Guys, I did it! I recently upgraded my home to a 10 Gigabit Fiber-optic broadband plan via Sonic. Yes, that’s 10Gbps Internet or ten times the speed of Gigabit.
And no, it’s not expensive, just $40/month (no contract required), which is very reasonable, if not cheap, in the USA. To put things in perspective, I’ve been paying almost double the amount for a Gigabit Comcast Cable connection.
So, where I live, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonic Fiber-optic is a great deal. I’d recommend it. And that’s the good news. The not-so-good is, well, there’s more, a lot more, to getting 10Gbps than just the broadband subscription.
This post will talk about that and set some expectations. But in a nutshell, 10 Gigabit Internet is literally the Gigabit broadband ten times over — in all aspects.
Most importantly, this so-called “quest” for 10Gbps Internet is to satisfy my fabricated vain achievement — so I can brag I’ve hit that milestone. Above certain Gbps, the broadband speed makes zero difference in real-world usage.
Dong’s note: This piece is not a review of Sonic 10Gbp Fiber-optic broadband, but it includes my brief real-world, hands-on experience with the Internet service.
Table of Contents
10Gbps Internet: Broadband is no longer the bottleneck
For years, the sub-Gigabit broadband connection has always been the bottleneck in our connection to the outside world — it still is for many, if not most, citizens of the world.
No matter how fast your Wi-Fi is, if your Internet is 100Mbps, you can’t download anything faster than 100Mbps, on a good day.
Then we have Gigabit-class Internet — something that’s between 500Mbps to 1Gbps. But at the same time, we also have Wi-Fi 6/6E that can deliver up to 2.4Gbps of local speed — via the current dual-stream (2×2) at 160MHz client — or Gig+ sustained real-world rates.
As a result, it’s always been incorrect to use an Internet speed test to gauge your Wi-Fi speed — chances are the former is the bottleneck. I ranted long and hard about that in this post on speed testing.
Data transmission speeds in a nutshell
As you read this page, keep in mind that each character on the screen, including a space between two words, generally requires one byte of data.
(So the phrase “Dong Knows Tech,” no quotes, requires at least 15 bytes, and likely more since the formatting — such as capitalization and font — also needs extra storage space.)
One byte equals eight bits.
1,000,000 bits = 1 Megabits (Mb).
Megabits per second (Mbps) is the common unit for data transmission nowadays. Based on that, the following are common terms:
- Fast Ethernet: A connection standard that can deliver up to 100Mbps.
- Gigabit: That’s 1Gbps or 1000Mbps. It’s currently the most popular wired connection standard.
- Gig+: A connection that’s faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. It often applies to 2×2 Wi-Fi 6/E or Internet speeds.
- Multi-Gigabit: That’s multi-gigabits — a link that’s 2Gbps or faster.
- Multi-Gig: A new BASE-T wired connection standard that delivers 100Mbps, 1Gbps, 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, or 10Gbps, depending on the devices involved.
A 10Gbps — that’s 10 Gigabit Ethernet, a.k.a 10GE, 10GbE, or 10GigE — broadband connection changes all the above. The Internet is now the fastest pipe in your home. But it also brings about other issues for those wanting to get the absolute most out of their world-bound connection.
The question is, how do we know we actually get 10 Gigabit Internet? Let me break it right away: we can’t.
At best, we can only get close 10Gbps since the equipment has overhead, and 10Gbps is the highest ceiling speed grade any home router or switch can handle.
In other words, if you want to see a real 10Gbps sustained rate, you will need equipment that can handle 20Gbps or faster. I guess we’ll get there at some point, but for now, that’s still way too far in the future.
And even when you’re happy with a “sorta 10Gbps” connection. Things can be challenging, too. I speak from experience.
Let’s start with the hardware that I use.
10Gbps on the client end: Wired only, and it’s tricky
Above is a screenshot of my current Internet speed on my work computer. It’s fast, alright, but you’ll note that it’s not 10Gbps, but just about 2.5Gbps. Did I get ripped off? Nope.
My desktop computer used for the test — a relatively compact gaming machine powered by the Asus ROG Strix Z590-I motherboard — has a built-in 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig network adapter. And the Internet connection saturated that multi-Gigabit connection.
