Fiber Optic Cable

Although fiber optic cable is still more expensive than other types of cable, it’s favored for today’s high-speed data communications because it eliminates the problems of twisted-pair cable, such as near-end crosstalk (NEXT), electromagnetic interference (EIVII), and security breaches.


• SPEED:  Fiber optic networks operate at high speeds – up into the gigabits

• BANDWIDTH:  large carrying capacity

• DISTANCE:  Signals can be transmitted further without needing to be “refreshed” or strengthened.

• RESISTANCE:  Greater resistance to electromagnetic noise such as radios, motors or other nearby cables.

• MAINTENANCE:  Fiber optic cables costs much less to maintain.



SINGLE MODE CABLE  is a single stand of glass fiber with a diameter of 8.3 to 10 microns. (One micron is 1/250th the width of a human hair.)

MULTIMODE CABLE   is made of multiple strands of glass fibers, with a combined diameter in the 50-to-100 micron range. Each fiber in a multimode cable is capable of carrying a different signal independent from those on the other fibers in the cable bundle.

POF  is a newer plastic-based cable which promises performance similar to single mode cable, but at a lower cost.

While fiber optic cable itself is cheaper than an equivalent length of copper cable, fiber optic cable connectors and the equipment needed to install them are more expensive than their copper counterparts.

Fiber optic cable functions as a “light guide,” guiding the light introduced at one end of the cable through to the other end. The light source can either be a light-emitting diode (LED)) or a laser.

The light source is pulsed on and off, and a light-sensitive receiver on the other end of the cable converts the pulses back into the digital ones and zeros of the original signal.

Even laser light shining through a fiber optic cable is subject to loss of strength, primarily through dispersion and scattering of the light, within the cable itself. The faster the laser fluctuates, the greater the risk of dispersion. Light strengtheners, called repeaters, may be necessary to refresh the signal in certain applications.


by John MacChesney –  Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies

Some 10 billion digital bits can be transmitted per second along an optical fiber link in a commercial network, enough to carry tens of thousands of telephone calls. Hair-thin fibers consist of two concentric layers of high-purity silica glass the core and the cladding, which are enclosed by a protective sheath. Light rays modulated into digital pulses with a laser or a light-emitting diode move along the core without penetrating the cladding.

The light stays confined to the core because the cladding has a lower refractive index—a measure of its ability to bend light. Refinements in optical fibers, along with the development of new lasers and diodes, may one day allow commercial fiber-optic networks to carry trillions of bits of data per second.

Total internal refection confines light within optical fibers (similar to looking down a mirror made in the shape of a long paper towel tube). Because the cladding has a lower refractive index, light rays reflect back into the core if they encounter the cladding at a shallow angle (red lines). A ray that exceeds a certain “critical” angle escapes from the fiber (yellow line).

STEP-INDEX MULTIMODE FIBER  has a large core, up to 100 microns in diameter. As a result, some of the light rays that make up the digital pulse may travel a direct route, whereas others zigzag as they bounce off the cladding. These alternative pathways cause the different groupings of light rays, referred to as modes, to arrive separately at a receiving point. The pulse, an aggregate of different modes, begins to spread out, losing its well-defined shape. The need to leave spacing between pulses to prevent overlapping limits bandwidth that is, the amount of information that can be sent. Consequently, this type of fiber is best suited for transmission over short distances, in an endoscope, for instance.

GRADED-INDEX MULTIMODE FIBER  contains a core in which the refractive index diminishes gradually from the center axis out toward the cladding. The higher refractive index at the center makes the light rays moving down the axis advance more slowly than those near the cladding. Also, rather than zig-zagging off the cladding, light in the core curves helically because of the graded index, reducing its travel distance. The shortened path and the higher speed allow light at the periphery to arrive at a receiver at about the same time as the slow but straight rays in the core axis. The result: a digital pulse suffers less dispersion. These fibers often become the physical medium for local-area networks.

SINGLE-MODE FIBER  has a narrow core (eight microns or less), and the index of refraction between the core and the cladding changes less than it does for multimode fibers. Light thus travels parallel to the axis, creating little pulse dispersion. Telephone and cable television networks install millions of kilometers of this fiber every year.


Loose-tube cable, used in the majority of outside-plant installations in North America, and tight-buffered cable, primarily used inside buildings.

The modular design of loose-tube cables typically holds up to 12 fibers per buffer tube with a maximum per cable fiber count of more than 200 fibers. Loose-tube cables can be all-dielectric or optionally armored. The modular buffer-tube design permits easy drop-off of groups of fibers at intermediate points, without interfering with other protected buffer tubes being routed to other locations. The loose-tube design also helps in the identification and administration of fibers in the system.

