If you’re looking at high-speed internet options and find that fiber optic cable is available in your area, you may not understand the differences. fiber optic cablingAfter all, the cables look similar, and they install similarly from the lay-person’s perspective. Generally, that is where the similarities end.
Inside the Cable
Standard cable is known as coaxial cable. If you looked inside, you will find a central, copper core surrounded by insulation wrapped in twisted copper or metal wires before being covered in a plastic jacket. This is the same cable that comes into your house if you have cable television. It’s easy to run and shorten and connect to outlets and televisions. The cable is available in many different lengths and is nearly ubiquitous…plenty of homes have at least one coaxial cable sitting around.
Fiber optic cable, on the other hand, is built a bit differently, and high density fiber optic cables are very complex inside and can transmit a lot of data. High density fiber optic cables won’t come into your home, but if you have fiber optic internet, your home will connect to one of these cables. Fortunately, they work on the same principle…high density just has more protected cables inside, like lanes in a freeway.
The central core of a fiber optic cable is made of tiny strands of glass or plastic known as optical fibers. A single cable can have a few strands or as many as several hundred. Directly coating the strands is something known as cladding…which directs the signal down the strand to increase the distance of cabling that can be used before a repeater (a device that receives the signal on one end and retransmits it on the other to prevent data loss) is required. Then, just like coaxial cable, it contains insulation and a protective jacket.
The difference between these two cables is that one transmits an electromagnetic signal (coaxial) and one transmits light (generally LEDs or lasers).
What Does This Mean for the Consumer?
While standard, coaxial cable internet is available in nearly every urban and suburban area, fiber optics are just rolling out. It can be difficult to find a fiber optic internet provider if your city’s infrastructure or local cable provider hasn’t invested to have fiber optic cabling run to near your house.
Because fiber optics requires less repeaters and other equipment, and cost less to maintain, fiber optic cabling tends to cost less to the consumer than traditional cable internet does. Fiber optics are also much faster than traditional high speed internet because the optical threads have the capacity for greater bandwidth, and fiber optic cable weighs less because it requires less insulation and jacketing.
You can also feel good that fiber optics are more eco-friendly than traditional coaxial cables. Not only does it generate less heat at data centers to use fiber optic cable, but fiber optic cables require less insulation and jacketing, which often involve heavy metals, which can leach into the environment.
Fiber optics are also more secure than traditional coaxial cables. It’s more difficult to tap fiber optic cables because it requires special tools and receivers. Attempting to tap into the system is more likely to just disrupt the system, providing no benefit. Also important to note that information transmitted via pulses of light do not transmit electricity, which makes it harder to “listen” and intercept data from fiber optic cabling systems.