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Cat Copper Cabling vs Fiber Cabling; When and Where Should They be Installed?

Fiber Optic Infrastructure
Posted by James Donovan on 20 January 2015 Connect with James on LinkedIn Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Copper Cabling vs Fiber Cabling:

Network owners are faced with the question of whether and where to install ‘Cat’ 5e, 6 or 6A copper cabling, and/or multimode/singlemode fiber cabling system for different areas of the network ‘diet’.

Unfortunately, there is not a clearly defined answer to this question. Most private networks require a mixture of both copper and fiber media to create the most cost-effective networks for voice and data across the horizontal and backbone segments of the network. High performance copper cabling, such as Cat 5e and 6 solutions, provides the lowest initial cost for today’s Local Area Networks (LANs) up to rates of 1Gbps over distances of 100 meters. Fiber-based networks clearly have higher performance and enable transmission over a larger range of distances, but at a larger overall cost.

Why a high fiber diet could kill the cat

With the introduction of Cat 6A systems, the capabilities of copper cabling were substantially increased to 10Gbps, halting the move to fiber in many short distance applications. However, PONs (Passive Optical Networks) are making inroads into areas that traditionally may have used copper cabling such as hotels and hospitals.

In addition, as wireless technologies appear on the market with Gbps capabilities, ‘cat’ cabling will likely be squeezed, as networks deploy more fiber cabling in the core and edge, and wireless infrastructure to the device.

Copper or fiber? Deciding best application

In order to determine which combination of copper and/or fiber cabling to install and in which architecture, each customer must evaluate their application needs, considering the various advantages of each cable type and their relative importance. Cost, ease of installation, moves and arrangements, current and anticipated applications, and the expected life of the system are typically major decision factors. Environmental considerations such as electrical noise and clean rooms may also influence the decision, as well as building type, industry sector, and cabling system ownership.

The need to understand the different infrastructure types and applications is why institutions like CommScope’s Infrastructure Academy exist. Cabling remains a critical part of any network, so learning about it, is always time well spent.