When To Use Fiber Optic Cabling

Ever since the telephone became a popular form of communication in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, copper wiring has been a preferred medium for communications technology. But recently, the performance advantages of fiber optic cabling have made it the preferred medium in a number of implementations.

Whereas copper wiring is made of stretched metal strands, fiber optic cabling is made up of a flexible glass core and a plastic cladding exterior. Copper wiring transmits information as electrical impulses along the conductive metal. Fiber optic cables transmit that information as pulses of light. Because light travels faster than electrical pulses, fiber optic cabling offers better communication speeds.

However, communications devices are based on electricity, and so an optical fiber system must have ways of converting electricity into a light signal at one end and converting light back into electrical information at the other end.

It's easy to envision a point in the near future when all cabling is fiber optic, but until then, there are situations when copper wiring is a better choice. To understand when to use each type of cabling and why, look for a structured cabling installer with a depth of experience in designing cabling systems for businesses like yours.

Fiber Optic Cable for Speed Over Distance

There is a reason why fiber optics are becoming the preferred choice for cabling over copper: better performance.

One of the most significant areas in which fiber optic cabling is better than copper is faster transmission rates. The fastest speed at which copper can transmit digital information is 40 gigabytes per second. For fiber optics, the current maximum transmission rate is theoretical and tests have shown it is capable of transmitting hundreds of terabytes per second.

Although signals get weaker through both fiber optic cable and copper cabling, fiber optics are able to maintain the integrity of signals for much longer distances. According to governing standards, individual lengths of copper cabling should be 100 meters or less, although the latest copper cabling is effective over longer distances. Depending on the types of signals and cable, fiber optics are capable of maintaining signal strength for more than 24 miles.

Copper wiring also has electromagnetic issues. When an electrical signal passes through any type of metal wiring, it produces a surrounding field of interference, which can bleed into nearby metal wiring, disrupting electrical signals. This phenomenon known as crosstalk can lead to the necessary retransmission of a message and increased security risks. Because fiber optics do not produce an electromagnetic field, the cabling is more secure and nearby transmissions cannot be disrupted.

While exterior cladding and shielding can make any cabling bulkier, the actual wiring of fiber optics is much smaller than copper wiring. The diameter of fiber optic cable can vary but it is typically measured in microns, which should give you a sense of just how small it is. By comparison, copper wiring is measured in millimeters. Fiber optic cabling also tends to be much more flexible than copper wiring, making it easier to physically work with.

The smaller size of fiber optic cabling also allows for better air circulation. This helps to keep equipment cool and optimize performance.

Copper for Efficiency Over Short Distances

Fiber optics cabling can be great, but it is costly. Companies looking to limit their cabling spending may want to be judicious about the ways in which they employ fiber optics. 

The signal loss seen in copper wiring can be an issue, but not over short distances. Given the cost savings, copper wiring is a better choice when connecting equipment, in small networks, in wiring closets and for low-priority applications. Furthermore, many buildings already have copper wiring infrastructure in place, which can help to minimize upfront costs.

In addition, copper wiring and resources are widely available. It's also easier to find service providers for this legacy technology.

While newer copper cabling is capable of handling high-speed data transmission, we may eventually reach the limits of this medium. As time passes, we consume more and more data, which drives up bandwidth requirements. Therefore, it’s important to consider long-term data needs when deciding on cabling options.

A company that increasingly adopts fiber optic systems will position itself for the future. A structured fiber optic environment can last for many years if not decades. As technology advances and the demand for cabling increases, a fiber optic system will continue to meet demand.

Additionally, the costs of fiber optic technologies and equipment will decrease over time. In just a few years, cost savings associated with copper wiring could seem minimal compared to the benefits offered by technically superior fiber optic cabling.

We Can Support Your Essential Functions with Modern Structured Cabling

At Taylored Systems, we have decades of experience consulting with businesses and installing structured cabling systems. We understand the best ways to provide businesses with strong reliable data connections and keep downtime to a minimum. With our assistance, businesses have been able to provide better customer service and maintain high levels of productivity by supporting high-speed Internet, voice and video technologies.

For an in-depth look at how structured cabling can be built to support the technology of the future, view our eBook: Structured Cabling Ahead of Technology

If your company is looking to upgrade an outdated cabling system, please contact us today.