Eventually, there will be a motherboard with a built-in 10Gbps network port. For now, the only way to get a 10Gbps on a computer is via a PCIe add-on Ethernet adapter.
That was not an option with my Z590-I since I already used its only qualified PCIe slot for a gaming graphic card.
Upgrading a desktop computer to 10Gbps Multi-Gig is similar to upgrading it to Wi-Fi 6/E. You get an add-on card, assemble it on a qualified PCIe slot and install the software.
The biggest and only difference is a 10Gbps NIC card requires a four-lane (x4) or faster PCIe slot instead of a single-lane (x1).
On most desktop motherboards, the only qualified PCIe slot is the 16-lane, generally reserved for a dedicated graphics card. In this case, you can only upgrade if you use the computer’s basic integrated (onboard) graphic processing unit (GPU).
How about Wi-Fi, you might ask?
As I mentioned above, even the best-to-date Wi-Fi connection can’t go over 2.4Gbps of ceiling speed, which translates into Gig+ sustained real-world speed on a good day. So it’s virtually impossible to experience 10Gbps via Wi-Fi — not even a quarter of that.
When (or if) 4×4 Wi-Fi 6/6E clients are available, we’ll get some 4.8Gbps of ceiling speed out of Wi-Fi, still less than half of 10Gbps.
Wi-Fi 7 might change this but that remains to be seen.
So, if you want to experience 10Gbps, upgrading your computer to a 10Gbps wired adapter is the only way for now. And for my testing, I’ve had a couple of machines running these adapters for a few years.
But even then, that’s only half of the equation. You need a router and possibly a switch of the same caliber, too.
10Gbps Internet on the router end: Limited options
10Gbps and home routers
To deliver (close to) true 10Gbps, a router needs more than just a couple of 10Gbps Ethernet network ports. Among other things, it also needs high processing power (and good firmware) to handle this type of traffic.
Most home routers, including top-tier ones, so far, generally do not meet all the requirements for true 10Gbps (10,000Mbps) throughputs. Consequently, after “overhead” they sustain at 6,000Mbps, give or take, on a good day. (The same thing can be said about most 10Gbps switches.)
That’s partially why more home Wi-Fi routers support the lowest tier of Multi-Gig, which is with 2.5Gbps, than those with 10Gbps ports. In this case, you can expect them to deliver close to 2,500Mbps in real-world speeds.
And 2.5Gbps is plenty fast.
Of those, there are currently just four that are 10Gbps-capable, including:
- Asus RT-AX89X: A 10Gbps LAN/WAN Multi-Gig port and a 10Gbps SFP+ port.
- Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series: A 10Gbps Multi-Gig WAN and a 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig LAN.
- QNAP QHora-301W: Dual 10Gbps Multi-Gig ports.
- Zyxel Armor G5: A 2.5Gbps WAN + a 10Gbps LAN Multi-Gig ports
There will be more options in the future, such as the upcoming Asus GT-AXE16000, but for now, the rest of the Mult-Gig home routers on the market can only handle the 5Gbps or 2.5Gbps speed grade and are clearly out of the question in this glorious quest.
Considering the Asus RT-AX89X is a much better router in hardware specs and features, it was the only sensible option in my case. I picked it.
Extra: Skip the QNAP!
The QNAP QHora-301W is not suitable for 10 Gigabit Internet.
I tried it briefly, and it proved a terrible choice for Multi-Gig Internet. There was an option to use its first 10Gbps port as the WAN port, but the process was extremely buggy.
On top of that, then, there was no option to make another Gigabit LAN port as the second WAN for a Dual-WAN setup. Port configurations on this router are half-baked at best.
Overall, this 10Gbps router has terrible firmware and feels like an afterthought as I mentioned in the review.
The Fiber-optic ONT Sonic put in my house, like most ONTs, used a Base-T RJ45 port, so I used the RT-AX89X’s 10Gbps Multi-Gig port for the Internet connection; the WAN side was straightforward.
Extra: BASE-T vs SFP+
The BASE-T (or BaseT) port type refers to the wiring method used inside the network cable and the connectors at its ends, which is 8-position 8-contact (8P8C). This type is known via a misnomer called Registered Jack 45 or RJ45. So we’ll keep calling it RJ45.
