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What is the difference between, copper, fiber optic or wireless cable?

The Internet plays a substantially crucial role in business today. With it you can function a peak efficiency and without it can be the difference between staying in business and closing your doors. Those that upgrade, change and adapt to new technologies have proven to be the victors.

Many businesses tend to use the same connection for years, carelessly unaware to the speed of technology’s progress. Bandwidth issues can stifle productivity and may result in lost sales.

Before you can understand how to ensure your business has optimized its bandwidth, you first need to know what you’re dealing with. Ultimately, this boils down to the three basic materials we use to connect to the Internet:

  • Copper

  • Fiber optic

  • Wireless

Each of these three mediums for bandwidth connection are available today in the marketplace. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. To begin let’s breakdown the pros and cons of each cabling option.

Copper is king

Since the phone was invented, the principal way to “wire” the home was the use of copper cabling. The copper cabling is perfectly sufficient for a voice signal; its intended functionality. The downside is that copper offers very limited bandwidth.

Fiber optic takes the crown

Fiber optic communications were launched in the 1970s, though the first fiber optic networks were not installed until the early 1980s. Fiber optics cabling is the technology that transmits data through thin strands of a highly transparent material that usually made of glass or plastic.

In the mid-80s, fiber optic bandwidth and distance capabilities made it significantly less expensive than other communication mediums. By the mid-90s, fiber optics were used to enhance performance reliability, as well as enable the offering of both phone and Internet service on the same fiber.

Fiber Optics vs. Copper

Each business is different, so assessing which type of cabling is best requires consideration of several factors.

  • Copper does offer advantages for those in rural areas.

  • Cable already exists and has been used to wire phone lines

  • Less expensive when used to connect network devices

Businesses in rural areas of the US, where no fiber optics have been run may find copper the most cost

effective, by just utilizing existing cabling lines.

However, fiber has advantages over copper:

  • Fiber optic transmission is faster–Fiber optic vs. copper wire transmission can be easily boiled down to the speed of photons versus the speed of electrons. Photons travel at the speed of light, whereas electrons (used in copper wiring) occurring in nature travel at less than one percent of the speed of light. Fiber optic cables don’t travel at the speed of light, but the only about 31% slower. That’s really fast.

  • Fiber optic has less diminution--When traveling over a long distance, fiber optic cables experience less signal loss than copper cabling. Fiber loses only 3% signal strength when traveling over 100 meters in distance. Copper, however, loses 94% over the same distance. Using repeaters or boosters can improve those rates, but in this case, fiber beats out copper in avoiding signal loss.

  • Fiber optic cables are unscathed by interference—Improperly installed copper wires will produce electromagnetic currents that can interfere with other wires and dampen a network.

  • Fiber optic cables are more durable—Meaning they won’t need replacing as frequently as copper wires.

Where does wireless come in?

Fiber seems to have an edge over copper, but wireless broadband is quickly gaining popularity and adoption. Wireless broadband, sometimes referred to as 4G, is a method of broadcasting an Internet connection through the use of radio waves. One of the biggest problems with wireless signals is that it diminishes over distance.

Wireless can drastically cut costs

Installing new cables can become expensive, from the cost of cabling, securing permits, installation and insurance and compensating an IT team who ensure the network functions properly.

Cable and internet companies in many areas are bringing fiber right to the front door of your home or business, fairly inexpensively. Once it gets to the door, is when most businesses will then transmit a wireless signal over an internal network.


The best option may just be a mix of the two systems — fiber optic and wireless. These two can complement each other, with many systems and networks using both fiber optic and wireless transmissions.

Considering the complexity involved with determining the best cabling fit for your company, you may want to consider the option of outsourcing your IT network, to an expert. By outsourcing your IT networking, you can spend your limited time and resources on running your business.