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Fibre or Copper cabling?

Since the invention of the good old telephone over 100 years ago, the dominant way to “wire” the network and home involved copper cabling. The standard 4 core copper phone wire is perfectly adequate for a voice signal, which is what it was intended for. All things considered; however, it offers very limited bandwidth for today’s data centric needs. Still, so many are familiar with copper that they doubted any other medium would ever supplant it.


Until fibre optics came along.

Fibre optics refers to technology that transmits data through thin strands of a highly transparent material that usually is either glass or plastic. Fibre optic communications were launched in the 1970s, though the first fibre optic telecommunications networks were not installed until the early 1980s.

By the mid-1980s, fibre’s bandwidth and distance capabilities made it significantly less expensive than other communication mediums, and it started to replace copper in trunk networks.

In the mid-1990s, cable television discovered fibre could enhance performance reliability, as well as enable the offering of both phone and Internet service on the same fibre.

Fibre Optics or Copper Cables?

cable bundle

Assessing which type of network cable is optimal for a particular company requires consideration of several factors.

Copper does offer advantages for those in rural areas. It already exists (it has been used, as noted, to wire telephones, so copper already found its place in the household) and is less expensive when used to connect network devices. Those in rural areas where no fibre optics have been run may find copper the most cost effective, because they don’t have to pay to run new cabling.

Still, fibre optic cable offers many significant advantages over copper:

Key features:

fibre cable

Fibre optic transmission is significantly faster: Fibre optic versus copper wire transmission can be boiled down to the speed of photons versus the speed of electrons. Photons travel at the speed of light, whereas electrons (as used in copper wire) occurring in nature travel at less than one percent of the speed of light. And while fibre optic cables don’t travel at the speed of light, they come close — only about 31 percent slower.

Fibre optic transmission results in less attenuation: When traveling over a long distance, fibre optic cables experience less signal loss than copper cabling, known as low attenuation. Fibre loses only three percent signal strength going over 100 meters in distance. By contrast, copper loses 94 percent over the same distance. Repeaters or boosters can improve those rates, but in its native state, fibre beats out copper when it comes to avoiding signal loss. This is also why your Broadband is slower the further you live from the local phone exchange.

Fibre optic cables are impervious to electromagnetic interference: Copper wires, if not properly installed, will produce electromagnetic currents that can interfere with other wires and wreak havoc on a network.

Fibre optic cables do not break as easily: This means that you will not have to worry about replacing them as frequently as copper wires.

Fibre optic cables do not catch fire easily: An added benefit of fibre optic cables is that they are not a fire hazard. This can also be attributed to the same reason that the cables do not produce EMI—there is no electric current traveling through the core.

Network Performance and Benefits:

Greater bandwidth

Fibre provides far greater bandwidth than copper and has standardized performance up to 10 Gbps. While not currently a standard, these speeds could become a reality in future proposals and ratifications. Keep in mind that fibre speeds are dependent on the type of cable used. Single-mode cable offers far greater distance than either 62.5- or 50-micron multimode cable. In addition, fibre optic cable can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper wire. That’s why telephone and CATV companies are converting to fibre.

Low attenuation and greater distance

Because the fibre optic signal is made of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission, and data can move at higher speeds and greater distances. Fibre does not have the 100-meter distance limitation of unshielded twisted pair copper (without a booster). Fibre distances can range from 300 meters to 40 kilometres, depending on the style of cable, wavelength, and network. Because fibre signals need less boosting than copper ones do, the cable performs better.


Your data is safe with fibre cable. It doesn’t radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the physical security of your fibre system, you’ll know it.

Immunity and reliability

Fibre provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The core is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It’s immune to electrometric interference and radio-frequency interference (EM/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fibre cable next to industrial equipment without worry. Fibre is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than copper and can be submerged in water.


The proliferation and lower costs of media converters are making copper to fibre migration much easier. The converters provide seamless links and enable the use of existing hardware. Fibre can be incorporated into network in planned upgrades.


The cost for fibre cable, components, and hardware is steadily decreasing. Installation costs for fibre are higher than copper because of the skill needed for terminations. Overall, fibre is more expensive than copper in the short run, but it may actually be less expensive in the long run. Fibre typically costs less to maintain, has less much less downtime, and requires less networking hardware. And fibre eliminates the need to re-cable for higher network performance.



The speed of internet transmitted via copper cable is directly correlated with the weight of cable used. For a business to achieve higher speeds, more cable must be used, which requires more space in a company’s telecommunications room.

