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Is fibre optic cable more environmentally friendly than copper?

Written by Fri 12 Nov 2021

What should enterprise and DCs be doing to reduce energy and emissions through fibre use?

Let’s start by saying that in the near term, copper and fibre will continue to co-exist in the many electrical and communications applications they currently support. The price differential between the cheaper copper and the latest developments in Power over Ethernet (PoE) applications has extended the useful lifespan of the latest Cat 6a copper cabling infrastructure against any immediate replacement by fibre optic systems.

There is the obvious industrial manufacturing process of copper mining and the environmental damage that inflicts on the environment. This must be addressed if as an industry we are going to take steps towards net-zero carbon emissions and increase more sustainable manufacturing of infrastructure cabling systems.

Data centre and enterprise fibre networks are increasing geographically, with more fibre count dense cabling and are operating at increasingly higher speeds with Ethernet applications moving from 10G to 50/100/200 & 400G. Once installed fibre networks should not need to be replaced as they can be upgraded by changing the light source technology and not replacing the cable infrastructure. An example of this is One Mode technology which allows 10G-40G multi-mode fibre cable to increase to 100G using a single-mode signal. Unlike copper-based infrastructure which usually cannot support next-generation technology.

It is generally accepted that fibre cable systems use seven times less energy than copper cable. And higher density fibre distribution systems, smaller diameter cables and smaller connector solutions are in part answering the fibre challenge and extending application opportunities.

Service, scalability, and manageability of high-density fibre distribution systems is another key consideration to ensure system moves, adds and changes (MACs) are handled efficiently, whilst ‘rip and replace’ scenarios are avoided wherever possible.

The overall lifecycle costs of fibre against copper infrastructure are closing the gap between the two solutions in respect of cost, bandwidth needs, and other desired characteristics, and customers should begin to review their projects on a lifecycle basis rather than a product cost basis.

Bandwidth (information carrying capacity) and distance (reach) are two primary reasons for choosing fibre over copper. Fibre is considered more future proof than copper and will extend beyond today’s ethernet speeds of up to 400G to support the future Terabit roadmap.

There is increasing uptake and interest in the use of high core count ribbon cables, for example, 288F, 576F or 864F. These can reduce cable diameter, and therefore cable volume, as an alternative to using a make-up of multiple smaller fibre count cables, thus taking up less space in cable management systems and pathways. Such cables can be offered factory pre-terminated, in many situations this can reduce installation time by as much as 75 per cent compared to field terminated systems.

Written by Fri 12 Nov 2021


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