What do I choose – Fibre or Copper?

Fibre to the home (FTTH) is the hot new IT word on everyone’s lips, but how does it compare to traditional internet for homes and small offices?

Warren Bricknell, MD of Mitsol, a layer two internet connectivity provider, answers some frequently asked questions on FTTH.

How does the cost of fibre compare to the cost of ADSL or other traditional internet services?

Over time, fibre is less expensive than copper – with no high-voltage electrical transmitters needed, fibre can help save money for the service provider as well as the end consumer.

If you compare the complete network costs, and not only its cabling costs, it may surprise you to find just how cost-effective fibre optic networks are.

While the cabling costs for fibre and Cat 6 copper are comparable, and the electronics may be slightly more expensive, the lower costs for facilities brings down the price of fibre to equal or less expensive than copper.

Potentially, the biggest cost saving if you opt for fibre is the escape from the “planned obsolescence” of copper.

At the moment there are three generations of copper cabling concurrently on the market – Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6. Cat 5, while it is perfectly adequate for most applications, is effectively obsolete.

Cat 5e evolved to support Gigabit Ethernet, which is a backbone application that runs of fibre that is not for the desktop.

Problems with Gigabit Ethernet on Cat 5 and Cat 5e have led to the development of Cat 6, still in the initial proposal stage, with commercial offerings being proprietary cabling systems.

Therefore, if you opt for copper, be prepared to recable regularly to adapt for new network technologies.

This would never be necessary with fibre optics. You be the judge of what saves you money – fibre versus copper?

Which is kinder to the environment – fibre or copper?

Fibre is, without doubt, greener. One of the main reasons is that fibre is more durable than copper and will last longer.

The raw materials to make fibre are plentiful (since fibre is glass, it is made from sand), whereas copper supplies are dwindling. Say goodbye to copper mining.

According to the Environmental News Network, fibre is more efficient, reliable and sustainable.

From an infrastructure perspective, fibre requires fewer resources to run these networks, yet can carry an unprecedented volume of data.

The light signals transmitted over fibre are also more resilient and last longer compared with electrical signals delivered via copper — ultimately saving energy and manufacturing/replacement equipment costs over time.

Repairs of fibre are far less frequent compared to copper and coaxial, which are more susceptible to weather and electrical interference.

In fact, as Verizon points out, repairs to an all-fibre network are 50% less than copper, which saves money and resources, including fuel savings and reduced emissions that come with a greater number of repair jobs.

A fibre network can also meet expanding data demands without the need to install additional cables, as with copper.

Corning, a manufacturer of fibre used by leading telecommunications providers, notes that fibre requires less energy and emits fewer carbon emissions compared with copper.

In a recent article on the company’s move to green solutions, the company details how the use of fibre to increase gigabit speed is less cumbersome, more economical, and much better for the environment than utilising copper transmission.

Laying individual cables with each wire encased in its own plastic sheath would weigh 22 times more than that of the comparable fibre optic cable, requiring much higher energy consumption and cost for delivery.

Out of copper and fibre, what is less obtrusive to install?

Fibre is thinner, therefore more fibres can be bundled together in the same space as a copper cable.

Which medium provides a clearer signal? Fibre or copper?

Fibre is clearer. Fibre won’t lose the signal the way copper does, and because light signals don’t interfere with other fibres in the same cable, you get clearer conversations. Fibre optic cables are safe from lightning strikes or electrical interference.

What do I choose, fibre or copper?

Fibre has significant benefits over copper as outlined above – in terms of cost, environment friendliness, more discreet installation and clearer signal.

In addition to these factors, due to much lower attenuation and interference, optical fibre has large advantages over existing copper wire in long-distance and high-demand applications.

Now read: Making it easier to bring FTTH to South Africans

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What do I choose – Fibre or Copper?