Fiber cable: Cabling tips for network professionals, lesson 6

Fiber optic cabling, inlcuding 62.5/125 micron loose tube and single-mode and multi-mode, is discussed in this tip.

In the 1950s, more research and development into the transmission of visible images through optical fibers led to some success in the medical world where it was being used in remote illumination and viewing instruments. In 1966 Charles Kao and George Hockham proposed the transmission of information over glass fiber and realized that to make it a practical proposition, much lower losses in the cables were essential.

This was the driving force behind the developments to improve the optical losses in fiber manufacturing and today optical losses are significantly lower than the original target set by Charles Kao and George Hockham.

The advantages of using fiber optics





Because fiber is non-conductive it can be used where electrical isolation is needed, for instance, between buildings where copper cables would require cross bonding to eliminate differences in earth potentials. Fibers also pose no threat in dangerous environments such as chemical plants where a spark could trigger an explosion. Last but not least is the security aspect; it is very, very difficult to tap into a fiber cable to read data signals.

Because of the low loss, high bandwidth properties of fiber cables they can be used over greater distances than copper cables. In data networks this can be as much as 2 km without the use of repeaters. Their light weight and small size also make them ideal for applications where running copper cables would be impractical and, by using multiplexers, one fiber could replace hundreds of copper cables. This is pretty impressive for a tiny glass filament, but the real benefit in the data industry is its immunity to Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI), and the fact that glass is not an electrical conductor.

Fiber construction





Loose tube fiber cable can be indoor or outdoor, or both. Outdoor cables usually have the tube filled with gel to act as a moisture barrier to the ingress of water. The number of cores in one cable can be anywhere from 4 to 144.

Over the years a variety of core sizes have been produced but these days there are three main sizes that are used in data communications, these are 50/125, 62.5/125 and 8.3/125. The 50/125 and 62.5/125 micron multi-mode cables are the most widely used in data networks, although recently the 62.5 has become the more popular choice. This is rather unfortunate because the 50/125 has been found to be the better option for Gigabit Ethernet applications.



The 8.3/125 micron is a single mode cable which until now hasn't been widely used in data networking due to the high cost of single mode hardware. Things are beginning to change because the length limits for Gigabit Ethernet over 62.5/125 fiber has been reduced to around 220m and now using 8.3/125 may be the only choice for some campus size networks. Hopefully, this shift to single mode may start to bring the costs down.

There are many different types of fiber cable, but for the purposes of this explanation we will deal with one of the most common types -- 62.5/125 micron loose tube. The numbers represent the diameters of the fiber core and cladding, these are measured in microns which are millionths of a meter.

What's the difference between single-mode and multi-mode?

With copper cables larger size means less resistance and therefore more current, but with fiber the opposite is true. To explain this we first need to understand how the light propagates within the fiber core.

Light propagation




fiber optic cable

At some specific angle between these two views points the light stops reflecting off the surface of the water and passes through the air/water interface allowing you to see the bottom of the pond. In multi-mode fibers, as the name suggests, there are multiple modes of propagation for the rays of light. These range from low order modes, which take the most direct route straight down the middle, to high order modes, which take the longest route as they bounce from one side to the other all the way down the fiber.



This has the effect of scattering the signal because the rays from one pulse of light arrive at the far end at different times; this is known as Intermodal Dispersion (sometimes referred to as Differential Mode Delay, DMD). To ease the problem, graded index fibers were developed. Unlike the examples above which have a definite barrier between core and cladding, these have a high refractive index at the centre which gradually reduces to a low refractive index at the circumference. This slows down the lower order modes allowing the rays to arrive at the far end closer together, thereby reducing intermodal dispersion and improving the shape of the signal.

Light travels along a fiber cable by a process called 'Total Internal Reflection' (TIR); this is made possible by using two types of glass which have different refractive indexes. The inner core has a high refractive index and the outer cladding has a low index. This is the same principle as the reflection you see when you look into a pond. The water in the pond has a higher refractive index than the air and if you look at it from a shallow angle you will see a reflection of the surrounding area, however, if you look straight down at the water you can see the bottom of the pond.

So what about the single-mode fiber?


Cabling tips for network professionals series

 Lesson 1: Network history and fundamentals
 Lesson 2: Straight-through UTP cables
 Lesson 3: CAT5 UTP crossover cable
 Lesson 4: 10Base-T/2/5/F/35 - Ethernet
 Lesson 5: 100Base-(T) TX/T4/FX - Ethernet
 Lesson 6: Fiber cable
 Lesson 7: Direct cable connection
 Lesson 8: Serial direct cable connection
 Lesson 9: Parallel direct cable connection
 Lesson 10: USB direct cable connection


Firewall.cx logo Click over to Firewall.cx for more articles like this one. You don't have to register or jump through any hoops. All you do is get the networking information you want. Copyright 2004 Firewall.cx.
Well, what's the best way to get rid of Intermodal Dispersion? Easy, only allow one mode of propagation. So a smaller core size means higher bandwidth and greater distances. Simple as that!
This was first published in August 2007

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