Why is fibre optic technology 'faster' than copper?

Why does information travel 'faster' down fibre optic cable than copper wire?

fiber optic technology uses pulses of light to carry data along strands of glass or plastic.When we're talking about 'speed' were actually talking about throughput (or capacity) — the amount of data you can transfer per unit time, says Associate Professor Robert Malaney from the University of New South Wales, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.

And fibre optics can definitely transfer more data at higher throughput over longer distances than copper wire. For example, a local area network using modern copper lines can carry 3000 telephone calls all at once, while a similar system using fibre optics can carry over 31,000.

Traditional copper wires transmit electrical currents, while fibre optic technology sends pulses of light generated by a light emitting diode or laser along optical fibres.

"With fibre optics, a transmitter converts electronic information into pulses of light — a pulse equates to a one, while no pulse is zero. When the signal reaches the other end, an optical receiver converts the light signal back into electronic information," explains Malaney.

The throughput of the data is determined by the frequency range that a cable will carry — the higher the frequency range, the greater the bandwidth and the more data that can be put through.

And this is the key difference — fibre optic cables have much higher bandwidths than copper cables.

"Optical fibre can carry much higher frequency ranges while copper wire attenuates or loses signal strength at higher frequencies," says Malaney.

Also, fibre optic technology is far less susceptible to noise and electromagnetic interference than electricity along a copper wire.


"You can send the signal for over 200 kilometres without any real loss of quality while a copper cable signal suffers a lot of degradation over that distance," says Malaney.

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