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Fibre Optic Cabling Or Copper Data Cabling – Which Should You Choose?

Fiber Optic Ethernet Cable vs Copper Data Cabling.

Structured cabling offers a whole system of cables along with connectors and related hardware for voice and data cabling. It is applicable for enterprise data network as well as office fit out cabling. Your preference for IT cabling material can directly affect the productivity of your IT arrangement, the trouble-free and fast transfer of data across the network, the power consumption, and the overall impact on the environment. Usually, enterprise IT networks consider copper data cabling, mostly from the Cat 5e, Cat 6 and Cat6a specifications for data cabling. They also have a range of specifications for fiber optic ethernet cable installations.

Transmission in the cables are vastly different in that in fibre optic cabling the transmission of data is sent through light pulses down cores of glass and in copper data cables transmissions are sent via electrical pulses sent down copper connector wires

Copper Cabling

Copper cable is suitable as a short-range cable (less than 100m) that runs to support typical desktop applications, however, for a higher throughput of data, faster transmission speeds and bandwidth demands of recent intensive commercial application and telecommunications set the limit on cabling to approximate 10 GB/s. For instance, integration of AV cabling with an established IT cabling by use of Internet Protocol (IP). The advancement in IT cabling technology has resulted in wider adoption of the 10G cabling, which empowered the data transfer speed to reach 10 GB/s over Ethernet networks.

In addition to that, the length of cable and higher speed of data transfer needed for the most advanced business system led to introduction of Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI), even in 10gig Cabling. The installation of 10G cabling is comparatively complicated and demand for high skills and expertise.

Fiber Optic Ethernet Cable

Fibre optic cabling contains very thin fibres of plastic or glass, which are called optical fibres. Every strand is capable of carrying a higher bandwidth over a greater distance. The network bandwidth and speed of data transmission is substantially higher through fibre optic cabling as compared to copper cabling.

A fiber optic ethernet cable also consumes less space, is less heavy, and has a higher density, and fibre splicing allows it to be laid in much longer runs. Expert organisations are preferring fibre optic cabling for increasing number of process and data-intensive applications. This includes Unified Communications (UC), and access to cloud-based and cloud hosted services.

Which is faster, Copper or Fibre

Copper cables have in many cases the same capabilities of transmission speeds as fibre cables. However Fibre Optic cables have the added advantage of transmitting those speeds over greater distances

The comparison between copper cable and fiber optic ethernet cable when transmitting 10 gig highlights the difference

Copper data cables are generally standardised at 90 / 100m cable links. However in some cases speeds are achievable on a lesser category of cable over a shorter distance so as in the case below for 10 gig over Cat6

Copper Cabling 10 Gigabit Distances

Copper Type Maximum Distance
Cat5e None
Cat6 55m – not certified
Cat6a 90 / 100m
Cat7 90 / 100m
Cat8 90 / 100m

Fibre Optic Ethernet Cable Transmission Speed

Fibre Type Mode Maximum Distance for 10Gig (10GBASE- R @ 850nm)
OM1 MM 33 metres
OM2 MM 82 metres
OM3 MM 300 metres
OM4 MM 550 metres
OM5 MM 550 metres
OS1 SM 2000 metres
OS2 SM 5000-10000 meters


When would you use fiber optic ethernet cable? Advantages of fibre Optic Cable

The chart below shows whenever you require a certain speed over a longer distance then fibre optic cabling should be used. Also if several connections between the same cabinets or buildings are required then a fibre optic cable will be easier and less space consuming than installing copper cabling links. A single 96 core fibre cable could link 2 cabinets at 10gig at 100m with 48 transmission connections but would require 48 individual cat6a cables to achieve the same links

What are the disadvantages of fibre optic cable?

As with all cabling infrastructure and technology design, different systems require different connections. If the requirements for connections are small then fibre optic connections can have a higher cost of hardware for transmission vs copper cabling. A Cat6a cable can link two switches with no requirements for additional hardware but a fibre cable link will require additional fibre transmission and receiver hardware and the associated additional costs

Fibre optic cabling also is not suitable for linking analogue signals between cabinets. In legacy phone systems if analogue lines are to be linked then a copper data cable or phone cable will be required to be installed

What is the disadvantage of copper cable?

The distance limitation of copper cable is a main disadvantage of copper cabling installations. User outlets will generally be designed to be within 90m of a data cabinet to maintain the industry standards and guarantee the required speeds over the chosen copper cable specified.

However when linking buildings, floors or out to sub cabinets copper cabling cannot be used over 100m which is a disadvantage to fibre optic cable

Multiple links are also a disadvantage of copper cable to fibre optic cable. Each link in a copper cabling design must have its own designated data cabling link. The space requirements and containment requirements for multiple links can be costly and at times not possible due to space restrictions or building construction.  48 copper cable links can all be contained in 1 fibre optic cable which highlights the different in space and time required to install those cables

Copper cables are also susceptible to interference from outside electrical interference which corrupts the signals it sends. Fibre optic light pulses do not suffer this interference

Is fibre optic cable expensive?

The components of fibre optic cable are no greater cost than copper cable components. Furthermore when the core size of the fibre cable increase economies of scale of cost come into play and the price by core / link reduces

However the cost difference between copper cable and fibre optic cable is in the transmission hardware. Copper cabling doesn’t require any additional hardware to link cabinets or create additional ports within a user space outside of the switch ports. Fibre optic cabling however required hardware to convert the traditional electrical data transmission to light pulses and back again for transmission. Depends on the distances, speed and requirements the hardware can be an expensive addition to the existing system

Will fiber optics replace copper in the future?

The price difference between fibre optic cabling and copper data cabling has narrowed as time has passed and that cost difference is changing here each type of cable is used. Data centres have moved predominantly more towards fibre optic cabling links as the requirement for increased bandwidth in the data centre environment has increased.

However the overall higher cost of cable and hardware still results in copper cabling being the chosen standard in standard locations such as offices, schools, and commercial buildings.

Copper cables is also more robust and has a lower service cost so for the time being fibre cabling will see more growth in high bandwidth areas while copper cabling will still dominate the regular cabling industry

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