In today’s digital age, internet connectivity is a critical amenity for residents of Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs). Property managers and developers face the challenge of choosing the best infrastructure to deliver high-speed internet to their tenants.  

It is important to ensure the correct inside wiring is installed to be able to deliver internet services throughout the property with the correct speed, reliability, and future proofing considerations in mind. As long as the cabling infrastructure is in place with upgradable capacity, a service provider can deploy new equipment to increase speeds without having to replace wiring within the walls.  

The cabling infrastructure enables the internet to be delivered from a centralized point in a property, called a main distribution frame “MDF”, to various telecom rooms throughout the property, called intermediate distribution frames “IDF”, and then from each IDF to the residential units. 

Two primary options to connect from the IDFs to the residential units are copper cables and Fiber to the Unit (FTTU). While fiber often gets the spotlight for its high-speed capabilities, this blog will explain why copper might be the better choice for many MDUs when considering what type of wiring to use when planning inside wiring to the residential units. 

Understanding Copper Cabling 

Cat6 and Cat6a copper cables are a type of twisted pair cable standard used for Ethernet and other network physical layers. They offer several benefits for use in MDUs: 

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Copper cabling is significantly cheaper than fiber, both in terms of material and labor costs.  
  • Ease of Installation: Copper cables are easier to install compared to fiber optics. They do not require as specialized equipment to install, test, and terminate compared to fiber, which can reduce overall installation time and costs. 
  • Strong Speed for Residential Needs: Cat6 cables can support speeds up to 1 Gbps download and upload speeds over distances of 100 meters, which is more than sufficient for most residential internet needs. Additionally, Cat6a can support speeds up to 10Gbps which enables long term future proofing. For MDUs, this can translate to reliable and fast internet without the need for expensive inside wiring upgrades in the future. 

Detailed Comparison: Copper vs Fiber 

Cost Analysis 

  • Initial Setup Costs: Copper has a lower initial cost for both materials and installation. Fiber, while more expensive upfront, can offer long term savings if you expect the network to exceed the speed capabilities of the copper cabling.  
  • Maintenance Costs: Maintaining fiber networks can be more expensive due to the specialized skill set required to work with fiber optic cabling.  
  • Power: Copper cabling has the ability to not only transmit data synchronously, but also power. This means the end device, such as a Wi-Fi access point, can be powered over the same cable. Power over Ethernet “POE” reduces the need to install local power in every residential unit or location where you wish to install a Wi-Fi access point greatly reducing the overall costs of installing the network.  
  • In Unit Equipment: Copper can terminate directly into an ethernet port in the residential units – whether that be a Wi-Fi device, router, or data module. Fiber requires an additional device to convert the fiber connection into an ethernet handoff. This extra device adds additional cost overhead as well as another point of failure on the overall network.  

Performance & Speed 

  • Maximum Speeds and Bandwidth: Copper has a maximum speed of 10Gbps, while fiber can handle multiple Gbps. For MDUs with high data demands, fiber provides the necessary capacity without bottlenecks for areas that may need to transmit more than 10Gbps of data such as between buildings or between an MDF and IDF. 
  • Real-World Performance: In practical applications, fiber outperforms Cat6, especially in environments with high internet usage and long-distance transmission requirements. 

Practical Considerations 

  • Scalability for Future Needs: If you expect future requirements to exceed 10Gbps, fiber is more scalable and can adapt to future internet speed requirements, making it a more future-proof solution. 
  • Distance: Fiber can deliver multiple Gbps over incredibly long distances. Copper is limited to 100 meters or less which means connecting locations over distance, fiber is the clear-cut infrastructure choice. However, most residential units do not exceed 100 meters from their closet IDF in a multifamily property.  

Why Copper is the Better Choice To Residential Units 

  • Practical Speed Requirements: For most MDUs, the internet speed requirements of residents do not exceed what copper can provide. With speeds up to 1 Gbps, Cat6 is more than sufficient for streaming, gaming, and other high-bandwidth activities for today’s internet users. Cat6a is best practice for residential units when considering  cost, ease of deployment, and potential multi-Gbps requirements in the years ahead.  
  • Cost-Efficiency and Budget Management: The lower cost of copper cables and installation means significant savings for MDUs. These savings can be allocated to other important projects or amenities within the property. 
  • Flexibility in Installation and Upgrades: Copper cabling installation is simpler and does not require specialized skills or equipment. This flexibility can lead to quicker deployment and easier future upgrades. 

Choosing the right internet infrastructure for your MDU is crucial for resident satisfaction and long-term property value. Both copper and fiber inside wiring have their merits, but for many MDUs, copper to the units offers a practical, cost-effective solution that meets the needs of today and tomorrow. Spot On Networks deploys networks supported by fiber from MDF and IDFs to enable long term future proofing and either copper or fiber to the unit “FTTU” depending on the property’s requirements.  

For a detailed consultation and to explore the best solution for your property, contact Spot On Networks today. We’re here to help you stay connected and future-proof your investment.