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Connectivity is critical for Alberta’s major industries, and the need for it is only growing.  The cabling infrastructure that supports your network-dependent devices like CCTV cameras, workstations, office, and facility equipment has a direct impact on how efficiently your operation runs, which has implications of its own.

There are two general categories of cable you can use for your network infrastructure: Copper and fiber optic.  While they perform similar functions, they do so in very different ways.  And, as you might expect, they both offer their own set of advantages and disadvantages, not the least of which is cost.

So, in this article, we’ll dig into some of those differentiators.  Knowing how the fiber optic and copper cable stack up against each other will be crucial to deciding what to use in your operations local area network design.

Copper vs Fiber Optic: Bandwidth and Distance

Copper cables have been the standard for network and internet connectivity since 1980.  They are copper-based cables (either solid or stranded) that use electrical impulses to transmit data. Generally speaking, copper cables are known to transmit data at a lower bandwidth than fiber optic cables.  For example. Cat7 cabling (a relatively new form of copper ethernet cable) can transmit data at

By comparison, multimode fiber optic cable, over which data is transmitted by means of light pulses is significantly faster, even over greater distances.  It can offer bandwidth of 10Gb/s at a much greater maximum distance than Cat7 cables (550 meters).  And, like copper cables, the bandwidth multimode fiber optic cables reach will increase as the distance decreases.  While the latest generation of copper cable suggests the technology is catching up (25 Gb/s over a max of 30 metes) there is still quite a gulf between the two. Single-mode fiber optic cable allows for even greater bandwidth at much higher distances.

Copper vs Fiber Optic: Interference

Because they rely on electromagnetic signals to transmit information, copper cables are susceptible to electromagnetic interference.  For example, if run too close to anything that generates an electromagnetic field (power cables, office equipment, fluorescent lighting, etc.), the information flow can be disrupted.  The end result of this would be inconsistent, unreliable performance, and frustrating user experiences.

Fortunately, copper cables can be designed to significantly mitigate the potential interference caused by nearby electromagnetic fields.  Twisted pair copper wires are a simple, cost-effective design method that lessens the effect of nearby EM interference, and foil shielding of the twisted pairs themselves cancels out interference even more.

On the other hand, fiber optic cables aren’t susceptible to electromagnetic interference because they don’t use electrical signals to transmit information.  This means signal integrity can be maintained, even when in close proximity to power cables or equipment that generate strong electromagnetic fields.

Copper vs Fiber Optic: Cost

With all the benefits that fiber optics has to offer, it should be no surprise that it is the more expensive option.  While the gap on cost (and certain performance specs) may be closing, that gap still exists.

However, the initial, upfront cost of purchasing and installing fiber optic cabling may end up being worthwhile if it leads to a more reliable, higher-performing network that needs less maintenance.  The higher capacity of the cables could lead to greater efficiency and capability.

Getting Started

So, the obvious question to ask is: Which do I choose, fiber optic or copper?  As always, it depends on your needs.  Odds are, you’ll end up using some combination of both.

Because of its higher bandwidth over greater distances, fiber optic cables are often used to connect buildings or to provide connectivity between rooms in large, sprawling facilities.  Copper ethernet cabling is then used to connect workstations and equipment to the local area network. At the end of the day, the balance of fiber optic and copper cabling you end up using will depend on your needs (short and long term) and budget.

Fiber optics may provide higher bandwidth than copper, but the bandwidth fiber offers may be surplus to your requirements.  The same can be said for the greater distance advantage it provides.  While fiber optic cabling doesn’t experience interference to the extent that copper cabling does, a well-thought-out layout paired with proper cabling selection can mitigate the risk of interference.

Working with your provider to do a cost-benefit analysis will be just as important as nailing down your exact technical needs.  So, if you’re considering a network upgrade, Contact Us.  Our Account Managers, Engineers, and Technicians are here to help.

 

Tridon is a full solution Telecom Systems Integrator with CSA certification and licensed by APEGA.  Our Engineering, Service and Tower Divisions collaborate with customers to build engineered solutions including communications systems design, tower inspections, and co-location, wireless broadband, fiber optic cabling, site security, and two-way radio communication.

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