Copper cabling is slow, unstable, and prone to signal leakage and interference issues, all of which make it a risky proposition going forward. Here is what you need to know about your failing copper cabling, and what you can do about it.
- It’s only a matter of time before copper will bring you down. Copper naturally corrodes over time, which limits its life expectancy and makes copper cabling more susceptible to signal degradation and other performance issues, even all-out failure, as time goes on. Virtually all networks were copper-wired throughout the 80s and 90s, a ticking time bomb set to go off that will result in more data corruption and compromised content. Left unchecked long enough, copper cabling will fail, and when it does, it’s not pretty. Just ask any of the companies that lost millions of dollars last year due to network outages resulting from faulty cabling.
The same can’t be said of fiber optic cabling. Fiber optic cable is resistant to the corrosive elements that attack copper. In addition, fiber has far more tensile strength than copper. It can withstand pulling forces of more than 150 pounds – that’s about six times the recommended force for Cat5 cabling. The fiber optic products of today have fewer parts and are better made, plus have plug-and-play connectors for easy install.
- Copper is noisy and “leaks” content like a sieve. Copper picks up noise easily from phones, computers, and electrical conduits and systems everywhere. You won’t be able to see it on the cable, but you’ll hear it in your content and see the results in corrupted data. Copper cabling also puts out electro-magnetic radiation, which is the network equivalent of leaky plumbing. Every bit you send across it can be decoded by eavesdroppers, putting at risk your company content, your company secrets, and far worse. New laws holding companies accountable for safeguarding customer information make unstable copper cabling too risky.
Fiber optic cable is non-metallic and therefore not susceptible to radio, electro-magnetic, electrical or even lightning. There are no issues with EMR, grounding, shorting or crosstalk of cables, and no humming or leaking whatsoever. In fact, fiber optic cabling made in the U.S. is the Fort Knox of data security. It’s virtually noise-proof and tamperproof, especially when encryption is added to transmitted content.
- Copper can’t go the distance. Copper suffers from what is commonly referred to as proximity distortion. The greater the distance between two points of copper cabling, the more noise it picks up and the greater the signal breaks down or degrades. This is good old copper attenuation at work, and it severely limits the size and scope of networks. Installers that claim they can extend copper cabling using preamplifiers or other similar techniques aren’t doing you any favors, either. Resulting “pair gain” and multiplexing artifacts only further weaken the transmitted signal, which results in less signal-to-noise and greater security risk.
Fiber optic cabling doesn’t have these limitations, not by a long shot. Fiber optic technology transmits information error-free over greater distances than copper, by a 400:1 ratio. One Gb of data can be transmitted over 40 kilometers of optical fiber, whereas copper runs out of road at around 100 meters. Copper is a dead-end street, whereas fiber can easily migrate to 40GbE or even 100GbE and higher network backbones, more than enough headroom to support anticipated applications for the next ten years.
This kind of portability and accessibility becomes increasingly important as cloud computing moves the world closer to person-based, mobile environments where lightning-fast, secure access to video, audio and data is necessary.
- Copper won’t be able to keep up with the data explosion. Copper doesn’t have the transference rate to keep up with the information and content explosion that is happening all around us. A copper phone wire can carry up to 24 voice channels, or 1.5 Mbps (megabits-per-second). At the high end, category cable is capable of only 10 gigabits-per-second and then only over a VERY short distance.
Fiber optic cable can carry 10 times that of copper cable at the high end. Fiber can stream video and other applications with lots of bandwidth to spare. What’s more, new innovations in multiplexing make it possible to add up to 16 discrete channels at 3 Gb/s each to an existing fiber pair for transporting video, audio, lighting and control feeds. No additional trenching required.
- Copper will cost you. So will fiber, but not as much. Pound for pound, copper costs more than fiber, plus is costlier to ship and harder to install. Two 40-pair copper cables 500 feet long weigh 700 pounds. You can push the same amount of data through one fiber optic cable weighing just eight pounds. For touring shows, that means you can replace 2,000 pounds of copper cabling with 15 pounds of fiber optic cable. Copper also costs the environment. It’s a limited resource that is expensive to mine; its extraction from the earth produces harmful products like sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide.
Fiber optic strands are made from a sustainable resource: sand. A fiber optic cable made from 60 pounds of sand can handle the same amount of information as a cable made from 1,000 tons of copper. As a sustainable resource, fiber optic pricing is likely to remain steady, if not decrease over time. As a finite resource, copper prices are likely to increase over time, especially as demand for copper by developing countries begins to outstrip supply. Fiber offers lower power consumption, increased racking and cabling density, better performance , and supports better system reliability and reduced downtime with lower maintenance costs overall.