Fiber vs. copper war isn't over yet

Fiber vs. copper war isn't over yet

Network administrators who already have Category 5 or better copper cabling installed for fairly undemanding applications should leave the copper where it is, industry executives say.

'The ideal network would be pure fiber,' said Tim Fox, regional manager for SysKonnect Inc. of San Jose, Calif., a 3M Corp. company. 'But copper is going to be with us for a long time.'

SysKonnect makes Gigabit Ethernet-over-copper network interface cards. Mike Lynch, strategic marketing manager for 3M's Volition fiber-optic cabling system, said fiber is getting stronger and more flexible, and the smaller form-factor VF-45 connectors make installation faster and cheaper.

'There are a lot of changes in how you install it that make fiber competitive with copper,' Lynch said, citing longer cabling runs and a more centralized architecture.

It has its uses

Fiber also can be more secure, he said. The extra bandwidth eliminates some of the need for managing quality of service on heavily used networks.

That does not necessarily justify ripping out copper, however, Fox said. High-quality copper can support Gigabit Ethernet, too.

But gigabit rates aren't possible on anything less than Category 5 copper. Now that 10-Gbps Ethernet is becoming available and standards are in the works for 40 Gbps, 'you've hit the limit on Category 5,' Fox said.

Copper still has a future anyhow, said Darrell Scherbarth, vice president of the access business unit of Extreme Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

Extreme Networks is involved in building a 100-user facility whose PCs already have network cards for copper that will not be replaced, Scherbarth said.

Even though fiber is getting easier to install, he said, there are still more trained workers and equipment commonly available for copper.

' William Jackson

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