Optical fiber is the most revolutionary technology in networking right now. Fiber-optic cables have higher bandwidth than any other data transfer medium. Fiber is also more resilient and durable and requires less maintenance even when used for submarine communications.
Still, the most remarkable property of fiber optic cables is their energy efficiency. According to European Commission, fiber networks operating at 50 Mbps emit 1.7 tons of carbon per capita per year compared to 2.7 tons emitted by DOCSIS networks. Other networks such as DSL have even higher emissions. The difference also increases as the network speed increases, making fiber considerably more efficient at high data rates in the middle mile.
This article explores the workings of copper and fiber-optic cables in the context of energy efficiency. We also discuss why you should choose a fiber-powered ISP such as Grande Communications instead of costly FTTP. Let’s get started.
The Inefficiency of Copper Cables
Copper cables have been the go-to medium for communication since the beginning of networking. Copper has a resistivity of 1.68 ohm-m which is the second lowest at room temperature among all metals. Low resistivity means it wastes less energy as heat. Silver is more conductive with a resistivity of 1.59 but it’s too costly. Copper is also strong, erosion resistant, and malleable, making it ideal for data cables.
Resistance of Copper Cables
Resistance is a measure of how much a wire “resists” the flow of electric charge. High resistance emits heat, so more power is needed to transmit electrical signals.
The resistance of a cable depends on the resistivity of the material, the thickness and length of the cable, and some other factors. Long, thin cables have high resistance and short, thick cables have low resistance.
Resistance of a cable lowers the signal strength as it travels through the cable. For transmissions over a long distance, you either need a thick cable, a high-power transmitter, or both. Almost all the energy used to ensure a strong signal at the receiver’s end is lost as heat due to resistance.
Limitations of Copper Cables
Copper cables only transmit a certain amount of data at a decent efficiency. For higher bandwidths, thicker or multiple copper cables need to be used.
The signals your router sends to the ISP’s network are not strong enough to travel all the way to the other side of the world. The signals are amplified throughout their ten-thousand-mile journey just to account for the loss due to resistance.
Copper cables can only be of so much thickness and amplifiers can only supply so much power. Higher bandwidth requires more and more power leading to more losses.
At the end of the day, there’s a tradeoff between power consumption and bandwidth. Any increase in bandwidth requires an increase in energy. The only other way to increase bandwidth is to install thicker cables, but cable production also takes energy. Energy losses and bandwidth limits are inherent to copper cables.
How Fiber-Optic Cables Conserve Energy
How Fiber-Optic Cables Work
Fiber-optic cables have optical fibers made of glass or polymer inside them. These fibers are completely transparent. Information is sent from one end to the other via infrared (IR) light that travels through the optical fibers.
The Absorption and Scattering in Optical Fibers
In optical fibers, the equivalent of resistance is absorption and scattering. No material is perfectly transparent. Some of the signals get absorbed or scattered by the otherwise transparent material as it travels through the fiber.
The resulting data loss depends on the length of the fiber (just like in coaxial cables) and is measured in decibels. It also does not depend on its thickness. Optical fibers don’t need to get thicker to allow for higher data rates.
The Bandwidth of Optical Fibers
The punchline is that absorption and scattering in fiber-optic cables do not depend on signal strength or data rate. It depends on the fiber material and the frequency. Low frequencies of light experience less scattering, which is why infrared light is used instead of visible light.
The signal loss is the same no matter how much data is passing through. In fact, there are no theoretical limits to the bandwidth of optical fibers. Fiber-optic cables today can transmit at speeds of up to 100 Gbps. However, speeds up to 1.84 terabits per second have been demonstrated in the lab. That’s 1,840,000 Gigabits or 230,000 Gigabytes per second (one byte is equal to eight bits).
Should You Get Fiber to the Premises?
Fiber allows high data rates without considerably increasing power requirements, which is why it’s being used for middle-mile communications. ISPs are upgrading their backbone infrastructure by replacing coaxial cables with fiber, increasing speed and efficiency at the same time.
Still, the limitation of copper is not significant for last-mile communications where data rates and distance aren’t high. Fiber-to-the-premises is a promising technology for the future, but most homes don’t need it right now.
The optical way to economical and energy-efficient internet right now is to choose an ISP that uses a fiber-powered network. For instance, Grande Internet has been updating its network to provide higher speeds at lower costs in Texas – head out to www.buytvinternetphone.com/grande/internet to know more about it.
These types of connections are the best way to support an energy-efficient internet right now.
Copper cables waste increasing more power at higher data rates. However, losses in optical fibers do not depend on the bandwidth, making fiber far more efficient at high speeds. Choosing a connection powered by a fiber-rich network such as Grande Internet is the most economical way to support energy-efficient internet right now.