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Cable Selection for Your 10 Gbps Transmissions — Fiber or Copper?


The decision to deploy fiber or copper really depends on several factors. First is the length of time you think the data center will remain in the same physical location. Fiber-only or copper-only implementations are rare in comparison to mixed fiber and copper.

Fiber will remain the medium of choice for backbone (vertical) applications and increasingly for horizontal applications alongside copper. This is mainly due to the distance support, size of cable, high bandwidth, high density, immunity to EMI/RFI, security, and reliability of fiber. Fiber has been the medium of choice for Storage Area Network (SAN) implementations for many years and is thus a proven cabling component.

Structured Cabling

Copper, on the other hand, is currently being challenged with the recent ratification of 10GBASE-T. Companies are currently racing to market their “unique” copper-based structured cabling solutions for 10 Gbps devices. Cat6a copper cables made for 10 Gbps transmissions are approximately 50 percent thicker than Cat6 copper cables and certainly a lot thicker than fiber cables; the space available for the cable runs may influence the type of cable you deploy. Copper cabling is more suited for horizontal runs, but of course limited to 100 meters distance. It is advisable to install a higher category of cable if you plan to be at the same facility for a while.

Cat6 CablesCat6 Cables Cat6a CablesCat6a Cables

Until recently, copper was the clear winner in a straight cost comparsion. However, recent technology advances are closing the cost gap, especially in the high-performance arena. Fiber-based solutions are dropping in cost, but the main differentiation is in the cost of the active electronic components (e.g. transceivers, converters, amplifiers, etc.), and not in the actual cabling. In parallel, the cost for copper-based solutions is on the rise, due primarily to the stringent implementation and testing requirements imposed by TIA/ISO for 10 Gbps transmissions. Note also that in support of “Greener” data center environments, certain vendors are choosing, designing, and promoting active cabling components and media that consume the least power without compromising performance. 10GBASE-T consumes about 5 to 10 times more electrical power than optical solutions.

Another area that plays an important role in cable selection is the network components that are planned in the data center. Is their interface fiber or copper? And do they support 10 Gbps transmissions? Upgrading the cabling may include swapping out the connectors and other existing cabling components for the ones slated for 10 Gbps.

Note: If you want to deploy Power over Ethernet (PoE), then your choice is limited to copper—carring power over fiber is not yet possible.


In most cases, the end result will be a Combination of Cable Types for the Different Segments of the Infrastructure. Most likely fiber for the backbone, fiber and/or twisted pair for the horizontal runs, and fiber and/or copper for the final patching (since this will be governed by the interface of the equipment that you will be connecting to). When selecting cableing consider the pros and cons for each cable type in each segment of the infrastructure using the following criteria:

    • Existing implementation
    • Installation difficulty
    • Termination difficulty
    • Reliability
    • Distance required
    • Compatibility

How To Purchase Twisted Pair Cable


In its simplest form, twisted pair cable consists of two insulated strands of copper wire twisted around each other. There are two types of twisted-pair cable: unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) and shielded twisted-pair (STP) cable. A number of twisted-pair wires are often grouped together and enclosed in a protective sheath to form a cable. The total number of pairs in a cable varies. The twisting cancels out electrical noise from adjacent pairs and from other sources such as motors, relays, and transformers.

Category 5e or Category 6 Twisted Pair Cable

Currently there is a great deal of confusion among Ethernet cable buyers concerning whether to purchase Cat5e, or to use Cat6. Most of this confusion comes from a misunderstanding by the buyer that buying Cat6 cable will give them an “all gigabit” network. This is not the case. Unless every single component in the network is gigabit rated, then you will never have a gigabit network, because your network will always run at the speed of your slowest device.

Cat5e cable of good quality can run near or at gigabit speeds, it just cannot be “certified” for this use. By comparison, Cat6 is designed especially for gigabit use, and is certified to operate at said speed. It becomes a matter of whether or not you want to pay all that extra money, for little or no noticeable improvement in the performance of you network.

In most cases, it makes more sense to go with Cat5e. It is for this reason that most of your new installations in the private sector are going with Cat5e. It is more economical, performs well, and is readily available in many colors. Many IT professionals when asked about why they specified Cat6 for a specific job, often responded stated that they “wanted the best they could get.” This is the line of thought behind many purchases of cable.

The average consumer often times is not aware that there is no real benefit to them to use Cat6, so they let someone talk them in to buying it. FS.COM is committed to helping people make good decisions about cable purchases and we are always standing by to help you.

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How to Buy Twisted Pair Cable

Following are some advice you can take when choose a twisted pair cable for your network.

See Packing and Printing Quality

Carefully check the cable box to see whether packing is in good conditions. The packaging of fake cable is usually very poor, so the quality of the external packaging can determine the user’s first feeling. However, good quality cables are usually perfectly packaged. And many manufacturers still paste anti-fake label on the product packaging.

See Identifications on Cable’s Outer Layer

Twisted pair cable insulation outer layer shall be printed with the words such as manufacturers, place of origin, performance standards, product categories (Cat5e Ca6t, etc.) and cable length identification.

See Twisting Density

In order to reduce signal interference, each line pairs of the twisted pair cable are twisted in a counterclockwise direction to each other and the different line pairs of the same twisted pair cable also has different twisting density. If the twisting density does not meet the technical requirements, serious near-end crosstalk may appear due to the mismatch of the cable resistance, which will shorten transmission distance and reduce the transmission rate. Don’t choose twisted pair cables whose twisting density is incompetent.

See Cable Colors

After peeling the outer layer of twisted pair cable, you can see each pair of wires in a twisted-pair cable is one of four colors: orange, green, blue, or brown. The two wires that make up each pair are complementary. It should be noted that these colors are not dyed on the cable. Don’t choose cables whose color is not clear.

See Flame Retardants Cases

In order to avoid cable’s burning and damage caused by high temperature or fire, the outer layer of the twisted pair cable should have a very good tensile property and flame retardant property. The outer layer of a good twisted pair cable may be gradually melted and misshapen, but won’t burn itself.

Touch the Cable’s Outer Layer

In most cases, we can make an initial judgment by touching the outer layer of twisted pair cable. In order to save cost, bad cable usually uses terrible wire materials. So when we touch it, we may feel sticky and coarsened. However, a good twisted pair cable may feel smooth. Besides, considering that the cable may need to be curved, good cables usually have excellent extensibility. Therefore, good cables may feel full.


Taking the future applications into consideration, we should install the most advanced cabling products, because the cable is often difficult to re-install and replace. Then, you should use cat6 cables instead of cat 5e cable. Though cat 6 cable is a little expensive than cat 5e cable, in order to reduce cost for network upgrade in the future, cat 6 cables are still worth considering.

Related Articles:
Ethernet Cable Types – Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, and Cat7
Difference of Straight Through and Crossover Cable
Patch Cable vs. Crossover Cable: What Is the Difference?
Quick View of Ethernet Cables Cat5, Cat5e And Cat6