Single-fiber tight-buffered cables are used ase pigtails, patch cords and jumpers to terminate loose-tube cables directly into opto-electronic transmitters, receivers and other active and passive components.

Multi-fiber tight-buffered cables also are available and are used primarily for alternative routing and handling flexibility and ease within buildings.


In a loose-tube cable design, color-coded plastic buffer tubes house and protect optical fibers. A gel filling compound impedes water penetration. Excess fiber length (relative to buffer tube length) insulates fibers from stresses of installation and environmental loading. Buffer tubes are stranded around a dielectric or steel central member, which serves as an anti-buckling element.

The cable core, typically surrounded by aramid yarn, is the primary tensile strength member. The outer polyethylene jacket is extruded over the core. If armoring is required, a corrugated steel tape is formed around a single jacketed cable with an additional jacket extruded over the armor.

Loose-tube cables typically are used for outside-plant installation in aerial, duct and direct-buried applications.


With tight-buffered cable designs, the buffering material is in direct contat with the fiber. This design is suited for “jumper cables” which connect outside plant cables to terminal equipment, and also for linking various devices in a premises network.

Multi-fiber, tight-buffered cables often are used for intra-building, risers, general building and plenum applications.

The tight-buffered design provides a rugged cable structure to protect individual fibers during handling, routing and connectorization. Yarn strength members keep the tensile load away from the fiber.

As with loose-tube cables, optical specifications for tight-buffered cables also should include the maximum performance of all fibers over the operating temperature range and life of the cable. Averages should not be acceptable.


Over the past few years, fiber optic cable has become more affordable. It’s now used for dozens of applications that require complete immunity to electrical interference. Fiber is ideal for high data-rate systems such as FDDI, multimedia, ATM, or any other network that requires the transfer of large, time-consuming data files.

Other advantages of fiber optic cable over copper include:

• Greater distance-You can run fiber as far as several kilometers. • Low attenuation-The light signals meet little resistance, so data can travel farther.

• Security-Taps in fiber optic cable are easy to detect. If tapped, the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail.

• Greater bandwidth-Fiber can carry more data than copper. • Immunity-Fiber optics are immune to interference.



Single-mode fiber gives you a higher transmission rate and up to 50 times more distance than multimode, but it also costs more. Single-mode fiber has a much smaller core than multimode fiber-typically 5 to 10 microns. Only a single lightwave can be transmitted at a given time. The small core and single lightwave virtually eliminate any distortion that could result from overlapping light pulses, providing the least signal attenuation and the highest transmission speeds of any fiber cable type.

Multimode fiber gives you high bandwidth at high speeds over long distances. Lightwaves are dispersed into numerous paths, or modes, as they travel through the cable’s core. Typical multimode fiber core diameters are 50, 62.5, and 100 micrometers. However, in long cable runs (greater than 3000 feet [914.4 ml), multiple paths of light can cause signal distortion at the receiving end, resulting in an unclear and incomplete data transmission.



If you’re used to certifying Category 5 cable, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to certify fiber optic cable since if s immune to electrical interference. You only need to check a few measurements:

• Attenuation (or decibel loss)-Measured in dB/km, this is the decrease of signal strength as it travels through the fiber optic cable. • Return loss-The amount of light reflected from the far end of the cable back to the source. The lower the number, the better. For example, a reading of -60 dB is better than -20 dB.

• Graded refractive index-Measures how much light is sent down the fiber. This is commonly measured at wavelengths of 850 and 1300 nanometers. Compared to other operating frequencies, these two ranges yield the lowest intrinsic power loss. (NOTE This is valid for multimode fiber only.)

• Propagation delay-This is the time it takes a signal to travel from one point to another over a transmission channel.

• Time-domain reflectometry (TDR)-Transmits high-frequency pulses onto a cable so you can examine the reflections along the cable and isolate faults.

There are many fiber optic testers on the market today. Basic fiber optic testers function by shining a light down one end of the cable. At the other end, there’s a receiver calibrated to the strength of the light source. With this test, you can measure how much light is going to the other end of the cable. Generally, these testers give you the results in decibels (dB) lost, which you then compare to the loss budget. If the measured loss is less than the number calculated by your loss budget, your installation is good.

Newer fiber optic testers have a broad range of capabilities. They can test both 850- and 1300-nm signals at the same time and can even check your Gable for compliance with specific standards.



Although fiber optic cable is still more expensive than other types of cable, it’s favored for today’s high-speed data communications because it eliminates the problems of twisted-pair cable, such as near-end crosstalk (NEXT), electromagnetic interference (EIVII), and security breaches.

