Five Basics About Fiber Optic Cable

A fiber optic cable is a network cable that contains strands of glass fibers inside an insulated casing. They’re designed for high performance data networking and telecommunications. Fiber optic cable carry communication signals using pulses of light, faster than copper cabling which uses electricity. They are becoming the most significant communication media in data center. Then how much do you know about them? This post serves as a guide for beginners.

Fiber Components

The three basic elements of a fiber optic cable are the core, cladding and coating. Core is the light transmission area of the fiber, either glass or plastic. The larger the core, the more light that will be transmitted into the fiber. The function of the cladding is to provide a lower refractive index at the core interface, causing reflection within the core. Therefore the light waves can be transmitted through the fiber. Coatings are usually multi-layers of plastics applied to preserve fiber strength, absorb shock and provide extra fiber protection.

Fiber Components

Fiber Type

Generally, there are two basic types of fiber optic cables: single mode fiber (SMF) and multimode fiber (MMF). Furthermore, multimode fiber cores may be either step index or graded index.

Single mode and multi-mode fiber-optic cables

Single mode optical fiber is a single strand of glass fiber with a diameter of 8.3 to 10 microns that has one mode of transmission. 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. It’s often used for long-distance signal transmission.

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 to arrive separately at a receiving point. Consequently, this type of fiber is best suited for transmission over short distances.

Graded index fibers are commercially available with core diameters of 50, 62.5 and 100 microns. It 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.

Fiber Size

Single mode fibers usually has a 9 micron core and a 125 micron cladding (9/125µm). Multimode fibers originally came in several sizes, optimized for various networks and sources, but the data industry standardized on 62.5 core fiber in the mid-80s (62.5/125 fiber has a 62.5 micron core and a 125 micron cladding. It’s now called OM1). Recently, as gigabit and 10 gigabit networks have become widely used, an old fiber design has been upgraded. 50/125 fiber was used from the late 70s with lasers for telecom applications. 50/125 fiber (OM2) offers higher bandwidth with the laser sources used in the gigabit LANs and can allow gigabit links to go longer distances. Laser-optimized 50/125 fiber (OM3 or OM4) today is considered by most to be the best choice for multimode applications.

Basic Cable Design

The two basic cable designs are loose-tube cable, used in the majority of outside plant installations, 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.

Tight-buffered cables can be divided into single fiber tight-buffered cables and multi-fiber tight-buffered cables. single fiber tight-buffered cables are used as pigtails, patch cords and jumpers to terminate loose-tube cables directly into opto-electronic transmitters, receivers and other active and passive components. While multi-fiber tight-buffered cables also are available and are used primarily for alternative routing and handling flexibility and ease within buildings.

Connector Type

While there are many different types of fiber connectors, they share similar design characteristics. Simplex vs. duplex: Simplex means 1 connector per end while duplex means 2 connectors per end. The following picture shows various connector styles as well as characteristics.

fiber cable connectors


Ultimately, what we’ve discussed is only the tip of the iceberg. If you are eager to know more about the fiber optic cable, either basics, applications or purchasing, please visit for more information.