Copper has been the conductor of choice for many years in many different types of cabling, and with good reason. It is one of the most conductive of all metals, and has been used widely both domestically and commercially. So why are people looking for alternatives to copper cable?
Well,there are a number of factors that have left many looking for alternatives. Whether fibre-optic cables, copper accompanied by another metal such as aluminium, or no copper with another metal taking its place (usually aluminium again).
The Alternatives to Copper Cable
For those wishing to avoid full copper cables for whatever reason there are three main options;
- Fibre-Optic Cable
- Copper-Clad Cable (CCA)
- Non-Copper Cables
Fibre has a number of distinct advantages over copper. It less affected by outside sources of interference, meaning it can be laid closer to existing cables than copper cabling can. It is also capable of transferring large amounts of data over larger bandwidths than copper, making it ideal for environments where information must be transferred very quickly, or over long distances.
Fibre has been regarded as both more expensive and more difficult to install than copper cabling. Both may have been true in the past, but this difference is becoming less obvious now. The raw materials to make fibre-optic cable are much easier to obtain than copper and will remain so in the future. This is likely to make fibre the cheaper option in the not so distant future. Fibre is now much easier to install than it ever was, with on site-splicing and terminations having been a reality for some time.
Copper Clad Cable (CCA)
For commercial use, or for the more cost-conscious, copper-clad (usually aluminium) cable is a logical alternative to full copper. The lower copper content usually makes for cheaper cable, hence why copper-clad aluminium (CCA) is used in significant amounts for alarm cable. Usually involving an aluminium core with copper cladding, CCA cables are often more flexible than aluminium cables, but less flexible than their copper counterparts. Aluminium also has a higher resistance than copper, meaning that there is a decrease in current capacity over longer distances. For example this decreased current capacity could lead to more false alarms in an intruder alarm system, when compared to a system where full copper cabling is used. CCA, and sometimes copper-clad steel (CCS) are usually used in telecom and coaxial cables, although some manufacturers use the for category cabling such as Cat5. CCA and CCS have sometimes been passed off as full copper, which may explain why it has received such a bad press. Used correctly, it is usually capable of adequate performance.
Most non-copper metal cabling is aluminium, and it is often used in areas where copper is not a likely alternative. However, it is used more now as a replacement than it has ever been. It is cheaper than copper, and its relative density allows for more cable to be made from a ton of aluminium than a ton of copper. However, those using aluminium in situations when copper is more commonly used should be aware that aluminium is generally more brittle than copper, and usually breaks more easily. Not only that, but aluminium has a higher resistance than copper, leading to a decrease in current carrying capacity over longer distances.