What is the difference between ethernet over fibre and ethernet over copper for your business connection?

September 17th, 2017 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. Aaron O'Keeffe

From startups to enterprise corporations, reliable and speedy internet is essential for the modern company. However, with Australia’s sometimes confusing telecommunications landscape, it can be difficult to know which ethernet service is right for you. In this in-depth guide, we unravel the differences between fibre optic and copper ethernet, and look at how you can better prepare your business for a reliable telecommunications strategy.

Location

The starting point for any business location is knowing what’s actually available in your area. As ethernet over fibre is not yet ubiquitous, you first need to discover what your options are. Questions to ask include:

  • Who are the main providers of commercial internet?
  • What are the costs and contract options?
  • Are there any planned upgrades in the near future?

By understanding the current technological landscape in your area, and then researching the roadmap for future developments, you can better plan to scale your future costs, and plan for improved speeds in the future.

Best bandwidth availability over distance?

Winner: Fibre

Copper’s original design was for the transmission of voice calls in a period where the internet had yet to be imagined, yet alone realised. The bandwidth potential of copper is therefore limited compared to a fibre optic connection.

Distance also affects copper. For short distances (less than 100 metres), Ethernet Over Copper can potentially achieve a small percentage of what is capable for Ethernet Over Fibre. For a circuit that exceeds 4.5 kilometres (that’s including the distances around the office and to the exchange / MDF) Ethernet Over Copper is theoretically not available. However, in real world application, you’ll likely run into problems at even shorter distances.

Better signal through fibre

Fibre does not suffer from the same signal degradation as copper. Blackbox Technology reports that fibre connections that can work at up to 40 kilometres. While few businesses require that distance, it does speak to the carrying capacity of fibre when pitted against older technologies.

For example: Signal degradation over distance is one of the primary complaints of the mixed use technology deployed over Australia’s nbn™. Over 90% of the network (using fibre) is operating at high speed, only to see those speeds sometimes throttled by copper at the last stretch.

Best upload and download speed?

Winner: Fibre

Depending on your location and budget, fibre can offer data transmission rates of up to 1 gigabyte per second. With copper, you are limited quite severely by distance and technology on each end of the connection.

Even under the best circumstances, Ethernet Over Copper is only a fraction of the capacity of fibre. You would need both short distances and high end technology in order to operate business quality Ethernet Over Copper. And even then, you’re still operating at mere fractions of the download and upload speeds of fibre.

Lowest latency?

Winner: Draw

True Ethernet Over Copper can offer latency comparable to fibre. In some cases, carriers use DSL to bond their EoC circuits, which will degrade latency considerably. However, in a true measurement of EoC and EoF, latency is comparable.

Best built-in redundancy?

Winner: Copper

Because Ethernet Over Copper uses twisted pairs of copper wire, there is some potential for built in redundancy. If one leg of a single twisted pair fails, the line will go down. Aussie Broadband can offer multiple pairs to reduce the risk.

In both cases, businesses should employ a thorough Disaster Recovery plan with fallbacks in place to recover business continuity in the event of an outage.

Strongest environmental resilience?

Winner: Fibre

Environmental and weather conditions are one of the biggest impacts to loss of telecommunications service, particularly in the harsh and unpredictable Australian climate.

How the environment affects telecommunications is a multifaceted consideration. Consider:

  • Lines and hardware knocked out from landslides, falling trees etc
  • Electromagnetic damage from lightning strikes
  • Rats and other rodents chewing through wires
  • Soil and moisture degrading hardware
  • Tree root growth damaging lines etc.

FIbre is far more resilient than copper in almost all of the circumstances:

  • Fibre cores are made of insulating glass, making them immune to electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference
  • Fibre is more resilient to temperature change
  • Fibre can be submerged in water.

So, when it comes to a head to head between Ethernet Over Copper and Ethernet Over Fibre, the point goes to fibre.

Scalability

Winner: Fibre

Scalability represents the ability to grow your throughput with relative ease and little cost. It’s particularly useful to startups who want to start lean and only increase expenses as the business grows, but it’s also useful for enterprise organisations that have staff or data fluctuations on seasonal timetables.

In the head to head race, fibre is a highly scalable transport technology. Compared to Ethernet Over Copper, the capacity to increase or decrease bandwidth is simpler, more reliable, and cost effective.

Future proofed?

Winner: Fibre

We still haven’t tapped the full potential of fibre optic cable. With improved technology on either end of the transmission line, we’ll see even greater speeds achieved in the future.

The same can’t be said for copper. Barring some unforeseen breakthrough in the realm of physics, improvements to copper will be incremental, and unlikely to scale to the throughput of fibre’s potential.

The overall design of fibre optic cabling is also better for implementation. Fibre is both lightweight and thin, yet more durable than copper in most cases.

To get better performing Ethernet Over Copper, you have to deploy higher grade cable with larger diameters, more weight and requiring more precious space in your wall cavities and ducts. With fibre there is almost no change in diameter or weight.

Ease of termination

Winner: Copper

Copper wires are, at this point in time, still easier to terminate than fibre. There are tools that make fibre termination easy, like:

  • Quick fusion splicers
  • Auto-alignment pins
  • Pigtails and pre-terminated cable.

These all help to make field termination easy for fibre optics. However in the current landscape, copper is still easier to terminate in the field.

Costs

Winner: Draw

Comparing the cost of copper and fibre ethernet is tricky. A length of copper is cheaper than a length of fibre, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

For starters, fibre costs have been steadily decreasing over the last two decades. It’s also accepted that fibre costs a business less to maintain, experiences less downtime, has a longer lifecycle (both the cable and hardware endpoints) and requires less hardware to maximise throughout.

As highlighted above, advancements in termination fieldwork are also reducing the cost of fibre installation.

Analysis of Return on Investment will generally err towards fibre installations for small, medium and enterprise level organisations. However, there are cases where, based on location and business need, copper can be a cost effective solution.

Affordability

Winner: Draw

Affordability between Ethernet Over Copper and Ethernet Over Fibre is really a nexus of costs, location, and several other factors. Under perfect, theoretical conditions, copper might be a better option for metro-located small and medium businesses. For enterprise level organisations, it’s tough to see copper providing the kind of reliability that fibre offers.

Similarly, fibre is better for rural businesses (providing you can get it in your area), as there’s no signal degradation over distance like copper. However, it’s dependant on what you can get, how much it costs to get it, and what you’ll get for your budget.

So – who’s the winner overall?

Against most criteria, Ethernet Over Fibre offers the better choice for business internet. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as copper is an aging technology. But it’s important to note that there are cases where Ethernet Over Copper is more effective for certain businesses, particularly in the short term.

However, as the nbn™ continues to roll out across Australia, we’ll see more businesses making the switch to fibre optic ethernet.

To speak with one of our expert team about
which connection is best for you, contact us today.

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About the author

Aaron O'Keeffe

Aaron O'Keeffe

Aaron works from an office in the tropical Northern Territory, inciting intense jealousy from his Victorian workmates during winter. He’s an expert in IT solutions from the ground up. Aaron is National Sales Manager of Aussie Broadband, which specialises in bespoke telco solutions for corporate and government customers.