Fiber optic cables are quite possibly one of the most reliable and fastest cables of our lifetime. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with copper wire cables, many people are understandably intrigued by the many benefits of fiber optic technology. People everywhere often have the same questions about fiber optic cables: if copper wire isn’t transmitting information, what is? How exactly do fiber optic cables work? If you’d like a general understanding of how fiber optic cables work, we encourage you to read on.
The General Construction of a Fiber Optic Cable
From the outside, a fiber optic cable may appear similar or identical to a standard Cat5e copper Ethernet cable. The difference, however, is found within. Although there are several different types of fiber optic cables, they all have a similar assembly. Instead of a copper wire, you’ll find optical fibers which are approximately the same diameter as a human hair. The optical fibers are made of glass or plastic and are then surrounded by cladding (which we promise will make more sense shortly).
How Fiber Optic Cables Work
Rather than relying on electrical currents running up and down a copper wire, fiber optic cables use photons or light particles. The data transmits through the speed of light by bouncing off the walls of the optical fibers. The core of the optical fiber acts like a mirror that reflects the light. The cladding we mentioned earlier has a minor refractive index, and thus, keeps the light within the fibers.
The two primary types of fiber-optics are single-mode and multi-mode. A single-mode fiber cable only transmits data straight down a single core without bouncing off the edges. Single-mode cables are most common for large-scale projects where you need to transmit signals over a long distance. A multi-mode cable, however, bounces light off the edges and is better for short-distance applications such as linking LANs.
In general, understanding how fiber optic cables work is relatively simple. There’s a beam of light in the core of the cable, and that light travels through the distance of the cable and several layers keep the light contained.
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