History and Current State of the Copper Category Cable Market

September 16, 2015
by Matt Gentile, Product Manager Datacom Products – General Cable

The structured cable market has gone through tremendous change over the past 20 years. It’s an exciting market with pockets of growth, pockets of decline and new technologies.

First, let’s establish some basic facts that those of us in the industry can roughly agree on:

  1. Nearly 90% of all commercial users use a copper category solution as their main choice of data delivered to the desktop.
  2. Copper cabling has been on the decline since 2006.
  3. WLAN connections, requiring less copper cabling, have tripled in the past five years reaching 80% of the installed Ethernet base.
  4. Despite superior transmission speeds, fiber has only reach 5% penetration of the horizontal market.
  5. PoE has grown and will continue to grow with HDBaseT, Nurse Call and other applications that pull more power.

The Premise Cable Chart

The chart above indicates steady growth for the decade of the 90s and the early 2000s, peaking at just over 7 billion feet of total copper category sales for North America in 2005. From that 2005 peak, we see a decline to the bottom in 2009 during the middle of the economic crisis.

After a bit of a rebound, sales have remained consistent at around 5 billion feet for the last four or five years. There has been movement between categories, up and down the chain, but it’s really remarkable that the market has been so stable. Logically, the overall health of the economy is going to be one of the main drivers of the size of the market.

These next two charts: NASDAQ, tracking the economic performance of the technology sector, and the ABI, measuring non-residential construction, further support the idea that overall economic growth will be a large determinant of the category cable market.


ABI Index

To touch on the resiliency of the Premise Cable Market refer to the following chart showing the breakdown of that market data based on category.

Copper Premise Cable Market Chart

As you can see, this is a breakdown between Cat 3, Cat 5, 5E, 6 and 6A over the last 15 years. You’ll notice that 10 or 12 years ago, the big red bar, 5 and 5E, made up about 75 % of the volume sold in the structure cable market. Cat 3 back then was 15-20% of the market and Cat 6 measured about 10%. Fast forwarding a few years, Cat 3 has basically disappeared. The majority of the market has shifted up from 5 to 6 and, in the last four or five years, we have seen the emergence of the 10 Gig Solution, 6A.

The cable industry is very resilient; it’s continually developing products to meet data demands in the ever-changing technology world of today.

The 2013 General Cable market study shows that 80% of the market is made up between Cat 5 and Cat 6. Even though Cat 6A has been growing fast; it still constitutes less than 10% of the market. In those high bandwidth solutions, fiber and wireless are coming in around 10 or 12%. There’s still a large market segment using Cat 5/5E, a couple of steps before fiber or wireless.

All in all, this chart speaks to the ability of copper to continue to provide data at the speed required by today’s users. General Cable feels that the capabilities of the installed base and existing technology, coupled with enabling advances such as PoE++, will offset the shift to newer technologies such as Wireless and Fiber. After tabulating 200 survey responses from the fields of construction, installation and maintenance, General Cable is looking for a stable market with a -1 or -2% growth rate for the foreseeable future.

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