Advantages of Fibre Optic Cabling Over Copper Data Cabling?

Copper cabling has been around for a long time because it was historically one of the lowest loss transmission mediums. In recent years, however, there’s been a newer kid on the block in the form of fibre optics, which has begun to challenge copper’s dominance.

But when is the right time to make the switch to fibre? To decide that we need to look at some of the pros and cons of each technology.

Network cabling

Despite the rise in popularity of wireless, most business networks still rely on cabling to operate. Traditionally, this has been twisted pair copper which, in its cat6 spec, can offer transmission speeds of up to 1 Gbps on distances up to 100 metres. It’s also relatively low cost and is easy to install. Over longer distances, however, copper can suffer from signal loss so may require signal boosting if you have a large site.

Fibre optic cable, on the other hand, transmits information as light through a glass filament. It’s able to transmit data far faster – up to 10 Gbps or more – and over longer distances of 2,000 metres before signal loss starts to become an issue.

Fibre is, at the moment, more expensive although its cost has fallen in recent years. Fibre optic networks also need careful installation by experts as the cabling can’t turn sharp corners. It’s becoming increasingly common to use fibre to provide network backbones, even though the cables to individual endpoints may still rely on copper.

Installation considerations

When installing new network cabling, therefore, there are a number of factors that you need to take into account:

  • Speed as we’ve already seen, fibre is capable of sustaining higher speeds over longer distances and is, therefore, a good choice for network backbones.
  • Security – increasingly businesses may be subject to industrial espionage or even nation state attacks. If your cable is in a potentially insecure location, such as between buildings, fibre is less easy to tap.
  • Spark hazards – in some industries, such as gas and oil production, sparks can be a major hazard. In these situations copper cable needs to be properly shielded, fibre, however, does not present a spark risk.
  • Durability – fibre cables are able to withstand harsher environments and weather conditions without deterioration and without the need for the protective shielding that copper might need in similar circumstances.
  • Interference – where there is significant electrical noise, such as in factories, power plants or data centres, copper cable can be subject to signal noise and interference if not properly shielded. Fibre, in contrast, is immune to electrical interference and noise.
  • Cost – basic copper cabling is still likely to be cheaper than fibre. However, if you need shielded or other specialist cables then the cost of copper can soon mount up. That said, fibre is becoming cheaper.
  • Future proofing – the greater transmission speeds and reliability of fibre make it a good choice to build a network cable solution that is able to cope with future demands for expansion.

Getting your choice of cabling right is important. If you select the wrong medium, it can result in errors or downtime that cost your business money and time. Taking the time to get it right may seem a more expensive option in the short term, but the resulting robust infrastructure will future-proof your business and should make for a lower total ownership cost over the long term.

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Michael Turner, ICT manager, Downend School


Michael Turner, ICT manager, Downend School

"TVNET have saved us a considerable amount on what we were previously paying to bigger firms whilst delivering a superior installation. I cannot recommend them highly enough as a local networking specialist."