We buy, sell and refurbish some of the world’s most important networking equipment.

What Are Fiber Optic Cables and How Can They Boost Your Network?

As you plan your network, it’s important to consider the cables you’re using in your design. Networking equipment is just a small part of the equation. Cables are not interchangeable.

A Brief History of Fiber Optics and Fiber Optic Cables

You might be surprised to learn that the first use of fiber optics goes back to the 1950s when bundles of fibers were used to send images. Narinder Singh Kapany, an Indian physicist, created and manufactured glass wires that were able to transport light. He named his invention “fibre optics.”

At the same time, Harold Hopkins, a British physicist, published his “Wave Theory of Aberrations,” and was using that to invent important tools like fiberscopes, endoscopes, and fiber optics using thin glass fibers. While others helped put these two on the path of fiber optics and many others helped advance the technology, they’re both credited with its invention.

With fiber optics created, the use of this technology in fiber optic cables was next. Engineers at Xerox Palo Alto Research Labs used coax cables in the invention of ethernet in 1973, and NORAD took it a step further two years later when they used coax cables to link computers. The first telecom link would be installed by AT&T in 1977. Fast-forward three years and fiber optics was used to television the Lake Place Winter Olympics on TV.

As the technology became widely used in the U.S. and around the world, it paved the way to the internet, faster data speeds, and seamless internet connectivity, and shifted much of the world away from dial-up internet to constant connectivity that didn’t tie up phone lines or move at disturbingly slow rates. By 2006, Fiber to the Home was available.

Today, fiber optic cables have as many as 6,912 fibers in a cable. Hollow core fiber is one of the latest developments and can transmit light signals up to 50% faster than traditional glass fiber optics. Fiber optic cables can transmit data at speeds that are nearing the speed of light.

What are fiber optics and fiber optic cables? How are they used to improve networks?

What Is Fiber Optics?

Fiber optics is a technology using very thin strands of silica glass or plastic to transmit modulated light from one end of the fiber to the other at impressive speeds. While electrical cable can be used to transmit signals, it can’t move at anywhere near the same speed as glass fibers.

The glass or plastic fibers are similar to the size of a strand of hair. They’re bundled together into a cable where the core (fibers) is covered in cladding to prevent the light loss, a resin coating for the buffer material, and the plastic jacket that’s extruded over the wire for durability and protection from excessive bending. 

These fibers can then send images from one point to another and back at record speeds, almost as fast as the speed of light. If you’re at home and are uploading the graphic design and photos on a website, the loading times used to take several minutes and move at a painstaking pace. The split second it takes now is due to the use of fiber optics.

How does this all work? The light (LED) pulses contain the information in a binary (0s and 1s) form to be decoded on the other end to create the text, images, etc. that appears on the screen. Different cables allow for different speeds when transmitting those light pulses.

Fiber Optic Cables Must Be Paired to Your Needs

Fiber optic cables come in a variety of types, and your company’s network works seamlessly when you choose the right cables. Some are better for audio transmissions and others are better for patch cables. You also have single-mode fiber optic cables and multimode ones. They can be active or passive, too.

  1. Single Mode Fiber Optic Cables

Single-mode cables have a narrow core, making the path light pulses can travel small. This allows for light pulses to travel farther without weakening or needing to be repeated. Typically, the signals in a single-mode cable can travel for miles. How far? It depends.

Single-mode fiber optic cables may be OS1 or OS2. OS1 is best used indoors where distances aren’t as great, but electrical interference may pose problems. OS1 is not used for distances of more than six miles and can handle up to 10 Gigabits per second.

OS2 cables are designed for greater distances and outdoor use. They can handle ranges of up to 125 miles at speeds of up to 100 Gigabits per second.

  1. Multimode Fiber Optic Cables

You also have multimode fiber optic cables that have a wider core, which means many streams of data can travel through it at once. Multimode cables start with OM1 (upwards of 100 feet at a max bandwidth of 10 Gigabits per second. OM2 handles the same maximum bandwidth but at ranges of upwards of 260 feet. 

OM4 is even better for speeds of up to 40 Gigabits per second at distances of up to 500 feet. The newest option is OM5, which can handle short wavelength division multiplexing at speeds of up to 100 Gigabits at distances of up to 500 feet. Different jacket colors are tied to the cable types and capabilities.

We talked about how fiber optic cables are built and that it’s coated in a plastic jacket. The jacket on a fiber optic cable is a specific color, which helps denote what the fiber optic cable is for. The numbers designate the outer diameter of the fiberglass core and the outer diameter of the cladding measured in microns. Smaller micron cores (50/125) get greater bandwidth. OM1, OM2, etc. have increased transmission rates. OM1 and OM2 use LED and OM3 etc. use LED and laser. Going higher leads to faster transmissions.

  • Aqua – Multimode 50/125 fiber, 850 nm Laser-Optimized, OM3, OM4
  • Blue – Polarization maintaining single-mode
  • Lime Green – Multimode 50/125 fiber, 850 nm Laser-Optimized, OM5
  • Orange – Multimode 50/125 fiber OM2, 62.5/125 OM1, 100/140
  • Yellow – Single-mode OS1, OS1a, OS2

In addition to the cable color, there are connector colors. The connector body and mating adaptor should match your needs.

  • Aqua – Laser optimized 50/125 (OM3, OM4)
  • Beige – Fiber type 62.5/125
  • Black – Fiber type 50/125 OM2
  • Blue – Singlemode
  • Green – Singlemode APC
  • Lime – OM5 wideband fiber

When it comes to your company’s networking needs, you need to consider how many miles your cables will cover, what speeds you need, etc. If you’re setting up the network in a multi-story building, your cables from one floor to the next and to the server room could cover far more range than you’d expect. You need to consider this.

It Can Be Confusing

We admit that the different cable types and distances they’ll travel can be difficult to plan. For this reason, it helps to work with an expert in networking equipment and fiber optic cables. BrightStar is the expert you need to help you decide if OS2 is good enough or if it’s worth upgrading to OS5 for the highest speeds. 

Give us a call or email us with your questions, budget, and goals. A BrightStar specialist will quickly get in touch to discuss the different brands and best options. We’ll also go over prices, and as some of our equipment is available at savings of up to 90%, you’ll save money on the networking equipment and fiber optic cables that you want.