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What is the difference between fiber optic cables and Ethernet cables?
Knowledge Base + 2023.12.08

Fiber optic cables use light signals to transmit data, while Ethernet cables use electrical signals to transmit data. Fiber optic cables are capable of transmitting data over longer distances and at higher speeds than Ethernet cables. Additionally, fiber optic cables are less susceptible to electromagnetic interference and are more secure since they do not radiate signals. Ethernet cables, on the other hand, are easier and cheaper to install and maintain compared to fiber optic cables.


In terms of performance, the simple answer is yes. But in real-world settings the answer is more likely to be “maybe”. When looking purely at the specs, fiber comes out on top in almost every way. Whether or not to go with Ethernet instead will depend on two key factors: budget and project needs. At the moment, fiber optic cables are a little ahead of their time. For buildings like smaller businesses and homes, fiber can be considered overkill.

However, fiber will eventually become the industry standard. It will likely be a while before Ethernet is phased out, but it will happen eventually. Data usage has increased exponentially within the last few years and those numbers will continue to rise as technology keeps improving. One day, Ethernet is going to hit a wall while fiber will have the capability to keep advancing. Implementing a fiber optic system today can remove the need for a complete network overhaul in the future.

But regardless of whether you choose Ethernet or fiber, ShowMeCables has the cables you need to complete your network today. Our stock includes both patch cables and boxes of bulk cabling for projects of any size. With every sort of connector and tool you can imagine, ShowMeCables is ready to assist you today. Any cable we do not keep as a stock item can even be custom-made .


Speed is the first and most obvious difference between fiber optics and Ethernet. Fiber is clearly faster, being able to sustain data speeds more than 100x faster than Ethernet under ideal conditions. That being said, it becomes a question of whether an environment needs data speeds that fast. Do you need data speeds measured in hundreds of terabits per second to stream Netflix? No, you do not. But would you need those speeds to transmit high data volumes in an environment like a data center or financial institution? Likely so.

There are a number of additional reasons beyond speed to use fiber optics over Ethernet. Fiber optic cable has a greater maximum distance, measuring in miles instead of a few hundred feet. Fiber suffers less attenuation (signal loss) than Ethernet, giving it a maximum distance of anywhere from 984 feet (300 meters) for a single cable to over 24 miles depending on the type of fiber and supporting equipment being used. By comparison, Ethernet can go from 328 feet (100 meters) with a single cable to 1.76 miles with supporting equipment.

Since fiber cable uses light (lasers) for signal transmission, it is not vulnerable to EMI or RFI interference. It does not produce any sort of electrical interference the way Ethernet does either. The lack of an electrical current also eliminates the threat of a fire hazard. Lasers used for fiber optic cables are low-powered and controlled, incapable of starting a fire. The electricity going through Ethernet is more than powerful enough to create a fire hazard if a cable is old, mismanaged, or otherwise damaged.

Despite all the benefits of fiber, Ethernet does still have its merits. Primarily, the cost of the cables. While fiber is relatively inexpensive compared to what it once was, Ethernet is even less costly. Ethernet also has the advantage of being more widespread. Commercial-use fiber is still new and gradually being implemented by telecom companies and other major industries. Most electronics, such as computers, are also built for Ethernet connections rather than fiber optics. Media converters can translate signals between the two but going fully fiber with no Ethernet is next to impossible with the technology on the market today.