The standards for the cabling of data communication and networking infrastructures revolve around two main philosophies. The first is based around a twisted pairing of copper cored cable, and the second is based around fibre optic cable which uses a glass core.
Fibre optic cable is also available in a plastic version (PFO – Plastic Fibre Optic), and PCS – Plastic Clad Silica version. Of the 3 types, the glass cored version has the lowest attenuation; the PFO has the highest attenuation; and the PCS is pitched somewhere in between the other 2. Attenuation means loss of power, so in other words, the lower the attenuation, the better.
Single-Mode and Multi-Mode Fibre Optic Cable
Fibre Optic cable is basically available in 2 varieties – Single Mode, and Multi-mode, and it is the single mode that deliveries greater reach in terms of distance than does multi-mode cable.
All types of Fibre Optic outperform Twisted Pair copper cable
In comparing twisted pair cable to fibre optic cable, whichever type of cable we look at (glass fibre, plastic, plastic-clad-silica, single mode, or multi-mode), any option vastly outperforms Twisted-Pair by a considerable margin.
Advantage # 1 – Greater bandwidth
Bandwidth is the term that is used to describe the amount of data that can be sent through any medium, such as a computer network, or more specifically, a cable. Fibre optic cabling is capable of carrying data measured in terms of gigabytes (Gbps) whereas Twisted Pair cabling handles data measured in terms of only megabytes (Mbps), giving fibre optic a considerable advantage. This advantage is why most telephone and cable TV services have either already converted, are in the process of converting, or have plans to convert to fibre. BT, for example is now in the process of rolling-out its fibre based super fast broadband service across the UK, including rural areas.
Advantage # 2 – Lower attenuation and greater reach
The data that is carried through a fibre optic cable is broken down into light, which is then sent along the cable in pulses. At the end of the cable run it is then converted back into the original data format for distribution to the various devices. So it is light, rather than electrical data that is being channelled.
This light travels much faster and much further than electrical impulses. In a single mode cable for example, the data can travel for up to 3000 feet before it needs boosting. By comparison, twisted pair cabling has a distance limitation of approximately 100 m, whereas data sent down a fibre-optic cable can travel anywhere from 300 m to 40 km (nearly 25 miles), dependent on the quality and type of cable, the wavelength of the signal, and the structure of the network.
Advantage # 3 – Interference Resistant
Because the data that is sent down fibre optic cables is in light rather than electrical form, it is immune from any electromagnetic interference (EMI), and radio-frequency interference (RFI). It is not affected by crosstalk and does not suffer from problems through impedance. This means it is perfectly safe to install alongside industrial machinery and specialist equipment such as scanners in hospitals. Glass is also a much more stable material than copper, so it’s less likely to be affected by temperature, and can also be submerged in water.
Advantage # 4 – Security
Another big advantage with using fibre optic is that it is much more secure as it doesn’t radiate any signals, and is therefore more difficult to both trace and tap. Any attempt to tap into a fibre-optic cable will result in loss of light, which will then mean that the signal fails completely; in other words, any physical attempt to break into the cable will alert the network engineers immediately.
In terms of larger network installations, utilising fibre optics also means that all of your electronics can go into one control cabinet rather than having to have them split around the premises in several different cabinets.
Advantage # 5 – Future-proofing
Because fibre-optic cabling has such a high capacity, once installed, it is extremely unlikely that you will ever have to upgrade either to carry more data, or to facilitate an increase in personnel. It takes all of the guesswork away when it comes to future-proofing. There is also a future cost advantage too. Although the cost of the cable itself is higher than twisted pair cabling, it is actually cheaper to install, requires less hardware to run, and is less maintenance dependent.
Further price reductions will make fibre optic more attractive
There is no doubt that the advantages that fibre optic cabling offers over twisted pair are quite enormous and very significant; but for most companies it is overkill in terms of capacity, speed, and transmission distance. However, as with most things in electronics, the prices of the cabling itself are coming down, and the more it is used, the greater the likely reduction. There can be little doubt that if the prices were commercially viable for most businesses, fibre-optic cabling will be the way to go.
Not sure what kind of cabling is best for your business? Contact us today for a friendly chat with our team to see how we can help you get the most out of your IT.
Photo: James Laurence Stewart