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What is a fiber optic cable: the ultimate guide

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This post will focus on the fundamentals of a fiber optic cable, i.e., the definition of a fiber optic cable, its benefits over traditional copper cable, the essential features of an exemplary fiber optic cable, and which types of fiber optic cables to choose, and finally, the installation of fiber optic cables.

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MTP/MPO 6 Duplex LC Fiber Optic Harness Breakout/Fanout Cable

What is a fiber optic cable?

A fiber optic cable can guide light through its core, usually made of glass and sometimes plastic, to transmit data signals over long distances. The fiber core is as thin as a strand of hair, surrounded by multiple layers of protective material, which helps to protect the cable from physical damage and environmental factors.

Fiber optic cables are the backbone of today’s high-speed transoceanic communication network and are widely used in various applications, including telecommunications, cable television, and the Internet. Due to their vast benefits over traditional copper cables, like much higher bandwidth, immunity to electromagnetic interference, and much longer distances between signal repeaters, plus corrosion resistance, make them the ideal communication medium.

What are the benefits of fiber optic cables over traditional copper cables?

Fiber optic cables offer huge advantages over traditional copper cables:

  • High-speed data transmission: fiber optic cables allow for very high-speed data transmission, making them ideal for applications such as high-speed internet and data centers.
  • Large bandwidth: fiber optic cables have a much larger bandwidth than copper cables. Thus, they can support a greater volume of data traffic.
  • Immunity to electromagnetic interference: fiber optic cables are immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI), which can cause disruptions to signals transmitted over copper cables. This makes fiber optic cables ideal for use in environments with high levels of EMI, such as near power lines or in industrial settings.
  • Increased security: because fiber optic cables are difficult to tap into, they provide increased protection for sensitive data transmission.
  • Durability: fiber optic cables are much more durable, and in addition, they’re resistant to heat, cold, and moisture damage.
  • Long-distance transmission: fiber optic cables can transmit data over much longer distances than copper cables without needing signal boosters.
  • Cost-effective: although fiber optic cables can be more expensive to install than copper cables, they are often more cost-effective in the long run due to their greater capacity, durability, and long-haul transceiving data ability.

In summary, fiber optic cables are ideal for applications that require high-speed, high-bandwidth, secure, and reliable data transmission over long distances.

fiber optic cable vs. copper cable
fiber optic cable vs. copper cable

What makes an exemplary fiber optic cable?

A good fiber optic cable provides reliable and efficient transmission of optical signals over long distances with minimal signal loss. Several factors contribute to the quality and performance of fiber optic cables, including:

  • Core material: the fiber material used in the core should be high quality and as transparent as possible to ensure the efficient transmission of light signals.
  • Core diameter: the larger the core diameter, the higher the bandwidth and data transmission speed.
  • Cladding material: the cladding should have a lower refractive index than the core to prevent light from escaping.
  • Buffer material: the buffer should be strong, durable, and resistant to environmental factors such as moisture, temperature, and mechanical stress.
  • Jacket material: the jacket should protect against environmental factors and be durable.
  • Bend radius: the bend radius of the cable should be sufficient to allow for flexible installation without damaging the fibers inside.
  • Attenuation: the cable’s attenuation should be as low as possible so that the line should transmit signals with minimal signal loss.
  • Connector quality: the connectors used to terminate the cable should be of high quality, ensuring reliable and efficient signal transfer.
  • Compatibility: the cable should be compatible with the equipment and systems to ensure optimal performance.

Which fiber optic cables should you use? Multimode fiber optic cables or singlemode fiber optic cables?

The choice between multimode and singlemode fiber optic cables depends on several factors, including the distance of the transmission, the bandwidth requirements, and the cost.

Multimode fiber optic cables are designed for short-distance transmission and can support higher bandwidth thanks to their large core. They are typically less expensive than singlemode cables and are commonly used in data centers.

In contrast, singlemode fiber optic cables are ideal for long-haul transmission. They have a much smaller core diameter, allowing only one light mode to pass through at a time, thus enabling a minimum signal loss and theoretically unlimited bandwidth.

