What is Fiber Optic Cable and Why Do We Need It?

Fiber optic cable was, once upon a time, not something you typically hear in regular conversation. In some ways, it still isn’t. However, it has become more frequently mentioned outside of tech circles because of how it has gained prominence in various fields. These cables have become crucial parts of long-distance, high-speed data transmission systems.

In simple terms, these are among the many types of cables that allow the internet to function.

With that in mind, just what are these cables and how do they work? In what industries are these cables used? And what use do we, as the average consumer, get out of the use of fiber optic cable?

The Structure of a Fiber Optic Cable

In terms of structure, fiber optic cable is a network cable that has glass fibers inside. The casing is insulated and they’re designed for high-performance networking. They have a much higher bandwidth than other types, so more data can “flow” at once. They can also transmit this data over a longer distance, allowing for the support of a long-distance or even global infrastructure.

The typical cable has one or more glass strands, with a thickness only slightly higher than a human hair. Each one has a core, which provides the path for the light pulses used to transmit data. Each core gets a glass that reflects the light inward to prevent loss of signal, along with allowing the light to pass even if the cable bends or twists.

Single-Mode and Multi-Mode

Typically, a cable will have single mode and multi-mode fibers. The single-mode uses thinner strands and a laser to generate the light. Multi-mode will rely on LED lights instead.

Single-mode cables are used in a number of techniques meant to increase the amount of data traffic. The Wave Division Multiplexing techniques, which rely on single-mode cables, allow for multiple separate wavelengths to be merged into one or later separated. This allows for streamlining multiple communication streams through a single pulse, then separating them again later on.

Advantages Over Copper Cables

Fiber cables are often used in long-distance communications because they have a number of edges over copper cables.

Higher Capacity

Foremost among this is that they have a higher capacity for data. The amount of bandwidth a single fiber strand can carry exceeds that of a copper counterpart of similar thickness. You can have speeds as high as 10 Gbps or even 100 Gbps as standard, rather than the exceptions.

Less Interference

It is harder to interfere with fiber signals. Copper networks require shielding to prevent damage due to electromagnetic interference, which isn’t always enough. This is particularly problematic when many copper cables are strung together in close proximity, which intensifies the interference generated. Glass and fiber don’t have this problem.

No Loss of Strength

Light travels longer distances along a fiber cable without loss of strength, so you don’t need anything to boost the signal. It also doesn’t lose intensity over long distances, especially if the glass remains intact and keeps things from leaking out. This can save on infrastructure costs without sacrificing signal strength.

End User Fiber Setups

However, so far, these are applications that benefit companies and industries. While they may have an indirect boon on the average consumer, the benefits are diminished. With that in mind, there are other applications with a far greater impact on the end user experience.

“Last Mile”

Fiber mostly sees use in long-distance networks between cities or countries, but it also used for residential internet. Neighborhoods that invest in these installations don’t use bulk cables, but they do benefit from the increased speed and reliability of fiber. These are often known as “last mile” connections by internet providers.

Fiber Packages

These connections can provide gigabit speeds to individual households, but also lower costs due to the reduced infrastructure needs. The packages are also typically lower on a consumer level.

FTTP (fiber to the premises) is a fiber setup that’s laid all the way into the building itself. FTTB (fiber to the building/block) is the same as FTTP. These connections stop short of going into the building itself, instead of entering the premises itself. However, this setup can be expanded to be laid into a building directly, if there are multiple customers within all relying on a fiber connection.

FTTC/N (Fiber to the Curb of Node) places the fiber into a node but uses copper wires to complete the rest of the connections.

Direct and Shared

Direct fiber is a connection that leaves the central office before being attached right to the customer’s hardware. This is very expensive. However, it also provides the highest bandwidth for the end user and has the clearest connection, due to the lack of interruptions from other infrastructure.

Shared fiber setups are similar but only gets close to the premises of the customers. Instead, they’re split into other fibers rather than a single direct link to the central office.


Fiber optic cable is a powerful way to boost connection speeds and improve the home internet experience. It is also the industry standard for long-distance communications networks, relying on their advantages and reliability over the more typical copper cable setups.

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