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Fiber Optic Cable vs Twisted Pair Cable vs Coaxial Cable

Updated on Dec 22, 2021 by
252.6k

Fiber optic cable, twisted pair cable and coaxial cable are three major types of network cables used in communication systems. Each of them is different and suitable for different applications. Read this article to explore the distinctive features of these three types of cables and the differences in their installation and application.

Fiber Optic Cable vs Twisted Pair Cable vs Coaxial Cable: What Are They?

Fiber Optic Cable

Fiber optic cablealso called optical fiber cable, is a type of Ethernet cable that consists of one or more optic fibers that are used to transmit data. Fiber optic cables are comprised of a core and cladding, where the core carries the light signal and the cladding acts as a protective glass layer surrounding the core. With the core having a higher refractive index than the cladding, total internal reflection occurs within the core. The transmission capacity of optical fiber cable is 26,000 times higher than that of twisted pair wire.

Fiber optic cable

Figure 1: Fiber optic cable

Fiber optic cable can be divided into single mode fiber (SMF) and multimode fiber (MMF). Single mode optical fiber has a small core, and only allows one mode of light to propagate at a time. While multimode fiber cable comes with a larger core and is designed to carry multiple light rays or modes at the same time. The common single mode fiber cable is OS2 cable, and multimode fiber cable is OM1, OM2, OM3, OM4, and OM5. And the transmission distance of single mode fiber cable is up to several kilometers, while the multimode fiber is up to 550 meters over 10G network. To know more details about fiber optic cable types, please read: Single Mode vs Multimode Fiber: What’s the Difference?

Twisted Pair Cable

Twisted pair cable is often used for telephone communications and most modern Ethernet networks. It is a kind of wiring in which two conductors of a single circuit are twisted together. A pair of wires forms a circuit that can transmit data. And the pairs are twisted together to protect against crosstalk, the noise generated by adjacent pairs. It is mainly used in telephony or modern Ethernet networks.

Shielded twisted pair

Figure 2: Shielded twisted pair

There are two types of twisted pair Ethernet cable: unshielded twisted pair (UTP) and shielded twisted pair (STP). The commonly used UTP copper cable is Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a and Cat7. The STP copper cable has a foil-wrapped outside on each pair of wires. The four pairs of wires then are wrapped in an overall metallic braid or foil, usually 150-ohm cable. STP cable has a better capacity for resisting noise than UTP cable, even if both of them can be used in 10GBASE-T. Know the difference between UTP and STP cable in 10GBASE-T network: UTP or STP Cables for 10GBASE-T Network?

Coaxial Cable

Coaxial cable, or coax cable, is designed to transmit high-frequency signals. It’s comprised of a round copper conductor and three layers of insulation and shielding which prevents crosstalk from motors, lighting and other sources of EMI. With the shield construction, fiber optic coaxial cable can support longer cable lengths between two devices.

Coaxial cable is widely used by cable operators, telcos, and Internet providers for data transmission, including voice and video systems. It offers reliable and accurate transmission, making it popular in both commercial and residential applications.

Coaxial cable

Figure 3: Coaxial cable

Commonly used fiber optic coaxial cable types are RG59 cable and RG6 cable, which are widely employed in residential applications. The name “RG” dates back to World War II and means “radio guide” which doesn’t signify anything today.

Coaxial Cable Types Description
RG59 RG59 is the basic coax cable. It’s thinner and has less shielding and best suited for cable TV transmissions and short cable runs.
RG6 RG6 coaxial cable is heavier gauge and has thicker insulation and better shielding. It is better for digital video signals and satellite TV.
 

Fiber Optic Cable vs Twisted Pair Cable vs Coaxial Cable: What’s the Difference?

Except for the construction differences between fiber optic cable, twisted pair cable and fiber optic coaxial cable, these three types of cables distinguish from each other in cable performance and capacity.

Speed, Bandwidth & Distance

Fiber optic cable, made of very thin, pliable tubes of glass or plastic, can deliver television, telephone, and data signals with much wider bandwidth, faster speed, and higher frequencies. On the other hand, coaxial cable and twisted pair cable are copper or copper-based wires surrounded by insulation with other materials. They are capable of transmitting the same types of signals through electrical signals.

Coaxial cable speed is determined by the type of cable and the technology employed for transmission. Factors such as the internet service provider or cable company can also affect coaxial cable speed. On average, coaxial cable transmission speeds range from 10 Mbps to over 100 Mbps.

The bandwidth of coaxial cables is approximately 80 times greater than that of twisted pair cables. They are extensively utilized in high-speed communication, including data centers with 10 Gigabit links, especially for short-distance connections under 10 meters. Coaxial cables are also widely employed in residential networks due to their cost-effectiveness.

Cable Type Maximum Cable Segment Speed Bandwidth Distance
Fiber optic cable 2km - 10km 10/100/1000 Mbps, 10/100/400/800 Gbps Hundreds of Gigahertz (GHz) Up to 80km
Twisted pair cable 100m Up to 10 Gbps

Cat5:100MHz

Cat5e:100MHz - 250MHz

Cat6:250MHz - 500MHz

Cat6a:500MHz - 1000MHz

Up to 100m
Coaxial cable 200m - 500m 10Mbps - 100 Mbps

RG6:1GHz - 2.3GHz

RG11:1GHz - 3GHz

Up to 500m

Cable Price

In general, fiber optic cable is more expensive than copper cable due to its high performance and capacity. However, in the cable market, the price of fiber optic cable, twisted pair cable and coaxial cable varies from different suppliers and vendors. Before buying these cables, making a careful comparison is important.

Cable Type Description Price*
Fiber optic cable 50ft LC to LC duplex 9/125 single mode fiber patch cable about $7-8
Twisted pair cable 50ft Cat6 24AWG snagless-booted UTP Ethernet network patch cable about $8-9
Coaxial cable 50ft RG6 digital shielded coaxial cable about $10-13

*Prices are from some online vendors’ product pages. They may change with time.

From the table, we can see fiber optic cable has the lowest price at the same cable length. However, the total installation of optical fiber cables also can be high because of other optical components used, especially optical transceivers. In addition, twisted pair wire with RJ45 connector costs less than coaxial cable which often comes with a BNC connector.

Installation

Despite the significant advantage of optical fiber cable in terms of bandwidth flexibility and reliability, it is not as widely adopted as coaxial cable or twisted pair cable. Fiber is delicate and thinner compared to twisted pair and coaxial cables, requiring careful installation, operation, and maintenance. In contrast to twisted pair cables, coaxial cables can cover longer distances. However, the presence of a dielectric insulator around the core copper in coaxial cables makes their installation and maintenance challenging.

Application

Fiber optic cables are not only installed to support long-distance connections between cities and countries, but in suburban neighborhoods for direct access like the FTTH, FTTP, FTTB, FTTC, etc., which is called “last mile” installations. And they are widely used in data centers where a large volume of data needs to be transmitted.

application

Figure 4: Application

Twisted pair cables are majorly used in telephone networks, data networks and cable shielding. Applications of coaxial cable include feedlines connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, computer network (Internet) connections, digital audio (S/PDIF), and distributing cable television signals. And they also can be used for high-definition media interface connections.

Summary

In conclusion, there are distinct differences between fiber optic cables, twisted pair cables, and coaxial cables. With rapid technological advancements, fiber optics appears to be the emerging trend to meet the growing market demands. However, the choice between twisted pair cables, coaxial cables, or fiber optic cables predominantly relies on the specific application requirements, considering factors such as cost, transmission distance, and performance.

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