Wireless Impact on Copper Structure Cabling

September 30, 2015
by Matt Gentile, Product Manager Datacom Products – General Cable

Referring to the chart below: smart phones, the big red line, numbered 1 to 2 billion around the world in 2013 and 2014. We expect that total to grow astronomically. The green line, tablets, will continue to grow while the increase of PCs is much more moderate. Thusly, the development and proliferation of more advanced end user devices are driving the demand for more and more wireless bandwidth.

Global Device Installed Base Forecast and Historical Data

So that means we have seen a gradual but consistent shift from hard wire to mobile data consumption. Looking at the comparison of mobile data vs. desktop data usage below, you see a very consistent switch. The crossover point, when mobile consumption will overtake desktop consumption, will hit some time in 2016 or 2017.

Mobile Data versus Desktop Data Usage

From the first standard (802.11) in 1999, wireless speed has increased every three to five years to 802.11ac today. Obviously, the goal was to produce speed comparable to that of your home, office or wherever you might use it. In the next five years, expect a standard equal to or faster than 10 gigabit per second. The objective is to keep up with consumer’s demands for more data, faster video, and all these things that they’re already putting over copper cabling.

Clearly, the capabilities of wireless are quickly approaching the capability of copper cable. Another factor to keep in mind: if you have wireless to your desktop, you’re not going to use as much copper as we traditionally do now.

In a 2013 survey, General Cable asked 200 market fields in construction, installation and maintenance if they would foresee converting to wireless in the next five years. Nearly 60% of those polled replied that they do not foresee converting to 100% wireless any time in the next five years. Their reasoning revolved around the issues of security, speed and reliability. In order to move to a 100% wireless platform respondents said they would require above one gigabit per second at their desktop.

When hooking up, the typical individual wireless user is getting anywhere from less than a megabit per second up to maybe 100 Mb per second. In the copper world, we were talking about those speeds a few years ago. Granted the surveys were taken in 2013, but we are getting above 100 Mb now and will continue to improve in the future.

What this will mean for structured copper cabling?

  • Wireless is growing, but the gap between standards (10GBPS) and practice (100MBPS) is sizeable
  • The data capabilities of hardwired solutions means that copper cable will remain a viable solution
  • Wireless conversion will be further dampened by security concerns
  • Although less than wired to the desktop, wireless does require cable, and with increasing data demands it will pull through more (e.g. 2 X 6A)
  • Combining all of these factors, we expect a downward pressure of about 3% per year on category cables due to wireless growth

Even with the growth of wireless, copper cable still remains a viable solution because of reliability, environmental installation concerns and security concerns when dealing with visitors in your building. With wireless use, you won’t need as much cable, but it’s going to be a different cable than what may be installed right now. With all these factors in mind, we expect a downward pressure of about 3% per year on category cables due to wireless growth.

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