Back to the Basics: Different Fiber Types

Types of fiber

The use of the Internet over the past decade has grown tremendously. The 2016 Cisco Visual Networking Index forecasts that by 2021, IP traffic in North America will grow by 20 percent with the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made crossing the Internet every 5 minutes.

black, yellow, and orange cable with fiber sticking out the ends

To keep up with this demand, fiber optics is the infrastructure of choice, and is the leading technology for telecommunications networks. Fiber optic technology converts electrical signals carrying data to light and sends the light through transparent glass fibers about the diameter of a human hair.

There are many colors of fiber that you may see making these vital connections. Black covered fiber is direct buried outside, whereas yellow and orange covered fiber runs in dry spaces inside buildings. All fiber optics are routed to a distribution panel, and smaller jumper fiber cables are then connected to equipment. Fiber is often said to be “future-proof” because the data rate of the connection is usually limited by the terminal equipment rather than the fiber, permitting speed improvements by equipment upgrades.

Advantages of Fiber Optics

Why are fiber-optic systems revolutionizing telecommunications? Compared to conventional metal wire (copper wire), optical fibers are:

  • Thinner - Optical fibers can be drawn to smaller diameters than copper wire. 
  • Higher carrying capacity - Because optical fibers are thinner than copper wires, more fibers can be bundled into a given-diameter cable than copper wires. This allows more phone lines to go over the same cable or more channels to come through the cable into your cable TV box. 
  • Less signal degradation - The loss of signal in optical fiber is less than in copper wire. 
  • Light signals - Unlike electrical signals in copper wires, light signals from one fiber do not interfere with those of other fibers in the same cable. This means clearer phone conversations or TV reception. 
  • Digital signals - Optical fibers are ideally suited for carrying digital information, which is especially useful in computer networks. 
  • Lightweight - An optical cable weighs less than a comparable copper wire cable. Fiber-optic cables take up less space in the ground. 
  • Flexible - Because fiber optics are so flexible and can transmit and receive light, they are used in many flexible digital cameras for medical imaging, mechanical imaging - inspecting mechanical welds in pipes and engines (in airplanes, rockets, space shuttles, cars), plumbing - to inspect sewer lines.

Because of these advantages, you see fiber optics in many industries, most notably telecommunications and computer networks. For example, if you telephone Europe from the United States (or vice versa) and the signal is bounced off a communications satellite, you often hear an echo on the line. But with transatlantic fiber-optic cables, you have a direct connection with no echoes.