Network engineers face a myriad of everyday problems with their fiber optic cable. Many of those issues have to do with attenuation. Whether there are microfractures, violations of bend radii or even dirty connections, the symptoms these problems show are the same.
This is the first in a Telect blog series, entitled The A-B-Cs of Cable Management. First, Product Manager Aaron Monheim tackles the subject of attenuation.
You won’t find attenuation just in fiber optics. Sound isolating headphones deflect—or attenuate--outside noise, letting you get the full blast of your 90s grunge music.
The lead blanket you wear for X-rays attenuates the electromagnetic radiation away from your body. Those gamma rays aren’t meant to get into your vital organs.
In both examples, the products you are using are made to attenuate.
Attenuation can be a good thing.
When it comes to optical fiber, however, attenuation is the partial or complete loss or dispersion of the signal over the glass core.
And that’s a bad thing.
Single-mode fiber is incredibly important to the telecommunications industry. Once your fiber exits a facility, you need the higher bandwidth capacity and longer effective transmission distances that single mode offers.
Data rates of up to 10 gigabits per second are possible for longer distances than 50 miles (80 km). With optical amplifiers, DWDM systems can carry that amount of data for thousands of miles.
Single-mode fiber makes 40 Gb/s possible for hundreds of miles.
Its small diameter core allows light to reflect internally through only one layer of glass, but that’s where its trouble begins.
Because the single-mode core is so small, the laser light source travels through the fiber in a straight line. If the transmission surpasses its maximum distance, the laser starts to weaken, resulting in signal loss and an unreliable network.
Attenuation in single-mode fiber can also be caused by:
One little glitch can cause your data transmission to crawl … or break down entirely.
Multimode fiber has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Using multimode on your network is a great option due to its larger fiber core and looser alignment tolerances. Also, the actual cable, connectors and transport equipment are less expensive than for single-mode fiber.
Multimode also has the ability to transport data at high speeds with high bandwidth over shorter distances. You can transport several mode optical signals simultaneously.
Multimode has its drawbacks. Due to the large core of multimode (50μm instead of 9μm) multimode has an inherent flaw that causes high dispersion and attenuation rates. This means the quality of the signal is greatly reduced as you try to transport data at longer distances.
However, that factor makes multimode fiber ideal for installation in LANs.
Does one low risk for attenuation offset the challenge of increased light reflections and slower speeds? What about multimode’s ability to carry more data due to its simultaneous transmissions?
The difference between single-mode and multimode fiber—and each one’s risks for attenuation—rests in its application.
If you’re conducting long-distance transmissions, as telecommunications and cable providers do, single-mode fiber is your best bet. Short-distance communication, needed by enterprise networks and wireless LAN applications, may find multimode fiber their choice.
Either way, fiber cable is a delicate product and must be handled with great care.
Aaron Monheim is a Product Manager of Fiber. He has been with Telect for three years and manages our high-density fiber distribution series, along with our cable management raceway solution, WaveTrax.
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