For the past few years, coaxial cabling had always been the most favored candidate for data transmission in security systems. However, fiber optic connection has gradually progressed into the front-runner in data networking for surveillance solutions like IP cameras. In this article, we’re gonna explore why fiber optic connection is the best choice for IP camera setup.
A General Introduction of Fiber Optics
Fiber optics are composed of numerous microscopic strands of glass or plastic which are slightly thicker than human hairs. And thousands of these fiber optics are arranged in bundles (fiber core) surrounded by an insulated casing called the cladding to prevent potential light leakage during the passthrough. Another protective layer known as a buffer tube also plays a pivotal role in protecting the fibers from damages during installation. And all these strands and layers are protected by a coating called the jacket, which shields these fragile glass fibers against outside hazards like moisture or penetrative particulates.
The outside coatings always come in different colors to indicate different generations of types of fiber cables. For instance, according to the TIA-598C standard, single-mode fiber (SMF) cables are covered with yellow sheath, while multi-mode fiber (MMF) cables are coated orange or aqua jackets. SMF and MMF are the two primary types of fiber optic cables involved in data networking. The former has a rather small fiber core size (less than 10 µm) which allows the light (laser) swiftly pass through the tube without too much reflection to keep attenuation to a minimum, while MMF has a larger fiber core (62.5 µm or 50 µm) which allows multiple light sources travel through the cable and creates more reflection. Generally speaking, MMF suffers more significant signal loss at greater distances than SMF.
Fiber Optics: High-Speed Data Transmission over Long Distances
When building a high-speed network that requires long distances and higher bandwidth, there is no question: fiber optic cables are obviously the best solution. Fiber optic connection has a world-renowned reputation for long-distance and high-performance data networking due to its inherent advantages as an uninterruptible information carrier. As one of the most important technologies in communications, fiber optics carry light signals through flexible plastic or glass threads. Normally, the transmission speed of fiber optics could reach 2/3 the velocity of light when the fiber core is glass (with a refractive index of 1.5), nearly 200,000,000 meters per second. Normally, its speed is rated at 10 Gbps, 40 Gbps and sometimes even reaches 100 Gbps, but it may suffer slight degradation when using together with incompatible devices.
Fiber cables are lightweight and weatherproof (high IP ratings with strong water and dust resistance) with great versatility for deployments in different scenarios, i.e. under the sea or buried in the ground. Fiber optics are immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI), because they don’t conduct electricity which will generate a field of interference along the cable, hinder the desired message and lead to crosstalk. Another feather that makes them suitable for IP camera setup is the low latency, attributed to their immunity to interference by eliminating the need for processing the repeating the signals in long-distance transmission. Since security cameras are often installed remotely from the control center, scattered in different locations, fiber cables can overcome this geographical challenge by extending to 80 km. Additionally, in a point-to-point topology, fiber networking has shown absolute symmetry in both upload and download speed which is extremely crucial for surveillance systems.
Fiber optic internet is a long-term, future-proof technology. Fiber connection is known for its longevity and durability with a prolonged service life of up to 50 years without frequent maintenance or replacement, which makes it a worthwhile investment in the long run. It is also very reliable for it is less susceptible to tapping or other security issues. What’s more, investing in fiber cabling will eliminate the need for replacing and updating, for fiber optics have a huge bandwidth capacity that is hundreds of times higher than the existing network. What’s more, although the initial investment of fiber cables is much higher than traditional wiring, its costs will gradually decrease as time goes by. It is highly likely that this high-end technology will become more affordable in the near future.
Fiber Optics vs Power over Ethernet (PoE)
PoE is a cost-effective solution that provides both power and data via a single Ethernet cable to the powered devices (PDs) at a maximum distance of 100m/328ft, eliminating the need for additional power cabling, which makes it a perfect choice for installations without available electrical infrastructures. In physical terms, copper cables are bulkier and heavier than fiber cables, but they are inexpensive in a per-meter unit. It’s hot-swappable featuring a simple installation with a plug-and-play design. PoE carries a relatively low voltage of less than 60V (non-hazardous in physical contacts), which reduces the costs of hiring licensed electricians. However, the major drawback is that it will experience a great deal of degradation over long distances. Long-distance deployment is theoretically practical but may threaten the reliability of the network as the distance increases. For instance, when the distance reaches 500 m, its bandwidth will slow down from 1000 Mbps to 10 Mbps along with considerable power loss and signal distortion. Considering PoE transfers power and data through the same copper cable, it will cause potential safety hazards like fires when the cable heats up. Given its downfalls in data transmission, fiber technology is gradually taking its place in networking.
The crucial difference between fiber optics and PoE is that fiber cables transmit signals in the form of light (laser and LEDs), while in copper cables, data transmission is accomplished in the form of electrical signals over metallic conducting wire. Technically speaking, light is a “massless” electromagnetic wave composed of countless photon particles, which is known to travel faster than electricity (≤ 1% of the speed of light), so fiber cables are able to transmit more data at a much faster speed than copper wires in the same amount of time without signal boosters. What’s more, fiber optic connection transfers data at higher throughput with little attenuation in the point-to-point data transmission. In contrast, the copper-based connection offers lower bandwidth as it transfers data from point A to point B (328ft@1000Mbps) and its speed will gradually deteriorate with significant attenuation in long-distance deployments. And the signal loss will increase as its DC resistance increases due to overheating in copper wires caused by higher electrical currents. Additionally, fiber optics are impervious to EMI and power fluctuation, which makes them more applicable to situations where lightning and power surge are regularly present. Their copper-based counterparts are more susceptible to EMI which will lead to expensive re-transmission and even pose security risks. The lifespan of copper cables is 5 years in approximate, but fiber cables last for a longer duration of 30-50 years. As previously mentioned, compared with copper cables, fiber optics are more secure with lower chances of tapping or hacking. And the advancement of media converters also makes the conversion between electrical signals and optic signals much easier.
Fiber Optics vs Wireless Network
Contrary to the other two hard-wired network solutions, wireless network or WiFi uses radio frequencies to send signals between devices by converting the signals into electromagnetic waves for broadcasting. Its wireless connectivity makes it the most popular and accessible network technology in every single household. There is no cabling required and no reliance on a third party for data transmission, which greatly lowers the initial cost of installation. The wireless network does greatly simplify data networking, but unfortunately, it’s still not the best option for IP camera setup. Theoretically, it could transmit the data at the same speed as fiber optics, but it will get hindered by physical infrastructures. Its speed will gradually slow down as it gets blocked by walls, which is not the case in fiber cabling. Moreover, the wireless network will become congested when more users share the same bandwidth. When many users are accessing the network at the same time. Another issue is that in wide-range applications, its signal strength will degrade over distances, while fiber optics offer a reliable network connection through wired cabling. Besides, maintaining security in the wireless network is more challenging than fiber networking, for it is more susceptible to hacking and tapping. And it is easily affected by bad weather or other interference, while fiber cables are completely weatherproof. Consequently, fiber optic connection is a much wiser choice.