Vendor Tech Talk

May 30 2013   9:35AM GMT

Fibre Optic Cables – An Understanding

Posted by: PremioOscar

In the past ten years there’s been a lot of talking about fibre optic cables and fibre optic technology and almost everyone has heard of them. Reality is that not everyone actually knows what they are or how they work or the reason why they are considered a proper revolution.

To make it simple, a fibre optic cable is just a cable made of glass or plastic; a very thin and delicate fibre of glass/plastic within a plastic sheath.

The obvious and primary way to classify a fibre optic cable is by its material; cables‘core can be made of plastic or glass which will determine the final use of them.

Plastic Fibre Optics, are essentially used for decorative and aesthetic transmission of light (you definitely have seen toys, lamps or Christmas trees made of plastic fibre optics); however these cables aren’t suitable for data transmission because the plastic fibre isn’t pure enough and the light wouldn’t travel smoothly but it’d be scattered around and signal would be lost.

Fibre Optic cables made of glass are the ones that have revolutionised the world of telecom and datacom. In fact these cables have overpowered the usual copper cables and have improved the quality and reliability of data transmission ensuring a higher quality and a quicker data transmission.

Fibre Optic Cables (both plastic and glass) allow light to travel through the core which is the inner part of the cable. The light bounces within the core which is wrapped in an optical material called cladding that reflects the light back into the core without absorbing any to prevent any dispersion of light. Because of the cladding, the light can travel along long distances maintaining the quality of the signal and the quality of data transmitted.

The fibre optic cables made of glass ensure a reliable and high quality transmission as long as the core is made of pure glass. Any sort of impurities within the fibre may interfere with the data transmission causing disruption during the transmission.

There are a lot of different sort of fibre optic cables depending on how they will be used; out of all the different ones we can identify two main types: single-mode and multi-mode fibre.

-          Single-mode fibre cables: these cables allow higher capacity to transmit information because it can retain the fidelity of each light pulse over longer distances, and it exhibits no dispersion caused by multiple modes. Single-mode also enjoys lower fibre attenuation then multi-mode fibre.

-          Multi-mode fibre cables: use a much thicker core than single-mode. These cables can carry data encoded using multiple light paths, thus allowing for multiple data paths to travel over a single optical fibre. The downside of multi-mode is transmission distance and available data bandwidth. Multi-mode transmission is good over shorter distances and cannot support the high bandwidth of single-mode fibres.

There are different advantages in using fibre optic cables, but I believe the following ones could be enough to support this technology:

-          Cost: fibre optic is cheaper than copper; production of fibre cables is cheaper even though is complex; the light weight reduces transportation costs and also, because the signal is transmitted over longer distances, fibre optic systems require less equipment such as repeaters at regular interval to ensure there aren’t any signal losses. All these details reduce the overall price of fibre optic systems over copper cabling systems.

-          Reliability: data transmission through fibre optic cables is more reliable especially over long distances where data losses are exceptionally low.

-          Electrical Immunity: fibre cables transmit light signals without involving any electrical element, which means that they are immune to electromagnetic interference between transmitting and receiving ends of the communication, especially if there is the possibility of different earth potentials. (Power industries, laboratories and medical companies take advantage of this feature to transmit data over any distance).

The disadvantage of Fibre Optics is the cost of the network interface cards for the PC and server and Telecommunication Equipment. When the cost drops with mass production Fibre Optics will become the norm and not just for high end applications.

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