Data installers are no stranger to the battle of the bandwidth that has raged on for years. As devices and applications are putting greater demands on bandwidth, both fibre and copper manufacturers are developing better, faster and more flexible connectivity solutions.
With recent talk of a potential release of Category 8 cable and the growing demand for efficient data connectivity, we’re taking a fresh look at the age-old debate of copper versus fibre.
In the battle of the bandwidth, fibre optic cable wins with multi-mode optical fibre cable capable of producing 1000 MHz over 100m. When it comes to copper, Cat 6A cable is capable of carrying up to 600 MHz over 100m. Copper was once limited to speeds of 10 megabits per second which gave it a reputation for being much slower than fibre cable, however gigabit ethernet is now reaching speeds of 1000Mbps and there’s talk of Category 8 cable providing up to 40Gb/s.
Fibre is a dielectric, which means that no electrical current flows through it, making it resistant to fire and electromagnetic interference (EMI). Because copper cables operate through electrical signals, they can be prone to the effects of electromagnetic interference from lightning, nearby power lines or RFI radio signals. As copper conducts electricity, there’s also the added risk of fire. Generally speaking, fibre is a lot more resilient to the environmental factors that can affect copper cable, making data transmission through fibre slightly more reliable.
While the cost of fibre optic cable has decreased in recent years, it’s still more expensive than copper. Some installers may argue that while copper costs less up front, over the lifetime of the installation, maintenance costs and downtime can make it more expensive than fibre.
Both fibre and copper will experience a loss of signal strength in long cable runs, however in distances over 100m multimode fibre will lose only 3% of its signal while copper will experience a 94% loss of signal. Copper is more sensitive to distance than fibre, meaning that the further away you are from the source, the slower your network will be. Even though you can use boosters and repeaters, fibre retains a higher bandwidth over greater distances than copper.
Technically speaking, copper cables are quite delicate and have a lower tension limit than fibre cable, making copper installations slightly more complicated. Fibre is lighter than copper which means it’s easier to pull and install and as its dielectric, there’s no need to worry about EMI interference and the proximity to power cables. Category 8 cable is rumoured to be slightly thicker and heavier than Cat 6A cable which is something for installers to consider. There are also more pre-terminated fibre options available than copper, meaning that field terminations cost less. In saying that, fibre has been the backbone of choice for years so installers would be equally comfortable with both.
As consumer demands continue to push the limits of bandwidth, both copper and fibre cabling manufacturers will evolve to provide greater flexibility and capacity.