Copper vs. Fiber: Why Switch?

copper vs fiber

Today’s typical homeowner considers internet access and speed of service to be as important as water and electrical utilities. IP traffic continues to rise globally, with experts predicting up to a 30% increase by 2022.  Especially as workers continue to operate remotely, fast and reliable signal transmission is vital.  

In 2018, Cisco predicted 28.5 billion devices would be networked globally by 2022.  That translates to almost 4 times more devices than people!  Every single device you have takes up part of your network’s available bandwidth.  While category copper cabling was sufficient in the past, ever-growing data demands are outpacing category cable’s capabilities.  Due to fiber’s high throughput capacity, construction, and low termination time, fiber optic cable provides the best solution for today’s data transmission requirements.

Fiber Supports Higher Data Rates Over Longer Distances

Fiber optic cabling supports significantly higher bandwidth over longer distances.  Single mode fiber (OS2), in fact, has nearly infinite bandwidth potential. Often recommended for in-building and residential installations, multimode OM3 fiber can support 10Gbps Ethernet over 3 times the distance of Cat 6A and allows for speeds beyond copper’s capabilities.

CABLE TYPE MAXIMUM DATA RATES
CATEGORY 5E U/UTP 1G Ethernet 100m
CATEGORY 5E F/UTP1G Ethernet 100 m
CATEGORY 6 U/UTP10G Ethernet 55 m
CATEGORY 6 F/UTP10G Ethernet 55 m
CATEGORY 6A F/UTP10G Ethernet 100 m
CATEGORY 7 S/FTP10G Ethernet 100 m
CATEGORY 8 S/FTP40G Ethernet 30 m
OM2 FIBER10G/82m
OM3 FIBER10G/300 m – 40G/100 m
OM4 FIBER10G/400 m – 40G/150 m
OS2 FIBER10G 40 km, Potential Bandwidth Infinite

Fiber Provides Increased Strength and Smaller Options

Fiber optic cable might be glass, but it is not fragile.  While Category cables can only handle 25 lbs (11 kg) of pull tension, SSF™ fiber optic cables can handle up to 225 lbs (>100 kg). What does this mean? Far easier installation.  Fiber optic cables also (depending on cable type) feature a more compact structure.   A micro distribution fiber optic cable can have an outer diameter as small as 3.0mm, less than half the size of a Cat 6 cable.

CABLE TYPE Diameter MINIMUM BEND RADIUS LOADED/UNLOADED SHORT TERM PULL TENSION MAX
CATEGORY 5E U/UTP 5.5 mm 112 mm/ 56 mm 25 Lbs / 111 N
CATEGORY 5E F/UTP 6.35 mm 128 mm/64 mm 25 Lbs / 111 N
CATEGORY 6 U/UTP 6.1 mm 122 mm/61 mm 25 Lbs / 111 N
CATEGORY 6 F/UTP 6.86 mm 138 mm/69 mm 25 Lbs / 111 N
CATEGORY 6A F/UTP 7.52 mm 152 mm/76 mm 25 Lbs / 111 N
CATEGORY 7 S/FTP 8.0 mm 160 mm/80 mm 25 Lbs / 111 N
OM2 FIBER 2 x 3 mm or 1-12 strands in 3 mm Cable OD if greater than 2.2 mm* 225 Lbs / 1000 N
OM3 FIBER 2 x 3 mm or 1-12 strands in 3 mm Cable OD if greater than 2.2 mm* 225 Lbs / 1000 N
OM4 FIBER 2 x 3 mm or 1-12 strands in 3 mm Cable OD if greater than 2.2 mm* 225 Lbs / 1000 N
OS2 FIBER 2 x 3 mm or 1-12 strands in 3 mm Cable OD if greater than 2.2 mm* 225 Lbs / 1000 N

*refers to Bend-Insensitive Fiber, such as Cleerline SSF™

Resistant to Interference

Optical fibers, by virtue of being glass, are not conductive.  As such, electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference do not affect optical fiber. Practically speaking, this means one less decision to make when choosing your cable – no need to worry about the type of shielding!

CABLE TYPESHIELDING/RF-EMI RESISTANCE
CATEGORY 5E U/UTP4 x Twisted Pair, No Shielding
CATEGORY 5E F/UTP4 x Twisted Pair, Foil Overall Shield
CATEGORY 6 U/UTP4 x Twisted Pair, No Shielding
CATEGORY 6 F/UTP4 x Twisted Pair, Foil Overall Shield
CATEGORY 6A F/UTP4 x Twisted Pair, Foil Overall Shield
CATEGORY 7 S/FTP4 x Twisted Pair, Foil Shielded
OM2 FIBERNot Applicable – Light Transmission
OM3 FIBERNot Applicable – Light Transmission
OM4 FIBERNot Applicable – Light Transmission
OS2 FIBERNot Applicable – Light Transmission

*refers to Bend-Insensitive Fiber, such as Cleerline SSF™

Faster Termination Times

Cleerline SSF™ fiber optic technology allows faster termination times– far faster than copper (plus no crimping!).  With practice, it is very possible to install connectors on SSF fiber in under one minute

CABLE TYPEAPPROXIMATE TERMINATION TIME
CATEGORY 5E U/UTP2 min.
CATEGORY 5E F/UTP5 min.
CATEGORY 6 U/UTP2 min.
CATEGORY 6 F/UTP5 min.
CATEGORY 6A F/UTP5 min.
CATEGORY 7 S/FTP3 min.
OM2 FIBER<1 min.
OM3 FIBER<1 min.
OM4 FIBER<1 min.
OS2 FIBER<1 min.

*refers to Bend-Insensitive Fiber, such as Cleerline SSF™

Device Compatibility

Any device currently using copper UTP, or in some cases, coaxial cable, will be able to utilize fiber at some point either now or in the near future.  For devices that do not directly accept fiber, media converters (fiber to RJ45, etc.) allow easy exchange between cable types.

Particularly as fiber optic cable and component costs continue to decrease, defaulting to installing copper no longer makes sense.  Fiber optic cable provides far greater resilience to current and evolving technologies.