When it comes to choosing fiber or copper, each cable type has benefits and limitations. It’s difficult to rank one over the other. In fact, many installations require the use of both at some point.

To illustrate this fact, we’ve put together some common application situation. Read on as we walk you through whether fiber or copper should be used in each circumstance (and why).

You Need to Transmit Data and Power: Fiber or Copper?

Because fiber doesn’t carry electrical current, copper is the right choice here (specifically a Power over Ethernet [PoE] copper cable that transmits data and power together).

By using copper cable instead of fiber, you reduce the need for additional power sources and free up devices from having to be located right next to an outlet. Because they receive power through the same cable they use to receive data, the devices can be placed or repositioned anywhere (think wireless access points, surveillance cameras or LED lighting fixtures, for example).

This is one area where copper outshines fiber – at least for now. There are copper/fiber hybrid cables in the works that will be able to transmit data over fiber and power over copper in the future.

You Need to Transmit Data Across Long Distances: Fiber or Copper?

Data signals degrade over distance, but singlemode fiber offers excellent signal quality for miles. For this reason, it can transmit data at high bandwidth levels (in other words, lots of data at once!) over very long distances.

In these types of applications, fiber is ideal for long-haul signal transmission applications, such as across or between campuses or in remote offices. There are essentially no distance limitations.

This is one area where fiber outshines copper. For now, Category 6A cables can only support 10 Gbps for 100 m. After that, signal degradation starts to occur.

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You Need Connectivity in a Large Venue with High User Numbers: Fiber or Copper?

Most of today’s fiber bandwidth limits aren’t constrained by cables. Instead, they’re constrained by fiber-optic electronics. No matter what types of new fiber-optic electronics are unveiled, you’ll be able to utilize them with fiber cable.

In very large facilities, such as high-rise buildings or professional entertainment arenas, fiber is typically the go-to choice for media functions (transmission of video and audio signals) and layer 0 infrastructure. Then, once you’re inside the building, copper is often used for device power and control. This is a good example of a situation where fiber and copper both have their place.

You Need Connectivity in a Building with Small User Numbers: Fiber or Copper?

In comparison to a stadium where tens of thousands of people may be using multiple wireless devices at once (a smartphone and wearable technology, for example), a smaller venue with fewer users doesn’t require that same level of the bandwidth.

If you’re dealing with a one-story office building, for example, which houses several hundred employees, copper may be a more cost-effective infrastructure choice as compared to fiber. Employees are probably using laptops and smartphones – and the building probably has wireless access points for mobility – but Category 6A cable should be able to easily handle these connectivity demands, even if the building starts to connect cameras, displays and other devices to its network.

Making the Decision: Fiber or Copper

At the end of the day, each application is different. Depending on what the cable will be used for, how long it will be in place, whether it will run outside or whether wireless will be used frequently as part of the cabling infrastructure, there may not be a clear winner when selecting fiber or copper.

Belden’s team of experts can sit down with you, discuss your plans and future goals, and identify the right type of cable – fiber or copper (or both) – based on price, application and future needs. (And, don’t forget: Once you select fiber or copper, there are several more decisions to make. OM5 or OM4 fiber? Category 6 or Category 6A copper? We can help with those, too.)

Want to find out whether you should use fiber or copper for your next project? Connect with us!

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