The Growing Transition of Networks from Copper Wire to Fiber Optics

In the U.S., there remains a digital divide where millions of Americans lack high-speed Internet services. In 2020, roughly 15 percent of people in the country lacked broadband services. While the vast majority of these individuals were in rural America, they weren’t the only ones. Many inner city and urban areas also lack high-speed Internet access due to aging infrastructures. In these areas, copper wire networks remain in place, offering slow Internet connectivity. But in recent years, efforts to replace these with fiber optics network solutions are increasing. This is a welcomed change that has been a long-time coming.

Comparing Fiber Optics and Copper Wire Networks

In considering coper wire networks, it should be noted that such systems were never designed for high-speed Internet services. Instead, these lines were installed to provide telephone connectivity in decades past. But as use of the Internet increased, telecommunication companies tried to leverage existing infrastructures to meet consumer demand. This was not ideal, with dial-up services and DSL showing extremely slow upload and download speeds. Yet many areas still rely on these archaic networks for their Internet connections. Especially in today’s environment with online streaming and videoconferencing, copper wire networks are simply inadequate.

By contrast, a fiber optics network is much better designed for high-speed Internet. A fiber optics network uses photons in providing Internet connectivity. As a result, its speeds are much faster with a much wider bandwidth. Compared to copper wire networks, a fiber optics network is nearly 100 times faster overall. Plus, it has much greater potential to expand in the future as telecommunication demands increase. As a result, many are advocating for the nation to adopt a coast-to-coast fiber optics network. They believe copper wire networks no longer serve a purpose and need to be replaced.

The Advantages of a Fiber Optics Network

Compared to copper wire networks, a fiber optics network has a number of advantages. Naturally, it offers much faster speeds and bandwidth, which permits streaming, videoconferencing, and more. But it also offers other benefits as well. Given its inherent properties, it can carry a signal for a much greater distance when compared to copper wire networks. A fiber optics network is also much more resistant to electromagnetic interference, providing a much clearer signal. Fiber optics also takes up less space overall, which means less infrastructure demands. And it has the capacity to handle increased Internet connectivity needs in the future, such as those needed for the Internet-of-Things.

A Case Study in Fiber Optics Networks

Despite the advantages of a fiber optics network, many communities have been resistant to making a shift. The costs involved in transitioning from copper wire networks can be substantial. And if a community has a short-sighted perspective on the matter, it may seem fiber optics may not be a feasible approach. However, communities that have made such investments are reaping the benefits. Chattanooga, Tennessee, is one such community that has realized nearly $2.7 billion in social and economic benefits from these efforts. Given that the town is home to only 185,000 people, these figures are quite outstanding.

In essence, the city of Chattanooga pursued a public-private partnership approach to their problem. The town’s publicly-owned utility company, EPB, partnered with SiFi Networks to make the change. Public funds were used to replace copper wire networks with fiber optics using these resources. Subsequently, the area began to see tremendous economic development occur once a city-wide fiber optics network was in place. New businesses moved into the area, and student education outcomes even improved. With an open-access platform, the fiber optics network provided the foundation for community success.

Accepting (and Embracing) the Inevitable

An important lesson can be learned from communities like Chattanooga when it comes to copper wire networks. Rather than focusing on immediate costs of investments, they adopted a longer-term view. Once they embraced this vision, they then found a way to make it a reality. From a financial perspective, private companies may have taken much longer to pursue a fiber optics network. But by utilizing private and public resources, an ideal solution was identified. As a result, the city now enjoys an infrastructure that attracts many to the area.

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