Fiber Optic vs. Copper Cable

Fiber Optic vs Copper Cable

Fiber optic vs copper cable is a common consideration when creating cabling infrastructure for new deployments or upgrades. Both types of cable offer superior data transmission and support gigabit Ethernet. The decision on which one to use may depend on your current network, your future networking needs and your particular application, including bandwidth, distances, environment, cost, and more. In some cases, the advantages of copper cable may be greater; in other situations, the advantages of fiber optic cable win out.

To help you decide whether fiber optic vs copper cable is right for your network, take a look at the following:


Fiber has proven performance at rates up to 10 Gbps and greater. By comparison, the maximum bandwidth of copper cable is is up to 10 Gbps. Fiber optic cable has the added benefit of being future-proof as network speeds and requirements increase.

Attenuation and Distance

Because the fiber optic signal is made of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission. This allows data to move at higher speeds and for greater distances. Fiber distances can range from 300 meters to 40 kilometers, depending on the type of fiber cable, wavelength and network. Copper is limited to 100 meters.


Fiber optic cable offers greater data security than copper. Fiber does not radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.

Immunity and Reliability

Fiber is immune to electromagnetic interference, radio-frequency interference, crosstalk, impedance problems and more. While unshielded copper has issues with interference, shielded copper such as Cat5e, Cat6 and Cat7 does not. 


Fiber is lightweight, thin and more durable than copper cable and has pulling specifications up to 10 times greater than copper. Fiber takes up much less space in cabling ducts, and its small size makes it easier to handle. It is, however, more brittle than copper. Although fiber is still more difficult to terminate than copper is, advancements in connectors are making termination easier. In addition, fiber is easier to test than copper cable.


The proliferation and lower costs of media converters are making copper to fiber migration easy. The converters provide seamless links and enable the use of existing hardware. Fiber can be incorporated into networks in planned upgrades.


Fiber optic cable often has a higher initial cost but typically costs less to maintain, has much less downtime and requires less networking hardware. Fiber also eliminates the need to re-cable for higher network performance. Copper often comes at a lower up-front cost. Depending on your application, it may offer lower overall cost of ownership as well.

Which is better, copper or fiber?

While it might seem like there are fewer advantages of copper cable, it is the preferred choice for certain deployments. See below for common applications of fiber optic vs copper cable.
Common applications for fiber optic cable

  • Backbone, inter- and intra-building and campus connectivity
  • Large, bandwidth-consuming data files over long distances
  • Immunity to electrical interference

Common applications for copper cable

  • Structured cabling systems and networks within a building
  • Data center to the desktop

Need help deciding whether the advantages of fiber optic cable make it the right choice for you? Contact Black Box for expert advice on your cabling infrastructure.

To shop our entire selection of fiber optic and copper cables, visit our cables page.

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