Cable capers

Copper has held the status quo position for a long time when it comes to cabling. However, over the last few years fibre has been making a serious challenge to its dominance.

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By  Sean Robson Published  November 9, 2008

Copper has held the status quo position for a long time when it comes to cabling. However, over the last few years fibre has been making a serious challenge to its dominance. NME looks at what the future holds for these two contenders.

Cabling forms the backbone of IT infrastructure the world over and it is no different in the Middle East. Traditionally, copper has been the medium of choice but with the advent of fibre and its relative advantages trends have been changing. These changes however have not been as dramatic nor as widespread as many had predicted early on.

"Cabling is a crucial element in everything we do at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). Cabling projects are always ongoing due to the fact that we are experiencing great growth and expansion," Mohammed Sabunchi, director of IT infrastructure at DIFC.

Many elements, such as the installation time, and the apps that will run on it, need to be considered when making cable decisions.

Many regional organisations are adopting a ‘horses for courses' approach when it comes to their cabling needs.

"Copper is still mostly used for telephones and PCs in the office environment. Where we see fibre being used more often is in datacentres and bigger computer rooms. This is because of the amount of data that needs to flow in that environment. If I am at the PC and just need to access e-mail then I do not need fibre. In the case of the datacentre though and all the PCs converging there, that justifies the use of fibre," says Eugene Botes, technical director MEA and India, at cabling major R&M.

Tarek Helmy, regional director for the Gulf and Middle East, Nexans cabling solutions says that while fibre has made inroad into the market copper remains a popular choice amongst users.

"There has not been any serious changes during the past few years, and possibly still may not be any in the coming years as we strongly believe that copper still has a long life in cabling industry," Helmy says.

This approach is substantiated by end-users across the region, who determine their requirements first before going ahead with the installation. "We use both. In a place like the DIFC where we have a huge volume of operations, development and infrastructure, ultimately using both sets of solutions is highly required," says Sabunchi.

For Sabunchi, the main factor for consideration when choosing the type of cabling to be used was the traffic performance as well as the physical restrictions and management involved.

"We use both mediums extensively. As a best practice for anything requiring over 90 metres of length we use fibre. We also use fibre between two floors even if it is less then 90 metres to have better bandwidth. We use fibre extensively for IP phones, video on demand, IPTV and other bandwidth hungry applications," says GV Rao, general manager ICT, United Development Company based in Qatar.

Making the choice

While many elements, like installation time or the applications that the cabling is required for, need to be considered when deciding between copper and fibre, one aspect remains paramount - performance. This is why a mix of copper and fibre is proving to be a very popular choice.

"There are pros and cons associated with both. Fibre is capable of greater bandwidth and transmits over longer distances while copper although limited to shorter distances is capable of high transmission speeds and is cheaper that fibre. There are more issues related to both," says Asef Baddar, business development manager, Leviton.

"In terms of advantages that fibre has over copper there is the fact that is a more secure investment in terms of future proofing, it is smaller and lighter and is a green technology. At the same time though there are the cost aspects of installation and the related electronic equipment," says Helmy.

"Copper is widely used inside office premises and building, and mainly between telecommunication rooms and work area outlets. It is also used in datacentres especially after the introduction of Cat-6A cabling, which is capable of transmitting at 10G/sec speeds.  Fibre is used in the backbone between telecom rooms. Many datacentre managers are opting for a fibre solution due to capacity, distance, and speed," says Baddar.

"Copper is hampered by the limitations of the distance to which it can support different applications. One hundred metres is the maximum distance of any copper channel as defined by regulatory bodies which has resulted in it dominating the horizontal cabling segment while fibre, which supports longer distances, is mainly used in the network backbone," says Helmy.

End-users need to be guided by the business processes of the enterprise and when it comes to project planning and pre-installation processes must make a careful evaluation of their current needs, future plans and budgetary restrictions.

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