Bandwidth: Fiber vs. Copper - Which Is the Clear Winner?
Is there a significant difference between the amount of bandwidth offered by fiber Internet and copper high-speed Internet? Should you base your business Internet decision on bandwidth alone?
To make an informed decision about business Internet service, you need to know the differences between fiber connectivity and copper. This includes how much bandwidth each option provides, and how it will serve your businesses’ need for data in the present and future.
Demand for bandwidth has doubled every 18 months since the inception of data services, and this growth shows no signs of slowing. It's imperative that whatever type of data connectivity you choose can grow along with your business's technology and traffic. Read on to learn whether fiber or copper is the winning choice for your business and how to future-proof your bandwidth.
Which Supplies More Bandwidth? Fiber vs. Copper
What is Bandwidth?
Bandwidth is best defined as the maximum data transfer rate of data (usually Internet connectivity), or a network's capacity which is generally expressed in gigabits per second (Gbps) or megabits per second (Mbps). The more bandwidth offered by your business Internet service, the more data you can transmit at one time.
Bandwidth is not the same as speed since bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data transfer per second. Measures of Internet speed are based on the actual rate of data transfer per second. Bandwidth is effectively the amount of potential speed which can be used. However, a slow data connection and other connectivity issues such as packet loss and jitter, are frequently caused by insufficient bandwidth.
Bandwidth is critically important, but it's not the only factor which will impact the quality of business Internet service. Speed, performance, and reliability can often be confused with bandwidth, and are likely equally important to business satisfaction with a data connection. Bandwidth is a significant difference between copper vs. fiber, but these technologies also provide different levels of reliability and costs for equipment required to transmit data.
The Difference Between Fiber and Copper
Underlying technologies cause the bandwidth gap between fiber and copper. Fiber Internet uses thin bundles of optical fibers, or strands of very pure glass as narrow as a human hair, to transmit data using pulses of infrared laser light. Copper cables literally use copper wires and are a significantly bulkier technology which was first designed to carry voice calls data via electrical pulse.
The bandwidth differences are, effectively, the difference between photons and electrons. Copper uses electrons for data transmission, while fiber uses photons. Light is faster than electrical pulses, so fiber can transmit more bits of data per second and offer higher bandwidth. The transmission capabilities aren't the only difference between these technologies, however.
All data signals degrade over a range, but fiber offers significantly better signal durability. Fiber only loses 3% of the signal over distances greater than 100 meters, compared to copper's 94% loss of signal.
Fiber optic bundles do not conduct electrical currents, making fiber data connections fully-resistant to fire, electromagnetic interference, lightning, or radio signals. Copper cables are designed to conduct electricity, making copper Internet vulnerable to power lines, lightning, and deliberate signal-scrambling.
Copper cable can easily be broken during an installation or by accident. Despite its large size, copper has a low tolerance for tension. Fiber is smaller, lighter, and more durable than copper cabling and can generally only be damaged through deliberate vandalism, though you do have to be careful with fiber as it is made out of glass. Typically, it's sheathed in a protective coat to make it more durable.
To learn more about the differences between copper and fiber technologies, we recommend Advantages of Fiber Optic Internet over Copper Cable.
How Much More Bandwidth Does Fiber Provide vs. Copper?
Fiber technology providers, generally speaking, are more likely to offer "symmetrical bandwidth" to customers which equate to equal upload and download speeds. This capability can be found with copper high-speed Internet providers, though it's rare.
What Are The Other Considerations?
Is bandwidth important? Absolutely.
Having enough bandwidth is critical to modern business operations. If your data connection lacks bandwidth, you may struggle to use cloud applications or communicate with clients through voice-over-IP phones, web conferencing, or other forms of Unified Communications. If you've reached the bandwidth limits of your existing Internet service, scaling your data connectivity to increase bandwidth is necessary to protect productivity and growth.
However, bandwidth isn’t the only consideration which should impact your decision about upgrading to fiber. Price, reliability, latency, and security are some other factors to keep in mind.
How Much Does Fiber Internet Cost?
The cost of installing fiber Internet for the first time can vary widely for businesses, even in the same metro area. The primary factor which impacts the cost of a fiber installation is your proximity to fiber resources. If your business is already lit for fiber, your setup will be much cheaper than a company which is located a significant distance from resources. Check to see if your building is wired for fiber here.
Upgrading to fiber is generally more expensive than staying with copper, but the total cost of a fiber installation can be deceptive. Fiber has a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than copper due to superior durability and a longer lifecycle. It may also lower costs for your business by increasing productivity and availability.
Which Is More Reliable?
The availability and reliability of a data connection are closely tied to long-term "soft costs" of a system, reflected in productivity and client satisfaction. Fiber provides far more reliable data transmissions due to its resistance to interference, temperature fluctuations, and moisture. With a vendor who offers up-time guarantees for enterprise data clients, your business could achieve superior continuity.
Does Fiber or Copper Offer Lower Latency?
A network's latency is a measure of delay or the amount of time required to perform data transmission successfully. Latency is closely related to how end users perceive a connection's speed, but it's not the same as bandwidth. Factors which can create lag on a high-bandwidth network include connection type, distance, and demand for an Internet service provider's (ISP's) resources.
Fiber offers much lower latency than copper. To safeguard against other latency risks, avoid the shared consumer-grade Internet connectivity provided by many high-speed copper vendors.
Is My Equipment Compatible?
Your business may require some hardware and equipment upgrades to adjust your infrastructure for a fiber upgrade. This can increase the costs of fiber adoption beyond an initial installation. While an expert assessment is the only reliable way to determine equipment compatibility, you could face a need to perform upgrades to routers or wiring.
Does Copper Present Information Security Risks?
Copper can be susceptible to many information security and business continuity risks. Copper lines can be tapped or easily damaged by vandals. Copper signals can be scrambled through deliberate interference. Fiber doesn't radiate signals which can be tapped, cannot be scrambled, and is resistant to interference attempts.
Are You Ready For Fiber?
If you're researching options for high-bandwidth Internet connectivity, you're likely frustrated by the performance of your existing network. You may be limited by your current data connection's bandwidth capabilities, or your issues could be related to other factors such as latency or congested resources. Bandwidth, speed, performance, and reliability should all play a role in determining the right Internet service for your organization.
Chances are, your business could significantly benefit from an upgrade to fiber. But where do you start? Access expert insight into everything you need to know about buying data connectivity for your business in The Insider’s Guide to Fiber Internet Connectivity.