The difference between copper and fibre connectivity

You may have seen billboards advertising high-speed fibre connectivity, or heard the Government’s plans to transition the UK’s entire internet infrastructure to fibre-based technology by 2025, but what does that actually mean?

In this blog, we’ll go through the technology that you’re probably using to read this blog right now, and the fibre technology that will future-proof businesses for years to come. So, first let’s discuss the most common form of connectivity around, copper.

Copper Broadband

As you may know, copper is an excellent conductor of electricity, which makes it a great material to use for cables that transmit data over long distances. In fact, copper cables have been used for over a century to transmit information, starting with Bell Telecom’s first phone call back in the late 1800s.

There were some trials with aluminium cabling in the 70’s, but signal degradation was too high to launch nationwide. So, after a lot of development and tweaking, the UK’s first ‘Integrated Services Digital Network’ was launched in 1985, taking the responsibilities of the ‘landline’ network from the older T1 and E1 analogue networks.

The ISDN served us well for over three decades, handling the millions of voice calls made across the UK daily, and was even upgraded to allow for internet traffic using dial-up modems, in the early years of the internet.

However, as internet adoption has increased, and the amount of data we now consume daily has exploded, the ISDN network is no longer fit for purpose.

Currently, the network can only handle speeds up to 18Mbps, which when you think about it, is nowhere near fast enough for all the video streaming, gaming, and video calls that families now require their internet to handle.

And for businesses, the needs are even greater, which means the UK needed a better form of connectivity… Fibre!

Why copper connections are being phased out:
  • Copper can’t handle the volume of data being sent
  • Speeds are capped at a miniscule 18 Mbps
  • Maintenance is becoming more expensive as engineers retire and parts get rarer
  • There’s no future ‘expandability’
  • Copper degrades over time leading to more outages

That’s exactly why the Government has set the goal of moving the entire country to fibre-based connection by 2025, which is often referred to as ‘The 2025 switch off’ – and all businesses will need to move to a fibre connection before the end of 2025, or risk losing connection with their customers and cloud services!

Fibre Broadband

The main difference between copper and fibre is how the information travels. Instead of transmitting the data as pulses of electricity, fibre connections use light pulses thousands of times a second to send your data from A to B.

And because light travels … well at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second!), those 1s and 0s get to their destination far quicker than via a copper connection, which means faster speeds and higher bandwidth for more data traffic at any given moment.

While the glass fibres are individually fragile, once wrapped and sheathed, the cables are actually more resilient than copper and have less chance of degrading over the years, which means a more reliable connection and lower costs, as ISPs don’t have to spend as much maintaining the network infrastructure.

However, there are two distinct types of fibre, and the difference could make all the difference in terms of finding a cost-effective connection to support your business growth…

Why choose Full Fibre?
  • Speeds up to 1Gbps ensure businesses have the bandwidth they need and can scale as they grow
  • Ideal for hybrid and remote working strategies
  • Ensure fast access to files and crystal clear communications
  • Leverage real-time analytics and futuristic

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)

FTTP is the crown jewel in Fibre connectivity, with an entirely fibre connection between your business premises and the main exchange. this offers eye-wateringly fast speeds up to 1Gbps, which is a lot of bandwidth, even for larger Enterprise operations!

The reduction in latency is another great feature of fibre. Latency basically speaks to the time delay (usually measures in milliseconds) between information being sent and received.

Reducing latency means clearer video calls with no awkward pauses (remember old satellite interviews on the news?), as well as real-time data analytics and an all-around more efficient network that is less ‘buggy’.

However, the roll-out of fibre throughout the country is still ongoing, and FTTP is only availably to about 6 million premises at the time of writing. So, what are forward-thinking businesses to do? That’s where FTTC comes in…

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

Similar to FTTP, FTTC connections use a fibre connection between the main exchange and the green cabinet at the end of your lane, but then a copper connection between the cabinet and your site.

Speeds are a bit more limited than with FTTP, maxing out at 76Mbps, or even lower depending on the distance between your site and the closest green cabinet. But those speeds are still great for most use-cases, depending on the size of the business.

What’s more, the expected date to complete the fibre rollout across the UK seems to be slipping past the 2025 deadline, meaning some areas won’t enjoy a true Fibre experience for years to come.

Thankfully, other blends of copper and fibre technology, such as SoGEA, are helping areas towards the end of Openreach’s deployment schedule to take advantage of speeds that are more comparable to modern usage.

Looking at the silver lining here, the price of FTTC (and SoGEA) is significantly lower than FTTP, which makes it perfect for SMBs that need a reliable connection for e-commerce payments and the occasional video call.

Which is right for me?

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