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What are the differences between Fiber Optic Cables
Last Updated: 01/31/2017
  • Multi-Mode OM1

    Multi-Mode OM1

  • Multi-Mode OM3/4

    Multi-Mode OM3/4

  • Single-Mode OS2

    Single-Mode OS2

  • Armored Fiber

    Armored Fiber


Cable used to transmit a light signal and consisting of a core of transparent glass encased in a cladding material (typically plastic) with a lower light refraction. A buffer material (type of material varies) surrounds and protects the cladding and core, and the assembly is encased in an overall jacket. Various other components may be present to add strength, protection, water blocking, etc.

Multi-mode fiber has a core size of 50 microns or 62.5 microns.

Single-mode fiber has a core size of 8.3 microns (sometimes rounded up to 9 microns in the nomenclature).


High speed data transfer within a network with less signal loss, greater bandwidth and distance than copper, and no susceptibility to many of the problems that plague copper cable (i.e. EMI/RFI, crosstalk).

Multi-mode: used for shorter cable lengths. Larger core allows multiple beams to travel down the core. The transceiver equipment is less expensive because it can use LED’s vs actual lasers. It is typically used as a backbone between floors and close buildings on campus.

Single-mode: used for long cable lengths. Smaller core uses a single beam that follows the core, thus being faster, brighter, providing higher bandwidth and allowing the longer cable lengths. Single-mode uses actual lasers and equipment is much more expensive. Typically used for extreme long distances, high speed, telco backbones, CATV networks, etc.

Installation Considerations:

Fiber optic cable incorporates strengthening components within its construction (typically Kevlar aramid yarn) for pulling. The cable should be pulled by these components unless the cable is specifically designed for pulling by the jacket.

Pulling eyes should be attached to prevent the cable from twisting while pulling.

If maximum bend radius or pulling tension is exceeded and results in damage to the cable, it is assumed to be irreversible and the cabling is typically replaced. Repositioning or easing the tension does not necessarily undo the damage.

Cable manufacturers will have a specific maximum bend radius that must not be exceeded. In the absence of a specified max. the general rule is that the bend radius should be at least 20 times the cable diameter.

Do not twist the cable, which can stress the fibers.

Hook and loop fasteners are preferred for bundling and securing fiber optic cables. Cable ties may be used but should be hand-tightened only and should remain loose enough to move along the cable.

Cable with a plenum rated jacket has a minimum installation temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Installing below this temperature could result in the jacket developing cracks.

Common Options:

  • Plenum, PVC or Riser jacketed
  • Outdoor rated
  • Armored
  • Loose Tube
  • Tight Buffer
  • Number of strands from 2 to 144 and more

Popular Manufacturers:

Related Industry Terms/Acronyms:

  • Meter – fiber optic distances are typically expressed in meters. 1 one meter is equal to 3.28 feet (39.37 inches).

  • OFNP (Optical Fiber Nonconductive Plenum) - designates a fiber optic cable suitable for installation in a plenum.

  • OFNR (Optical Fiber Nonconductive Riser) - designates a fiber optic cable suitable for a riser installation.

  • Wavelength - the distance from one energy wave to another. Fiber optic cable uses longer wavelengths in the infrared to minimize attenuation.

  • Bandwidth - refers to the range of signal frequencies within which a fiber optic channel will operate.

  • Nanometer - equal to 1 billionth of 1 meter. It is used in fiber optics to express the wavelength of transmitted light.

  • OSP - Outside Plant cable is designed for use in an outdoor environment and suitable for direct burial, aerial, or underground conduit applications.

  • Plenum - plenum-rated cable has a special insulation that has low-smoke and low-flame characteristics. Plenum rated cable is mandated to be installed in any plenum (air handling space).

  • Riser - riser-rated cable will not have the plenum characteristics, so the cost will be lower making it more cost-effective when installing in non-plenum areas (such as vertically between floors – hence “Riser” terminology).

  • Attenuation - loss of signal over the length of a network link.

  • Insertion Loss – signal loss due to the insertion of an additional component or the creation of a splice within a continuous path.

  • Bend Radius – the minimum radius a cable can be bent without kinking it, damaging it or shortening its life. When cabling is bent beyond the specified minimum it can cause transmission failures.

Comparison Chart:

Micron Size: 62.5/125 50/125 50/125 50/125 8.3/125
Jacket Color: Orange Orange Aqua Aqua Yellow
Typical Wavelength: 850/1310nm 850/1310nm 850/1310nm 850/1310nm 1310/1550nm
10 Gig Distance: 33M/108Ft 82M/269Ft 300M/984Ft 550M/1804Ft 70Km/43.5Miles
100 Gig Distance: N/A N/A 100M/328Ft 150M/492Ft 40Km/25Miles

See Also:

Further References:

  • FOA (The Fiber Optic Association)
  • BICSI (Building Industry Consulting Services International)
  • IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.)
  • ISO (International Organization for Standardization)
  • TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association)
  • ANSI (American National Standards Institute)

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