Date posted: 30 November 2018 – Category: Cabling Services
If your business is expanding, one of your major priorities must be to have a reliable IT network to support that growth. While in the past, networks were simply about exchanging data between computers, the rise in popularity of IP-based phone systems and video conferencing means that they are now essential to so many more aspects of modern business communication.
One of the big leaps in terms of data transfer speeds in the 21st century has been the adoption of fibre optic cabling, which has a ton of benefits over traditional copper wired systems. In this guide, I want to look at how fibre can help grow and empower your small business for many many years to come.
The earliest telephone connections used copper cable because it was, at the time, one of the lowest loss transmission mediums, meaning that the signal could travel a long way before deteriorating. When the first computer networks appeared it was therefore natural that they would use copper too.
Twisted pair copper can offer transmission speeds up to 1 Gbps over distances of up to 100 metres. For internal business networks, therefore, it still offers a decent solution. It’s also low cost and easy to install which means it’s usually the first port of call for companies that are just starting out.
With the growth of more complex network and telecommunication services, with software and communication systems becoming more dependent on high data transfer speeds, copper has started to become more and more restrictive. Although it’s been around for some time, this is why in the last decade or so we’ve seen the rise of fibre optic cabling adoption accelerate.
The idea of transmitting data as light down a thin tube of glass first appeared in the 1950s, although it didn’t start to become a commercially viable proposition until the late 1970s. From then on it developed fairly rapidly with the first transatlantic fibre for telephone calls going into service in 1988. Because fibre was initially relatively expensive, its first uses were in major infrastructure, linking cities and countries with a high-speed backbone network.
Only in the 21st century has fibre begun to be available at a neighbourhood level and direct to businesses at an affordable price. Today, therefore, it’s likely that your communication to the internet and the outside world will be taking place over fibre.
In recent years, the advantages of fibre have started to make themselves felt on internal networks too. It’s now a viable and affordable alternative to copper when planning your local area network.
Fibre optic cables are comprised of a clear filament that can be made of glass or plastic. Surrounding this is a reflective sheath which allows the signal to bounce from side to side as it travels along the fibre, making it possible to successfully navigate corners. On the outside of all of this is a plastic casing to make the cable easier to handle and to protect it from damage. The majority of cables are made up of a bundle of multiple optical fibres, this allows for greater bandwidth so that they can carry more traffic.
The equipment that transmits the signal down the fibre uses either laser or LED technology. The type and colour of the light used affects your choice of cable.
Modern fibre optic cabling generally comes in three types, single-mode, multi-mode and plastic. Single-mode fibre is the thinnest and is used with multiplexing technology so that multiple signals can be sent down the same fibre.
Multi-mode fibre is thicker and allows high bandwidth and high speed, but at the risk of signal loss over longer distances – 900 metres or more. For fast networks, therefore, the use of single mode fibre is now more common in order to ensure the integrity of data.
Finally, there is plastic fibre. This has a larger diameter still and is suitable for use only over short distances. It is, however, robust and relatively cheap.
If you are planning a new or expanded network for your business, why would you opt for fibre over copper?
The major advantage of fibre for a growing business is the amount of bandwidth it offers. Put simply, this means you can transmit more data and faster than you could over copper.
Fibre can transmit data at 10 Gbps over 2 kilometres or more before signal loss becomes a problem. This means that as your needs and level of traffic grow, you won’t be faced with the need to upgrade your network infrastructure to something faster after a few years. As networks are called on to handle more and more traffic from voice over IP and other services, this is an important consideration.
Speed isn’t the only advantage; there are plenty of others. There’s security to consider too. New legislation such as GDPR has made businesses focus more on protecting their sensitive information and fibre cabling has advantages here too. The nature of copper cable means that data can be intercepted with the correct equipment, thanks to the fact that the electromagnetic signals can ‘leak’ from the cable. Because fibre transmits data using light, there are no magnetic fields and it is much harder to intercept data in transit. This makes fibre a far more secure transmission medium, a major consideration for business users.
While we’re on the subject of electromagnetic signals, interference can be a problem too. Equipment or machinery that generates strong electromagnetic fields can cause corruption of data on copper cables. Once again, fibre avoids this because it is unaffected by electromagnetic fields. It doesn’t present a spark risk either, so it can be safely used in hazardous environments including gas, oil and chemical production.
If you have cables that run outdoors to link businesses together, there’s always the risk of lightning strikes causing damage to the cables themselves or overloading the equipment attached to them. Being non-conductive, fibre optic cables avoid this, although you will generally need more expensive, strengthened versions for use outdoors.
Installing additional copper cables in a building can present a problem. You may have limited capacity in existing ductwork and in order to provide extra bandwidth, you’ll need extra copper cables. For greater speed you may also need cables that are thicker and less flexible.
Fibre cables are generally thinner too, so you can easily insert them into ductwork. And because they are not susceptible to interference (as I’ve discussed above) they can share ducts with electrical cables without any risk of problems.
Fibre cables don’t like turning sharp corners, so care is needed when installing in order to avoid damaging the fibres. Generally, however, they present far fewer installation issues than other types of data cable.
There are, therefore, numerous advantages in using fibre optics over copper. While it’s still more expensive, the cost difference is coming down and the advantages in terms of security, safety and speed will outweigh this for many businesses.
If you are growing your business, then installing fibre helps to future-proof your technology so that you won’t be caught out by bottlenecks as your need for additional network traffic to cope with your computing, voice and other communication activity expands. You need to weigh up the pros and cons, but for most businesses, using fibre now makes a lot more commercial sense than sticking with copper.
If you want advice on setting up a fibre optic network (or any structured cabling network) then why not drop us a line on 0117 970 8181 or get in touch using our contact form.
21 Station Road Workshops, Station Rd, Bristol, BS15 4PJ
Michael Turner, ICT manager, Downend School