Fibre is lightweight, thin, and more durable than copper cable. Plus, fibre optic cable has pulling specifications that are up to 10 times greater than copper. Its small size makes it easier to handle, and it takes up much less space in cabling ducts. Although fibre is still more difficult to terminate than copper, advancements in connectors are making termination easier. In addition, fibre is actually easier to test than copper cable.

Fibre networks also enable you to put all your electronics and hardware in one central location, instead of having wiring closets with equipment throughout the building.


Copper cable is a relatively delicate technology. Typically, it can sustain about 25 pounds of pressure without being damaged, which means it can be compromised with relative ease during routine operations in a company’s telecommunications space.

In contrast, fibre can withstand about 100-200 pounds of pressure, meaning it is far less likely to be damaged during routine operations in close proximity.


There are a number of factors that can cause outages when an organization is reliant on copper cable-based internet. Temperature fluctuations, severe weather conditions, and moisture can all cause a loss of connectivity. Old or worn copper cable can even present a fire hazard, due to the fact it carries an electric current. Additional reliability concerns associated with copper include risks of interference from electronic or radio signals. Additionally, copper wires are accessed in the building by telephone company personnel and sometimes they can make mistakes and fiddle with the wrong wires. Also, copper wires all go back to the telephone company Central Office where disconnections can happen. Fibre is typically independent of the phone company, their equipment and their termination points.

Investing in Fibre Optic Internet

While organizational information technology needs can vary drastically, the benefits of fibre-optic internet are making it an increasingly common choice for business data transmission. Companies who choose to invest in fibre typically find that the total cost of ownership, bandwidth potential, and speed gains are noticeable.

Fibre Optics Summary

firbe optic cable

Both copper and what is essentially glass, or fibre optics, have their advantages and unique characteristics. Copper has already existed in many places and it is cheap in network devices connection. However, with the dramatic reduction of cost of optical deployment, the future-proof fibre optic cable shows more advantages over copper and has a better prospect in the future market.

A few years ago, the overall price of fibre cable was nearly twice that of copper, but now the price between fibre and copper has narrowed and fibre components and hardware have steadily decreased.

Let’s start with the general premise that electrical power transmission over copper is cheaper than laser power transmission over fibre – because it has been up until this point – though this is changing fast. Most people overlook the cost of the wiring closet in copper networks – and they shouldn’t. Let’s not forget, a standard wiring closet includes the costs of conditioned UPS (Uninterruptible Power Source) power, data ground, HAVC (Hybrid Automatic Voltage Control) and floor space.

These integral costs generally exceed the extra cost of fibre equipment in a centralized fibre architecture, as well as take up significantly more working space (which is often limited). So, an all-fibre LAN (Local Area Network) is really more economical and space-efficient than a copper-based networking environment for new construction and major renovations.

Parameter Fibre Optics Copper
Bandwidth 60 Tbps and beyond 10 Gbps
Distance 12 Miles+ @ 10,000Mbps 300 Ft. @ 1,000Mbps
Noise Immune Susceptible to EM/RFI interference, crosstalk and voltage surges
Security Nearly impossible to tap Susceptible to tapping
Handling Lightweight, thin diameter, strong pulling strength Heavy, thicker diameter, strict pulling specifications
Lifecycle 30-50 Years 5 Years
Weight/300 M. 2Kg. 18 Kg.
Energy Consumed 2W per User >10W per User


Although copper is perfectly adequate for a voice signal, it has very limited bandwidth – while fibre provides standardized performance up to 10 Gbps and beyond.

Fibre links provide over 1,000 times as much bandwidth as copper and can travel more than 100 times further as well. A typical bandwidth-distance product for multi-mode fibre is 500 MHz/km, so a 500 meter cable can transmit 1 GHz. While twisted pair optimized for high data rates (Cat 6) can transmit 500 MHz over only 100 meters. In addition, the signal loss over 500 meters in fibre is negligible, but copper has very high loss at high frequencies.

The advent of optical cable with its ever-reducing cost, increased bandwidth, extremely high speed and long transmission distance, excellent reliability and perfect security, has replaced copper in every aspect of network transmission and reception. Fibre optic cable has become one of the most popular mediums for both innovative cabling installations and upgrades, including backbone, horizontal, and even desktop applications. And with the steadily lowering cost and intrinsic improvements made seemingly daily in fibre optic connectivity, fibre construction will become more convenient and cost-effective.

It’s only a matter of time before fibre optics completely replaces copper cable in both long and short-haul networking.

Learn more

To understand why a Fibre Optical cabling infrastructure will benefit your office and network performance contact PTC for an initial on-site consultation.

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