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, son and two cats.
ExpertiseBroadband providers, Home internet, Security Cameras
Multi-gigabit internet plans are like high-powered sports cars. They're impressive, but will the average person ever use them to their full potential, if they can afford them in the first place? Probably not.
Single-gig internet plans are abundant from most cable and fiber internet service providers and some fixed wireless providers. Yet, Ookla reports average household speeds of 143Mbps in the US this past January, well below anything approaching gig status. Still, providers are introducing plans with the speed potential of 2, 3 or 5Gbps, and it seems more of the best ISPs are joining the multi-gig club by the month. Some, like Ziply Fiber, are reporting immediate consumer interest in the new high-speed tiers.
Like those flashy sports cars, multi-gig internet plans are in demand. As a result, major providers are raising the speed ceiling, and multi-gig plans are likely here to stay. Here's everything you need to know about multi-gig service, including what it is, who offers it and some advice on choosing whether or not to upgrade.
Locating local internet providers
What is multi-gigabit internet?
As the name would suggest, multi-gigabit internet plans have max data transfer rates of multiple gigabits per second. But what does that mean, exactly?
Internet speeds are advertised and measured in megabits per second, or Mbps. As mentioned above, average tested household speeds are around 143Mbps, which is fast enough to support streaming, gaming, downloading, working from home and so forth on five or so devices at once. A gigabit per second is 1,000Mbps, roughly seven times faster than the average tested household speed, and multi-gig plans boast speeds two, three, or five times faster than that. In short, multi-gig internet is the fastest residential internet service you could currently get.
Locating local internet providers
Another key thing to know about multi-gigabit internet is that providers use a fiber-optic network capable of delivering symmetrical or near-symmetrical download and upload speeds. That means not only are you getting download speeds many times faster than the average household connection, but ridiculously fast upload speeds as well. Fast upload speeds are less important in the grand scheme of home internet use but are still nice to have and something you won't necessarily get from a cable, DSL or satellite internet connection.
Internet providers with multi-gig plans
So far, six major ISPs have introduced multi-gigabit internet speed tiers: AT&T, Frontier, Google Fiber, Verizon Fios, Xfinity and Ziply Fiber. But it's safe to speculate that other providers -- like CenturyLink, Cox or Spectrum -- could announce multi-gig plans of their own soon. Several regional and hyperlocal providers offer multi-gig plans with speeds up to 10Gbps, but those are much harder to come by. It would also be tedious to list them all here. Here's a look at the multi-gig plans currently available from the largest internet service providers.
Xfinity put multi-gig service on the map with its Gigabit Pro plan, but at $300 per month, plus another $20 for equipment, a 2-year term agreement and a 1.2TB data cap -- easily attainable when you're working with 3Gbps -- the plan is easy to pass on. Furthermore, availability is limited and may involve a survey and hefty up-front costs to have service run to your home.
Google Fiber launched its 2Gbps plan next, which is now available throughout most service areas, though Google Fiber itself is only available to about 1% of US households despite the recent expansion. If you happen to be serviceable, Google Fiber has the best internet deal on 2Gbps of any major provider. You won't get symmetrical upload speeds up to 2Gbps, but the 1Gbps that comes with the plan is still more than fast enough for essentially any home use.
Ziply Fiber was among the first providers to offer multi-gig services across a significant coverage area. In January, the provider rolled out its 2 and 5Gbps plans to 170,000 households across the Northwest, many of which are located in suburban or rural areas. The 5Gbps plan is a bit pricey at $300, but the 2Gbps plan comes with a more reasonable price of $120 per month.
Around the same time as Ziply Fiber's rollout, AT&T Fiber began offering 2 and 5Gbps plans of its own and, given AT&T's broad coverage, could instantly offer the service to millions of homes. Shortly after AT&T introduced its new high-speed plans, Frontier became the first major provider to offer multi-gigabit service across its entire fiber network. The rollout didn't reach as many homes as AT&T (4 million compared to AT&T's 5 million), but it was impressive nonetheless.
Now, Verizon Fios is offering a multi-gig plan in the New York City area and plans to open it up to more service areas later in 2022. Are you noticing a trend here? Providers are jumping on board, and I'd imagine it won't be long before all major providers offer a multi-gig plan or two while possibly removing some of the slower, cheap internet plans.
What's with the sudden speed boost?
Fiber networks have, for the most part, always had the capacity to deliver multi-gig speeds, but many providers have avoided offering them, likely because people didn't need them and the plans were expensive. But as we add more connected devices in our homes (the average household had 10 connected devices in 2020) and the ongoing pandemic drove record numbers of people to work and learn from home, ISPs saw a need for faster speeds.
With the fiber-optic infrastructure already in place, boosting speeds was a matter of simply "flipping the switch" for most providers. Before Ziply Fiber's multi-gig launch, company CEO Harold Zeitz told CNET that such high-speeds are in part "why we built the network the way that we did," so that when the time came to roll out multi-gig service, it'd be available to thousands of homes at essentially "the push of a button."
Given how quickly and seamlessly other providers have rolled out multi-gig service, it would seem that the new high-speed plans were not a matter of "if" but "when," and the time for them has arrived. Are we ready for them?
Multi-gig speeds may not be worth the cost
There was a time in college when I had three roommates. We all had our own devices -- phones, laptops, TVs, etc. -- and friends that would connect to the Wi-Fi when they came over. We would have killed for multi-gigabit service, or at least happily paid for it each month. Then again, we were splitting the bills four ways, so a $180 internet bill would have only set us back $45 per month.
For a single-family home that isn't splitting the internet bill (or any other bills for that matter), paying well over $100 a month for internet can be a burden on the budget. And while you get what you pay for -- the speeds are undeniably impressive -- they're not yet necessary for the average household. Speeds of around 500Mbps should be plenty sufficient for a family of three or four users and all their connected devices, and smaller households with fewer connectivity demands could get by on even slower and cheaper plans.
Furthermore, there's the fact that many devices -- routers, computers, tablets, smartphones, TVs -- are not equipped to handle those speeds. So while you'll be getting, and paying for, speeds up to 2, 3 or 5Gbps to your home, your devices won't get anything higher than a gig because they aren't built with the throughput to support multi-gig speeds.
So, for now, unless you've got three bandwidth-hogging roommates and are all pitching in on the bills, upgrading to multi-gig service likely will not be worth the added cost. Faster home internet speeds are a good thing, but I'd say, for now, multi-gig speeds may be too much of a good thing.