How Does Fibre Optic Differ from Cable?
Commercial data cabling is your link to the outside world. It powers internet, data storage, communication, entertainment – basically everything needed to run a modern business. When it comes to commercial data cabling, businesses have a choice between:
- Fibre optic
- Coaxial (known as ‘cable’)
Despite being mission-critical infrastructure, most people outside the IT department would be challenged to describe the differences between fibre optic cabling and coaxial networks.
Rather than relegate commercial data cabling to the tech team, we’re going to walk you through the differences. Which is faster? What is the cost implication? Is fibre optic cabling more stable than coax? And of course, which is better for your business?
How fibre optic and cable connections work
Coaxial data cabling
Most existing commercial data cabling uses coaxial technology to deliver data and TV connections simultaneously. Coaxial data cabling is characterised by:
- Copper core
- Aluminium insulation
- Copper shield
- Outer plastic layer
With all that copper, it’s no wonder most Australians have come to know this kind of commercial data cabling as ‘copper cable’.
Fibre optic cabling
Fibre internet connections beam light signals along a special type of glass or plastic. These modulated light signals carry data without using any electricity or metal.
It might seem like something from a sci-fi movie. But fibre has long been used for transcontinental communications because it is faster, more secure, and more scalable than copper. It’s only recently that the technology has become commonplace in commercial data cabling and local internet infrastructure.
Speed and stability
Is fibre optic cable faster?
The short answer is yes. Fibre optic moves data at something close to the speed of light – much faster than copper can transmit. Over longer distances, too, without the degradation that comes with copper.
Plus, fibre optic cable delivers a bigger data load. Copper commercial data cable was designed to carry enough data for a voice call, whereas fibre has no (theoretical) bandwidth cap.
So, if fibre is faster, with bigger bandwidth and good over distance, why isn’t it used everywhere?
Fibre is fragile
One big reason is the material used for coaxial cabling is more robust. Fibre optic cabling is susceptible to physical damage from construction, chemicals, radiation, overbending and a self-destructive phenomenon called ‘fibre fuse’.
The cost question
Another reason for copper’s prevalence is its relatively low cost. Fibre’s delicateness makes it trickier to install. And because data (light) only travels one way, you need double the infrastructure to send and receive data whereas coaxial handles downloading and uploading together.
Fibre optic infrastructure is becoming more cost-effective, but it’s still a substantial investment compared to copper.