Difference Between Copper Cable and Fiber Optic Cable

When building a network, there are many factors that need to be considered like cost, bandwidth, distance, speed, and reliability.

If you are struggling to decide the best option for your needs, we are here to offer some valuable insight and information.

The main difference between copper cable and fiber optic cable is in how they transmit a signal and in what they are made of.

Copper cable is made from copper wire and sends a signal using electrical pulses while fiber optic cable is composed of single or multiple strands of glass fiber and sends a signal using light pulses.

Below is a chart that provides a quick overview of the difference between copper cable and fiber optic cable, followed by a look at the advantages, disadvantages, and applications of each.


Fiber Optic Cable Copper Cable
How it Works Signal transmission attained via light pulses Data transmission attained via electrical pulses
Primary Uses Computer networks, internet applications, telecommunications, security systems, automotive industry applications, medical applications Telecommunications, automotive industry applications, electrical supply
Cost More expensive Less expensive
Transmission Speed Faster Slower
Transmission Range Up to 100 kilometers Up to 100 meters
Attenuation Less than copper cable Greater than copper cable
Reliability More reliable Less reliable
Bandwidth Up to 60 Tbps Up to 10 Gbps
Lifespan 30-50 years 5 years
Power Consumption Approx. 2W per user Approx 10W per user
Materials Made With Glass fibers Copper wire

Advantages of Fiber Optic Cable

Fiber optic cable offers many advantages to businesses and sites that use it in their networks and structured wiring solutions.

Here are the advantages of fiber optic cable:

  • Durability: Fiber optic cables are quite durable and will last for longer periods of time after they are installed.
  • Bandwidth: These cables allow for the transmission of large amounts of data.
  • Security: Fiber optics allows for secured data transmission
  • Reduced interference: Fiber optic cables are more resistant to electromagnetic interference.
  • Conservation of space: Because they have a small, thin diameter, these cables are lighter and take up less space.
  • Reduced power loss: Optical fiber has lower power loss which means that it can accommodate longer transmission distances.
  • Future proof: As bandwidth needs increase, fiber optic cabling will allow you to adapt and grow without having to replace or upgrade the cabling.

Disadvantages of Fiber Optic Cable

Despite the many advantages of fiber optic cable, there are a few disadvantages.

Disadvantages of fiber optic cable include:

  • Expensive installation: These types of cables require specialists for installation. Because of this, installation is more expensive than with metal cables.
  • Not overly flexible: If fiber optic cables are bent too much, they will break. Too many curves in the installation can be problematic.
  • Susceptible to damage: Because they are smaller and thinner, fiber optic cables are susceptible to damage during install or on-site construction. More care needs to be taken to protect them when compared to copper cables.

Fiber Optic Cable Applications

Because of their security, transmission speeds, durability, and compact nature, fiber optic cables have a wide range of uses and applications.

Here’s a look at some of the most common fiber optic cable applications:

  • Internet: Because fiber optic cables can carry large amounts of data, for great distances, with high speeds, they are widely used in internet cables.
  • Computer networks: Fiber optics are often used within computer networks to connect computers in a single building or nearby buildings. Users experience faster transfer times when compared to metal cabling.
  • Telecommunications: When used in telecommunications, these cables allow for clearer communications both locally and across long distances.
  • Security systems: Because of data transmission speed and bandwidth, you will often see fiber optic cables used in security systems and surveillance camera setups.
  • Medical applications: Fiber optics are used in non-intrusive surgery methods, reducing the number and the size of incisions. These cables are also used in microscopy and biomedical research.
  • Cable television: These cables are used to transmit a high-definition signal because of their excellent bandwidth and speed.
  • Automotive industry: Fiber optic cables are widely used in lighting and safety features found in modern vehicles. They provide superior light but also can transmit a signal through the vehicle quickly making them a go-to for safety applications like airbags, automatic emergency braking systems, and traction control.
  • Military and intelligence applications: These fields require high levels of security. The data security provided by fiber optic cables makes them an ideal choice for this industry.

Advantages of Copper Cable

Copper cables have been in use for a long time and when looking at the advantages they provide, it isn’t hard to see why.

Advantages of copper cables include:

  • Excellent electrical conductivity: Copper is second only to silver in its ability to conduct electricity. This means that it can be used with less insulation, providing greater flexibility in setup and installation.
  • Availability: Copper cable is quite common and is widely available.
  • Compatibility: Copper cables are used with many electronic devices making them a very compatible cable option.
  • Affordability: They are cheaper to install and have low maintenance costs.
  • Flexible: Copper cables can be bent without damage meaning they can be shaped and bent around corners during installation to better accommodate the space.

Disadvantages of Copper Cable

While copper cables have been a tried and true solution for many, many years, they are not without their drawbacks.

Here are the primary disadvantages of copper cable:

  • Corrosion: Copper cables are susceptible to oxidation which leads to corrosion. This means that copper cables have a shorter lifespan compared to fiber optic cables.
  • Shock hazard: These cables transmit an electrical current which makes it a potential shock hazard. This can also increase the risk of sparks and fire.
  • Electromagnetic interference: Copper cables are susceptible to electromagnetic interference which means that some connected devices may not work properly.
  • Greater power consumption: When compared to fiber optic cables, copper cables consume more power and this is problematic when looking for energy-efficient and cost-effective cabling solutions.
  • Slower speeds, low bandwidth: Copper cables are not able to transmit data at the same speed as fiber optic cables and they are unable to handle the same bandwidth.
  • Less reliable: Because of some of the issues listed above, like interference, troubles with electrical current, and low bandwidth, these cables are often considered less reliable.

Copper Cable Applications

Despite being slightly less functional than fiber optic cables, the advantages of copper cables make them an excellent choice in a number of applications.

Here are the most common applications of copper cable:

  • Electrical supply: Because of its incredible conductivity, copper cables and copper wires are often used to supply electricity to buildings and electrical appliances.
  • Automotive industry: Because copper cables can be bent and shaped to fit into a particular space, they are commonly used in vehicles. They also have a high melting point which makes them valuable in this application.
  • Telecommunications: The use of copper cables in telecommunications used to be widespread. They could be found in telephone wires and telephone poles. While fiber optic cables have taken over much of this space, copper cables are still used in some applications.


On the surface, the difference between copper cable and fiber optic cable seems minimal, but the deeper you look, the greater the differences become.

It is clear that while copper cable has its uses and functionality, fiber optic cable is the right choice for the vast majority of installations.

While more expensive to install, fiber optic cable will pay for itself in reliability, scalability, and transmissibility. As your bandwidth needs increase, fiber optic cables can accommodate you without the need for a costly upgrade.

To find out more about fiber optic solutions and how we can meet your cabling needs, contact us today!