For decades now, ever since category 2 cabling was introduced, people have installed this on their premises without even considering the flexibility that fibre could potentially offer. 

Don’t get me wrong, copper cabling and Category 5e or Category 6a as it is now, is still a great fit for the majority of businesses. If installed following the ratified standards, Category 6a cabling can offer speeds of up to 10 Gig with Category 5e boasting a maximum bandwidth of 1 Gig. The only drawback with using copper cabling though is the distance. 100m of horizontal cabling is the maximum distance (including patch leads at either end), that should be installed. So for any network connection required over 100m, fibre is the only viable option on the table. However, if the network is planned correctly, with potentially multiple network cabinets around the premises, a fibre backbone could be installed to increase the copper throughout in remote hard to reach areas. 

With the increase in fibre optic technology, installation has never been so straight forward. If you compare the bandwidth available via Category 6a cabling and the equivalent OM3 fibre optic cable it really is a no brainer. Over 100m you could get up to 10 Gig with Category 6a, however, OM3 fibre would give you potentially 100 Gig.  So, even at so called “shorter” distances, even though copper cabling may still be an option, fibre cabling should really be considered as it provides a certain amount of future proofing to your network. With the advances in switch technology which will only provide faster and faster throughput over the coming years, installing a fibre optic backbone on your network to handle these upgrades must surely be the way to go.  

In the long run, simply swapping out some switch equipment in the network cabinets is much easier than the disruption to installing new cables throughout the business. So fibre optic cabling may still be an unnecessary evil to some, but in the long run it will certainly provide a light at the end of a dark tunnel. 

Written by: Martin Croucher (Network Cabling Engineer)