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By James Carlini

Copper cabling is still used in both electrical and telecommunications applications.  Both the power company as well as the telephone companies, still use a lot of it for distributing power as well as distributing communication signals for voice, data, and video.  Because of its value, many are thinking it is an easy payday to slice a piece off and cash in at the scrap metal yard.

In the power industry, long cables are used to distribute power from one point to the others.  Those long cables make good targets for thieves wanting to cut a piece off and make some easy money on the weight of the thick copper.  Transformers are also a target.

Stolen from an Electric Company’s sub-station.

In the communications industry, both long-haul circuits as well as in-building circuits are made with shielded and unshielded jacketed cable.  People have been known to walk into buildings and start hacking away at cable runs thinking it is “easy money” to sell it for scrap.  At $2-$3 a pound, a hundred feet of cable weighing one or two pounds per foot is a good payback.

In both industries, the amount of crimes that focus on stealing copper is on the rise.  Why?  Because you can make money selling the scrap copper.

Copper stolen from Verizon Cell Tower Installation

Copper is used in so many applications that the FBI has gotten involved in trying to reduce these crimes.  A recent incident involved some thieves stealing 7,200 feet of copper cabling connecting runway lights from an airport runway.  ( )  That creates a whole new threat to airline safety.


Sometimes the thieves wind up dead in their quest for “free money”.  In the power side, many cables are “live” and should not be touched, let alone, cut.

Thieves electrocuted

Copper thief hanging from an electric pole

In a cabling assessment I performed years ago at a 30-story building, I actually saw where the building’s main ground wire was cut several floors above a tenant’s space and brought in to be the ground wire for their computer room on the fourth floor.  Everyone above the fourth floor had no ground wire because of this.  After finding this, they had to put the building back in order.  If the assessment was never done, the cut ground wire would have gone unnoticed – until someone had a major problem.

The loss of power, grounding or the loss of communications can cause Millions of dollars in damage and lost revenues.  Can you imagine someone going and cutting out a couple hundred feet of communications cable that connects thousands of circuits at one of the stock exchanges?  Or cutting off power to servers as they steal some copper power cables?


More buildings and business campuses should be using fiber optics to connect buildings as well as connect back to the telephone company’s central office.  Copper has other shortcomings that fiber optics do not have when it comes to communications.

Copper is susceptible to RMI and EFI.  RMI is Radio-Magnetic Interference.  EMI stands for Electro-Magnetic Interference.  Both of these interferences can cause partial or total degradation of communication signals running on copper-based transmission media.  These interferences are intermittent and are very hard to isolate.  Shielding the cable can help but it doesn’t totally shield the circuit from all interferences.

In today’s environments which now have multi-gigabit speeds and one out of three applications being deemed “mission critical”.  It is not worth putting in copper and being exposed to these potential problems of interference as well as increasing the lure to potential thieves looking to make a quick buck off of the price of copper.

When it comes to speed, fiber optics are superior to copper-based cables.  Yes, you can get multi-gigabit speeds on copper but there are severe limitations compared to fiber optics.  Besides, in the lifespan of the building, fiber optics are better-suited to last longer due to their capacities that can handle terabit speeds.  Copper is at its end of product life.  Some companies are squeezing a little more speed out of copper cable, but fiber optics can handle much more traffic than copper can.

CARLINI-ISM :   Fiber optics is the transmission media needed in the communications industry to future-proof network  infrastructure.

Copyright 2013 – James Carlini


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