But there’s also SFP or SFP+ (plus) port type, used mostly for enterprise applications, that’s different physically but has the same networking principles as Base-T. SFP stands for small form pluggable and is the technical name for what is often referred to as Fiber Channel or Fiber.
An SFP+ port has speed grades of either 1Gbps or 10Gbps — the older version of SFP can only do 1Gbps. The two share the same port type. That’s all you need to know about SFP. Base-T is the more popular by far.
Generally, you can get an adapter to use a BaseT device with an SFP or SFP+ port. Still, in this case, compatibility can be an issue — a particular adapter might only work (well) with the SFP/+ port of certain hardware vendors.
On the LAN side, things were a bit more complicated. I had no computer with an SFP+ port and didn’t want to get an adapter. That, plus the fact I’d like to use more wired Multi-Gig devices, meant I’d need a switch.
10Gbps-capable switches: Still very expensive
While Gigabit switches are a dime in a dozen and relatively affordable, Multi-Gig switches, especially those capable of 10Gbps, are still scarce. And they are all expensive.
And I needed one that has an SFP+ port. Of all switches I’ve reviewed, the Zyxel XS1930-12HP is the only one that fits the bill, so I used it — I’ve always used it, and a couple of others, since their reviews.
If you wonder, this switch’s current price is around $1000 — less expensive than many of its peers. There are more affordable Multi-Gig switches, but they have primarily lower-grade ports (2.5Gbps or 5Gbps).
It’s worth noting that all switches have overhead, and the Zyxel didn’t deliver the full 10Gbps in my testing. The chart above shows the performances of all Multi-Gig switches I’ve reviewed.
That said, so far on the equipment front, I’ve used the following:
- Asus RT-AX89X router: Current street price is around $500.
- Zyxel XS1930-12HP switch: $1000.
- A couple of 10Gbps PCIe adapters from Asus and Gigabyte: About $100 each.
- Running network cables around the house: About $100 worth of wires and 100% hard labor and nerdiness.
I’ve gotten these devices for review and testing purposes over time, but if you buy them today, that’d cost you some $2000.
(What I haven’t told you yet is I also used a pair of ZenWiFi Pro ET12 as my Multi-Gig Wired mesh satellites. These have a 2.5Gbps WAN port for the incoming wired connection, not as good as 10Gbps but still faster than any Wi-Fi link.)
And that brings us to my actual Internet speed out of my 10Gbps Fiber-optic broadband, using this souped-up set of equipment.
My real Multi-Gig Internet speed
Upon completing the installation, the friendly Sonic technician did a test at the ONT with his special equipment.
“8 gigs down and 5 gigs up,” he said, “It’ll probably get faster once the ONT has been updated. Give it a day or two. It’ll be different.”
And he didn’t lie. During the next few days, I generally got speeds between 6Gbps to 8.5Gbps in both directions when testing directly at the ONT.
Via the equipment mentioned above, though, I got up to 6Gbps at best.
Those weren’t exactly 10Gbps but, to be fair, they might have been the speed of any of the parts involved, be it the router, the switch, or the network adapters. Also, I wired part of my house with CAT5e, which can do 10Gbps but not as well as CAT6a or higher-grade cables.
In any case, I could eliminate the go-betweens and other devices that might be using the broadband connection by connecting one of my 10Gbps-capable desktops to the ONT directly to do a real test — the way I’ve been advocating. And I did think about that. But the idea proved to be too much work due to the layout of my home. Among other things, I couldn’t run long cables willy-nilly and risk having my children, or worse, my wife, tripping over them.
Most importantly, I didn’t care. Even on my office “work” desktop mentioned above, 2.5Gbps is already crazy fast — that’s more than 2.5 times the speeds of Comcast on the download pipe and hundreds of times faster on the upload. Anything above that is ridiculous.
And “I don’t care” is my actual new Internet speed. You know, that level when you’ve already turned things up way past 11. You probably wouldn’t bother either.
Fiber-optic broadband is so much better than Cable, by the way. The speed aside, I consistently get ping and jitter values, which determine the quality of a connection, below a few milliseconds. In many tests, they were at zero.
My Comcast Cable connection generally pings at 15 milliseconds and imposes a monthly data cap of 1.25 terabytes — I receive that dreadful message saying I’ve almost used up my limit practically every month.