Fiber optic cable consists of a core, cladding, coating, strengthening fibers, and cable jacket (see above).

-This is the physical medium that transports optical data signals from an attached light source to a receiving device. The core is a single continuous strand of glass or plastic that’s measured (in microns) by the size of its outer diameter. The larger the core, the more light the cable can carry. All fiber optic cable is sized according to its core diameter. The three sizes most commonly available are 50-, 62.5-, and 1 00-micron Gable.

Cladding -This is a thin layer that surrounds the fiber core and serves as a boundary that contains the light waves and causes the refraction, enabling data to travel throughout the length of the fiber segment.

Coating -This is a layer of plastic that surrounds the core and cladding to reinforce the fiber core, help absorb shocks, and provide extra protection against excessive cable bends. These buffer coatings are measured in microns (p) and can range from 250 p to 900 p.

Strengthening fibers -These components help protect the core against crushing forces and excessive tension during installation. The materials can range from Kevlat4 to wire strands to gel-filled sleeves.

Cable jacket -This is the outer layer of any cable. Most fiber optic cables have an orange jacket, although some may be black or yellow.



When planning a new or upgraded cabling infrastructure, you have two basic choices: fiber or copper. Both offer superior data transmission. The decision on which one to use may be difficult. It will often depend on your current network, your future networking needs, and your particular application, including bandwidth, distances, environment, cost, and more. In some cases, copper may be a better choice; in other situations, fiber offers advantages.

Although copper cable is currently more popular and much more predominant in structured cabling systems and networks, fiber is quickly gaining fans.

Fiber optic cable is becoming one of the fastest-growing transmission mediums for both new cabling installations and upgrades, including backbone, horizontal, and even desktop applications. Fiber optic cable is favored for applications that need high bandwidth, long distances, and complete immunity to electrical interference. It’s ideal for high data-rate systems such as Gigabit Ethernet, FDDI, multimedia, ATM, SONET, Fibre Channel, or any other network that requires the transfer of large, bandwidth-consuming data files, particularly over long distances. A common application for fiber optic cable is as a network backbone, where huge amounts of data are transmitted. To help you decide if fiber is right for your new network or if you want to migrate to fiber, take a look at the following:



GREATER BANDWIDTH—Because fiber provides far greater bandwidth than copper and has proven performance at rates up to 10 Gbps, it gives network designers future-proofing capabilities as network speeds and requirements increase. Also, fiber optic cable can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper wire. That’s why the telephone networks use fiber, and many CATV companies are converting to fiber.

LOW ATTENUATION AND GREATER DISTANCE—Because the fiber optic signal is made of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission so data can move at higher speeds and greater distances. Fiber does not have the 100-meter (304.8-ft.) distance limitation of unshielded twisted-pair copper (without a booster). Fiber distances can range from 300 meters to 40 kilometers, depending on the style of cable, wavelength, and network. (Fiber distances are typically measured in metric units.) Because fiber signals need less boosting than copper ones do, the cable performs better

Fiber networks also enable you to put all your electronics and hardware in one central location, instead of having wiring closets with equipment throughout the building.

SECURITY—Your data is safe with fiber cable. It does not radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.

IMMUNITY AND RELIABILITY—Fiber provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The fiber is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It is immune to electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fiber cable next to industrial equipment without worry. Fiber is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than copper is and can be submerged in water.

DESIGN—Fiber is lightweight, thin, and more durable than copper cable. And, contrary to what you might think, fiber optic cable has pulling specifications that are up to ten times greater than copper cable’s. Its small size makes it easier to handle, and it takes up much less space in cabling ducts. Although fiber is still more difficult to terminate than copper is, advancements in connectors are making temination easier. In addition, fiber is actually easier to test than copper cable.

MIGRATION—The proliferation and lower costs of media converters are making copper to fiber migration much easier. The converters provide seamless links and enable the use of existing hardware. Fiber can be incorporated into networks in planned upgrades.

STANDARDS—New TIA/EIA standards are bringing fiber closer to the desktop. TIA/EIA-785, ratified in 2001, provides a cost-effective migration path from 10-Mbps Ethernet to 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet over fiber (100BASE-SX). A recent addendum to the standard eliminates limitations in transceiver designs. In addition, in June 2002, the IEEE approved a 10-Gigabit Ethernet standard.

COSTS—The cost for fiber cable, components, and hardware is steadily decreasing. Installation costs for fiber are higher than copper because of the skill needed for terminations. Overall, fiber is more expensive than copper in the short run, but it may actually be less expensive in the long run. Fiber typically costs less to maintain, has much less downtime, and requires less networking hardware. And fiber eliminates the need to recable for higher network performance.