Fiber is often touted as being much faster than copper, but what exactly does that mean? The main difference between these two types of cable is that one conducts electricity and the other transmits light. The signal in a fiber optic cable travels at the speed light travels through glass, which is approximately two-thirds the speed of light.

But guess what? So does the speed of electricity through an unshielded twisted pair cable, i.e. the traditional phone cable. Cable television’s coax type is even faster, at about nine-tenths the speed of light.

So how is it that fiber is up to a thousand times faster than copper? It’s the bandwidth that light provides that is the key. Transmitting light in the form of laser has much greater capacity. It will handle data transfers of at least 10 Gbps and is theoretically unlimited as it can use continually updated technologies.

Also, fiber can transmit light a hundred times farther as it is not affected by signal degradation like the resistance electricity meets in copper wire. Unlike copper cabling, electrical interference will not affect the light signals travelling through the fiber so it can be run anywhere. No electricity also means there is no danger of sparks or electrical shocks.

However, fiber is relatively expensive and must be handled carefully. The correct bend radius must be maintained by using the proper cable storage and management products.

The fiber cable has a core that contains one or more strands of fiber. This is the part that actually transmits the data. As plastic is more flexible and pliable than glass, it is ideal for being put into a cable. It is also cheaper to manufacture but it does not transmit light as well.

The core diameter is extremely small, measured in microns and is clad in a special coating that has a very low index of refraction so that it reflects the light back into the fiber along the entire length of cable.

Outside the core is the buffer, which is made of layers of plastic. This protects the core and also strengthens the cable itself. Strengthening members are added to the cable and are made of very strong materials such as fiberglass, steel, or Kevlar.

Finally, the outer covering or cable jacket is the protective tubing usually made of durable polyethylene that houses the entire bundle of components.

Fiber Types

There are two main types: single-mode carries one path of laser light and is used for distances more than three hundred meters. It is expensive but very effective.

Multi-mode fiber has multiple strands that carry several paths and are designed to work with LED and vertical-cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL). This type is used over shorter distances, as there is a chance of some distortion, which will affect how much data is transmitted.

Fiber is very good at withstanding harsh environments and wide temperature ranges. Loose tube cables are especially effective in these situations as the strands of fiber are able to flex within their plastic housing. These are used outdoors and also when running from outside to indoors.

Indoor fiber cables are usually of the tight-buffered type and are ideal for network backbones. These have buffers to protect each strand of fiber making them more flexible and easier to work with. They are also a smaller diameter than the loose tube kind.