Copper cabling to remain structured cabling market leader

Jan. 1, 2010
Recently it has been a popular notion that fiber cabling would overtake copper cabling or at least make an inroad into the structured cabling systems market.

Recently it has been a popular notion that fiber cabling would overtake copper cabling or at least make an inroad into the structured cabling systems market. At one point in time, fiber-to-the-desk was looked upon as the Holy Grail for fiber cabling. Even we had a preconceived idea that fiber cabling would make an inroad for displacing copper cabling systems.

In the early days of the structured cabling systems market, support of 1-Mbit/sec transmission was required. Early unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) copper cabling satisfied this requirement. As speed increased to 10 then 100 Mbits/sec, then to 1 Gbit/sec, UTP copper cabling kept pace with newer designs.

Currently at 10 Gbits/sec, the push is on to have UTP copper cabling support this throughput over 100 meters. Many cable manufacturers claim to have Category 6A UTP cables that satisfy the TIA requirements for supporting 10-Gbit/sec transmission over 100 meters. Beyond this looms 40 and 100 Gbits/sec, in which the TIA standards are expected to evolve with fiber cabling as the primary media for higher speeds.

It appears as if UTP copper cabling has finally succumbed to fiber cabling. It is very easy to draw the conclusion that fiber cabling will be thrust into the forefront at these ultra-high speeds. We concur with this and, in addition, still have our reservations about UTP copper cabling’s support of 10-Gbit/sec transmission over extended distances—as tweaking of compensation electronics and increased complexities in testing may forfeit its position to fiber cabling, especially for futureproofing the cabling installation.

The fiber-versus-copper battle for structured cabling systems is on. In our recent analysis of this battle we have come to the conclusion that copper cabling will continue to dominate in the structured cabling systems market. We undertook an extensive analysis, examining and forecasting the use of fiber and copper cabling in the major structured cabling systems applications, such as local area networks, data centers, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and others.

Our underlying finding was that copper cabling, which accounted for 76.8 percent of the total market in 2009, would account for 79.1 percent of the total market in 2014. Whereas fiber cabling will continue to make inroads into the data center cabling market, copper cabling will also be used extensively in future VoIP systems. Other factors contribute to our overall analysis, but these are two of the primary drivers for the future structured cabling systems market.

The difference lies in the limited distances found in data centers requiring fiber cable lengths, while the VoIP systems will require long distance, separate, horizontal cabling between telecommunications rooms and the VoIP telephones to maintain voice quality. The VoIP cabling application is reminiscent of copper cable’s growth in the early LAN market, when copper cabling was strung between the telecommunications rooms and each desktop computer.

Our analysis indicates that fiber cabling will increasingly be used in data center applications and remain the backbone mainstay for the enterprise’s core network. At the same time, copper cabling will continue to be the dominant cabling used in LAN cabling applications.

More importantly, in the future, VoIP implementation will rely on an abundance of copper cabling. The imbalance of the limited distance requirements in data center fiber applications is more than offset by the longer distance requirements for VoIP copper cabling, resulting in copper’s continued dominance of the market.

Editor’s Note: This article summarizes research findings in FTM Consulting’s study “Fiber vs. Copper: Battle for the Cabling Systems Market.”

Frank Murawski is president of FTM Consulting Inc. (

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