Fiber Optics Vs. Copper Wire

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Fiber optic cabling beats copper wire cabling in the performance department, although copper has enough data bandwidth for most day-to-day situations. Fiber optics are the better option for large-scale network backbones, like local broadband networks; but copper may be a cheaper and sufficient cabling solution in home and small office settings that don't need multiple gigabits of bandwidth.

Fiber Optic Is Faster

  • Fiber optic cabling sends more data to its destination in less time than copper. It's difficult to track how much faster fiber optics are than copper because both technologies continue to improve and the real speed limitations kick-in with the physical capacity of materials. Fiber optics theoretically support data transmission speeds of up to 30,000GHz, which is much faster than the electrical circuits used to send data over the cables. Fiber optic cables are capable of moving data at about 69 percent of the speed of light. Copper peaks at around 2,000MHz in the Cat 8 revision. Both technologies couple multiple wires together to increase bandwidth, which makes copper able to compete at fiber optic speeds.

Fiber Goes Farther

  • While adding more copper wires to the cable supplies enough bandwidth to keep up with fiber optic speeds, the practice doesn't improve copper's range to match the range of fiber optics. Both technologies have maximum transmission ranges before the data quality starts to drop and needs to be repeated. Copper wire lines go as far as a 1.5 miles before needing a repeater station, whereas fiber optic lines go as far as 124 miles before needing a repeater station. While both materials have some degree of natural signal deterioration, copper wires are also affected by electromagnetic interference which causes the signal to degrade well before maximum range, whereas fiber optic cabling does not use electricity to transmit data and is unaffected by interference.

Fiber Is Stronger

  • Fiber optic cables are also more durable than copper counterparts. Copper cable breaks at 25 pounds of pulling tension, whereas fiber optic cable can sustain between 100 and 200 pounds of pulling tension. Additionally, fiber optics are non-flammable. Fiber cables are less likely to require replacement or repair.

Copper Carries Power

  • Fiber optics do not support Power over Ethernet. Since fiber optic cable is a light-based data transmission, it doesn't carry an electrical current with it. Copper wire works by sending an electrical current along the cable and can be used to power devices; So, copper wire is a better solution than fiber optics for powering things like surveillance cameras.

Copper Hardware Is Cheaper

  • The network hardware necessary to use copper wires is cheaper than the fiber optic counterparts. Individual fiber optic cables are more expensive than individual copper wires, but end up being a cost savings because fewer fiber optical cables are needed to carry the same amount of bandwidth. Comparatively, copper wire Ethernet adapters cost a fraction of what fiber optic adapters cost. Fiber optic adapters currently cost about ten times what copper wire Ethernet adapters do.

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  • Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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