It’s essential to consider the specific requirements of your application before choosing between multimode and singlemode fiber optic cables.

If you’re unsure which cable to use, keep reading.


Multimode fiber optic cables

Multimode fiber optic cables are designed to carry multiple light modes simultaneously through a single fiber. They have a larger core diameter than singlemode fiber optic cables, typically ranging from 50 to 65 micrometers.

The larger core size makes it much easier to gather more light, increasing its bandwidth while reducing its cost. Yet it is a double-edged sword. More light mode generates a higher signal loss, making it only suitable for short-distance data transmission. They are commonly used in data centers, buildings, and campuses.

There’re five types of multimode fiber optic cables, i.e., OM1, OM2, OM3, OM4, and OM5. OM1 cables have a bandwidth of 200 MHz*km and are typically used for applications up to 33 meters in length. OM3 cables have a bandwidth of 2000 MHz*km and are used for applications up to 100 meters in length. Nowadays, the maximum bandwidth of multimode fiber is 28000MHz*km of OM5 fiber.

When selecting multimode fiber optic cables, it’s essential to consider the requirements of your application, including the transmission distance, data transmission speed, and budget. Choosing a suitable multimode fiber cable can ensure a reliable, efficient, and cost-effective data transmission solution.

Singlemode fiber optic cables

Singlemode fiber optic cables can only transmit a single light mode through a much smaller fiber core diameter, typically between 8 and 10 micrometers, resulting in higher bandwidth and longer transmission distance.

There’re two types of singlemode fiber optic cables, i.e., OS1 and OS2. OS1 is a tight-buffered cable that works at 1310 nm wavelength with a maximum attenuation of 1 dB/km. It was designed for indoor applications like data centers, buildings, and campuses, where the maximum distance is 10 km. OS2 is a loose tube cable that works at 1550 nm wavelength with a maximum attenuation of 0.4 dB/km. It was specifically designed for outdoor use, like underground, burial, and overhaul, where the maximum distance is up to 200 km. OS1 can support 10G Ethernet links, while OS2 can also support 40G and 100G Ethernet links.

As considerable efforts are dedicated to reducing the minimum loss of fibers, the lowest value of 0.1419 dB/km was achieved in 2017 at wavelengths near 1560 nm.1

Although singlemode fiber optic cables are more expensive than multimode fiber optic cables, they offer indispensable features of much longer transmission distance and nearly unlimited bandwidth capabilities.

How to install fiber optic cables?

Below are several steps to have fiber optic cables installed:

  1. Determine your requirements: determine the specific needs of your network, including the transmission distance, data transmission speed, and the limitation of your budget.
  2. Choose a vendor: choose a vendor specializing in fiber optic cable installation. Ask for references and check their credentials to ensure they have the necessary expertise.
  3. Design and plan: work with your vendor to design and plan the installation, including determining the route of the fiber optic cables, the type of cable to be used, and the location of the terminations.
  4. Obtain necessary permits and approvals: obtain any required permits and licenses from local authorities, such as building departments, utility companies, and telecommunications providers.
  5. Installation: once the necessary permits and approvals have been obtained, the vendor will beg
  6. in the installation process. This may include digging trenches, laying conduits, pulling the fiber optic cables, and terminating the lines at each end.
  7. Testing: once the installation is complete, the vendor will test the fiber optic cables to ensure they transmit data correctly and meet industry standards.
  8. Maintenance: Maintaining your fiber optic cables to ensure their long-term performance and reliability is essential. Work with your vendor to establish a maintenance plan and schedule regular inspections and maintenance.

In short, installing fiber optic cables requires careful planning, selecting a vendor with expertise in fiber optic cable installation, and compliance with local regulations and industry standards. With proper planning and execution, fiber optic cables can provide a reliable, high-performance network solution.


  1. G. P. Agrawal, in Fiber-Optic Communication Systems (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2022), p. 46.

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