Sonic has no monthly data cap, and the feeling of freedom comes with that. I no longer care about my Internet usage because I don’t need to.
Multi-Gig Internet and its hidden benefits
10Gbps or not, my broadband connection is now easily in the Multi-Gig realm. The crazy speeds, apart from being fast, also brings in some advantages you can’t have with sub-Gigabit.
QoS is (mostly) no longer applicable
The first is that you don’t need to use Quality of Service anymore. I wrote about QoS in this post, but it’s a function that prioritizes the broadband connection to prevent a device from hogging all the bandwidth.
Considering most devices have Gigabit or Wi-Fi at best, the network adapter is now the bandwidth guardrail.
For example, if you host a BitTorrent client on a computer with a Gigabit connection, the client can use no more than 1000Mbps of Internet bandwidth at any given time. Supposedly, you still have some 9000Mbps for other things — it’s a matter of bandwidth.
If you use multiple clients like that, then it might still be a good idea to use QoS. But you get the idea.
Bandwidth vs speed
When it comes to a data connection we tend to think of speed, as in how fast data move from one party to another, generally measured in bits per second.
For a slow connection, we use kilobit (Kbps), for faster ones, we use megabit (Mbps) or Gigabit (Gbps).
When you get a broadband plan, the number of bits also indicates its bandwidth. A Gigabit plan (1000Mbps) allows two devices to connect at 500Mbps simultaneously. With a 10Gbps plan, you can do that on 20 concurrent 500Mbps-capable devices.
That’s why fast broadband is still applicable when there are only slow devices within a network.
And by the way, in my case, the Fiber-optic also improves real-time communication a great deal, likely thanks to the better connection quality mentioned above.
A new level of personal server
Thanks to the much faster upload speed, you’d note that all personal remote server applications work much better.
My business partners and I use several Synology NAS servers in multiple locations and sync data between them as off-site backups. The super-fast broadband — and the omission of a month data cap — makes this much better. At least on my end.
And if you use a personal media server, such as Plex, content streaming from a remote party is now just like using Netflix or Hulu in terms of speed and video quality. Actually, it was better in my trial.
With 10 Gigabit Internet, the broadband speed test is now applicable for local Wi-Fi testing
This part applies directly to what I do on this website. From now on, I can confidently use the Internet as the base to test local Wi-Fi, and I’ve tried that with the Netgear WAX630E.
I’ll keep my current test methodology but knowing that the Internet is no longer the bottleneck will make my work much easier.
Among other things, I’ll be able to determine if a router is consistent on both LAN and WAN sides, if its WAN port is truly Multi-Gig or not, etc. Rest assured that I’ll add this new information in future reviews.
Again, it’s impossible to get a real sustained 10Gbps connection — we need faster equipment to have that. It was likely for that reason, Sonic told me that my broadband was “up to” 10Gbps.
And so far, that proved to be a genuine promise. The connection has been fluctuating above 6Gbps when tested at the ONT but for the most part, again, I don’t really care if it’s truly 10Gbps at all times — it’s probably not.
As long as the work desktop mentioned above gets 2.5Gbps out of a speed test, which it consistently does, I know the connection is good — the machine never uses the broadband connection exclusively.
So 10Gbps broadband is great. And it’s super-great if you have it without sacrificing your arm or leg. But be aware of the hidden costs if you want to truly experience all or even just most of it — chances are you can’t no matter what.
But ultra-fast broadband is still nice — or it doesn’t hurt — if you keep your existing Gigabit equipment.
In daily usage, though, any Internet connection faster than 1Gbps makes no difference in all cases — the remote party or those in between them and your home will be the bottleneck anyway.
The 10 Gigabit Internet pipe only means you can have multiple Gigabit connections simultaneously. And if something is slow, you can say with confidence, “it’s the other guy!”
As I said before in the post about Gigabit Internet, it’s not how fast a connection is but what you do with it that matters. The point is that you should appreciate and make the most of what you have. A 10Gbps link put the latter a bit upside down — don’t kill yourself trying to make the most out of it! There’s simply no need.
Speaking of making the most, I’ll still keep my “slow” Gigabit Cable connection for now. Dual-WAN has its unique benefits, and that’ll be another story. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, if you’re curious about how fast your Internet is, hit the Go button below to find out. And don’t be jealous!