Cable theft threatens five nines reliability

Julie Kunstler/Ovum
21 Jan 2011

In the communications world, we normally analyze the pros and cons of fiber-optic communications and copper communications based on bandwidth, distance, voice channels, distortion, and power.

We also analyze the pricing and readiness of optical components for the next generation of optical communications. Rarely do we consider the raw material components of fiber optics or copper cables; however, this is a factor that should not be overlooked.

In fact, comparing forecasts for rising copper prices, shortages, and theft alongside the costs of fiber optics and the advancements in both flexible fiber and fiber installation technologies provides some important insights.

Rising metal prices are being linked to the rise in copper thefts worldwide, with articles and videos on copper theft littering the Internet. Anti-copper theft solutions include the installation of fiber-based network monitoring and surveillance to protect the copper cables. So potentially, the rising cost of copper will be a major driver for fiber optics.

Numerous articles discuss the rising price of copper and the “hoarding” of copper by developing countries such as China. According to Goldman Sachs analysts in a mid-December 2010 commodity report, “extreme weakness in US demand over the past two years has allowed China to grow unconstrained without any competition for raw materials.”

Various forecasts for 2011 copper pricing center around $11,000 per metric ton for late 2011, compared to $9,438 in early January 2011, and to closing prices of $2,902 per metric ton in December 2008.

Historically, the costs of building fiber-optics networks were very high when compared to copper networks. Fiber installations required highly trained specialists, costly equipment, and hours for splicing.

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