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Fibre optic vs. cable - which is right for your new home?

Date Friday, 27 November 2015 10:21 AM

Fibre optic cables have greater capacity and transmit clear signals longer distances, but does this option come at a cost?

We live in a digital world. That's why, as you design and build your new home, you'll want to think about your options for your telephone and internet. Beyond simply choosing internet service providers (ISPs) and connectivity packages, you may have the opportunity to choose between fibre optic and traditional copper cable. 

Many of us have heard these terms thrown around, especially since fibre emerged as an increasingly realistic and attractive option. However, there are a number of pros and cons to keep in mind. 

How do they each work and which should you choose for your new home? 

Copper versus fibre  

Cable and fibre optic internet both work by transmitting signals along wires. In the case of cable, frequencies travel along copper strands and then get decoded on the other side of the cable. For fibre optic, it's all about light: Flexible glass or plastic fibres conduct flashes to transmit data at the speed of, well, light. 

Although both methods are capable of the same speeds as far as data movement goes, copper cable is more restricted by distance, causing degradation in the signal at the other end unless repeaters are installed intermittently to re-send the information. Additionally, the capacity of fibre is greater, which means it can download and transmit more information at one time. Therefore, from a user perspective, fibre is usually faster, less 'patchy' and capable of downloading more for each line, as Fast Metrics concluded. 

Finally, copper cables tend to require more maintenance and they're physically larger, which means they're more cumbersome to install and replace. 

So, why not use fibre everywhere? It's a lot more expensive to produce, at least for now - though some of its benefits may offer cost savings in the long run. If you're interested, this video shows the fascinating process, discusses how fibre optics work and explains some of the advantages over copper: 

Selecting internet for your new home 

What do all of these details mean for you? First, you'll need to be aware that fibre connections aren't available everywhere, and some ISPs that utilise optic fibre networks still connect to individual homes with copper cables. This can still deliver some of the benefits of fibre optics, however. 

In Australia, the government's National Broadband Network (NBN) has made fibre optic broadband available to premises around the country. Nonetheless, not all regions have the option. 

As you design your own home, look into which broadband services are available in your neighbourhood and compare the prices of the packages for the bandwidth you require. If you download a lot of content and perform high-bandwidth activities, you might even want to seek out fibre availability when first starting to look at property or house and land packages. That being said, premium fibre options do come at a cost. Business Spectator recently reported that the cost of rolling out NBN's Fibre-on-Demand option has risen dramatically, with the fee for design and quotation alone at $300. The cost per metre for laying the fibre to connect to the house has yet to be released. 

Consequently, it really comes down to cost, availability and your requirements. If you rely on strong, fast internet and the price is right, there's really no reason not to go with fibre. On the other hand, traditional cable may be the more affordable option, at least for the present.