Optical Cable vs. Electrical Cable, What Are The Differences?

July 1, 2021

We often hear about optical cable vs. electrical cable as the two cables. But do you know what they are? And furthermore, what are the differences between them? Hone Optical Communications has 19+ years of experience on communications and network. Let’s dive right in.

Optical Cable

A optical cable is is a kind of communication cable that is used to realize optical signal transmission.

It’s composed of several parts such as the cable core, reinforced steel wire or other strength member, filler and sheath. In addition, there are components such as water blocking materials, layer of buffering, and an insulated metal wire according to field applications. But generally, the cable core, strength member and outer sheath together make a fiber optic cable.

Electrical Cable

A electrical cable is made of one or more mutually insulated conductors and an outer insulating protective jacket. It transmits electricity or information from one place to another.

Based on its application environment, electrical cable can be divided into power cables, control cables, compensation cables, shielded cables, high temperature cables, computer cables, signal cables, coaxial cables, fire-resistant cables, marine cables, mining cables, aluminum alloy cables, and so on. They are composed of single or multiple strands of wires and insulating layers, and used to connect power line or electrical appliances.

Difference Between Cables

The main difference between fiber cable and electrical cable is their transmit medium, as we can tell from their name and structures. But there are more aspects of them when compared together.

Transmit Medium

Electrical cable is a device that uses metal as a medium to transmit electrical signals. It often use following metal as conductor materials: Copper, Silver, Gold, Nickel, Iron, Aluminum, Zinc, and Tin.

Fiber optic cable is a light transmission device that uses the principle of total reflection of light in a optical fiber made of glass or plastic. A optical fiber is slightly thicker than a human hair, which can transmit light between two ends.


Fiber optic cable are a new generation of transmission media. Compared with copper conductor, fiber optic cable has improved in terms of safety, reliability, and network performance. The bandwidth of optical fiber transmission greatly exceeds bandwidth of copper cables at a certain same cable length.

Transmission Distance

A standard fiber optic cable length for drum packing is 2000 meters. And this length can also extends according to the field applications, such as 4km, 6km and 8km. It is an inevitable choice for building a large scale network.

Electrical cable often has shorter cable length due to its RF interference and signal losses. Electrical cable we often see is around 100 meters.


Optical cable has a smaller outer diameter. This is because the metal conductor of an electrical cable itself is larger, and insulation materials required also increase its overall diameter.

On the contrary, normal diameter of optical fiber is only 125μm (tight buffer fiber is 900μm). Without electromagnetic interference, fiber cable won’t need insulation layer as well. Fiber optical cable we will use everyday is less than 10mm.


Although fiber optic cable has strength member to enhance its tensile and anti-crush mechanical performance, the cable weight is still much lighter than any practical electrical cable. Electrical conductors are much heavier than optical fiber for similar delivery capacity.


Because the optical cable has the advantages of good anti-electromagnetic interference, strong confidentiality, fast speed, large transmission capacity, etc., its price is also relatively expensive. Therefore, it is rarely use fiber cable in household except for network access.


Electrical cables are now mostly used for energy transmission and low-end data information transmission, such as telephone.

Fiber optic cable are mostly used for long distance, large and strong capacity communications. Such as fiber to the home (FTTH) and interconnection in data center or server room.


Here is brief summary of the differences between optical cable and electrical cable.

Condistions Optical Cable Electrical Cable
Transmit Medium Optical Fiber Copper Wire
Cable Diameter Small Large
Cable Weight Light Heavy
Bandwidth High Low
Transmission Distance Long Short
Costs Low High
Applications FTTH, Data Center ... Energy Transmission, Telephone ...
WordPress Tables Plugin
Did we miss anything? Let us know in comments or by email.

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Tony Lau is technical manager and co-founder at HOC. He loves writing about content optical fiber communications, specializes in fiber optic cables, FTTH turnkey solutions, ADSS cable, and ODN networks.

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