Multimode fiber vs singlemode fiber vs copper: a battle you can’t lose

Why there may never be a winner or loser—and why that’s a good thing.

When it comes to new technology, there have been some great battles over the years. Records vs. cassettes, CDs vs. MP3 players, Fax vs. email. The list goes on. We all had our favorites—and watched them slug it out until one seemed to prevail. The winner took the heavyweight belt in the form of popularity, while often the losers slunk off and retired quietly, never to be heard of again.

But it doesn’t always happen like that. In the world of networking infrastructure, there are three contenders for the crown: copper, singlemode fiber and multimode fiber. There may never be a clear winner, and this fight has many divisions: the lightweight low-speed short-reach networks and the heavyweight high-speed long-reach networks. There are many winners in each of these classes.

Meet the contenders

Let’s size up the fighters. Copper is the seasoned performer—the journeyman fighter who seems to have been around forever. In its class (distances up to 100 meters and speeds up to 10G), it is usually considered a sure bet. It is familiar, well understood and well liked. Our old champion.

The fiber contenders each have their strengths too. Singlemode is the distance specialist: Although it may demand more maintenance, more complex and expensive electronics, and more power than multimode fiber, it is an extremely strong performer where distance and speed are most important.

And then we have multimode fiber. Again, a strong supporter of higher data rates with shorter network distances. It is often considered to be more robust than singlemode, which may have the “glass jaw” of being more susceptible to dirt. With multimode, it is inherently easier to keep connector interfaces clean. It has a powerful low-cost punch that makes it the favorite for many data center (DC) applications.


Copper and fiber coexist in today's corporate networks

Who is the favorite?

They each have their strengths, but that is the very reason this title fight may never happen—and why we should be glad of it. The technologies are complementary and, while some companies with vested interests may always promote their favorite, most networking decision makers are probably of the opinion that a combination of all three is sensible.

It seems likely that copper is going to serve lower speed and very short-reach applications, and multimode will have the short-reach low-cost application space, while singlemode will win the long-distance battle. Here at CommScope, we don’t have to make a choice in this fight, since we produce solutions and cables for all three. It’s clear to us there may never be a clear winner, and that’s excellent news for network planners who can continue to use each medium where it is most suited. And we are delighted to help them do so.

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