Multimode vs. Single-Mode Fiber Optic Cable

Black Box Explains

What’s the Difference Between Multimode and Single-Mode Fiber-Optic Cable?

Multimode Fiber Cable

Multimode cable has a large-diameter core that lets multiple modes of light pass through it. This means that more types of data can be transmitted.

Multimode comes in two core sizes and five varieties: 62.5-micron OM1, 50-micron OM2, 50-micron OM3, 50-micron OM4 and 50-micron OM5. (OM stands for "optical mode".) All have the same cladding diameter of 125 microns, but 50-micron fiber cable has a smaller core (the light-carrying portion of the fiber). Although all can be used in the same way, 50-micron cable, particularly OM5 and laser-optimized OM3 and OM4, provide longer link lengths and/or higher speeds and are recommended for premise applications (backbone, horizontal and intra-building links) and should be considered for new installations. OM3, OM4 and OM5 can also be used with LEDs and laser light sources.

Multimode cables come in different colors so they can be easily recognized. OM3 is typically aqua; OM4 is sometimes Erica Violet to help distinguish it from OM3; the latest generation of multimode fiber, OM5, is lime green.

Single-Mode Fiber Cable

In contrast to multimode, single-mode fiber cable has only one mode of propagation: a single wavelength of light in the fiber core. This means there’s no interference or overlap between the different wavelengths of light to garble your data over long distances like there is with multimode cable.

Single-mode cable (OS2) has a small (8–10-micron) glass core that is much smaller than multimode and only one pathway of light or mode of propagation. (OS stands for optical single-mode.) With only a single wavelength of light passing through its core, single-mode fiber realigns the light toward the core center instead of simply bouncing it off the edge of the core as multimode does. OS1 is applied to inside-plant tight-buffered cable. OS2 is applied to loose-tube cables.

Single-mode cable is almost always yellow, so it is easy to identify.

Multimode vs. Single-Mode Fiber Distance

Multimode fiber has a much shorter maximum distance than single-mode fiber, making it a good choice for premise applications. Single-mode fiber can go as far as 40 km or more without hurting the signal, making it ideal for long-haul applications.

Multimode vs. Single-Mode Fiber Bandwidth

Single-mode fiber has a significantly higher bandwidth than multimode fiber. You can use a pair of single-mode fiber strands full-duplex for up to twice the throughput of multimode fiber cable. Single-mode cable’s lengths and speeds are attainable because sending light in a single-mode nullifies differential mode delay (DMD) which is the primary bandwidth limiting factor of multimode.

Optical fiber cable transmission performance parameters:

Cable TypeWavelengthMaximum AttenuationMinimum overfilled modal bandwidth length Minimum effective modal bandwidth length
OM1 62.5-/125-Miron Multimode Fiber850-nm3.5 dB/km200 MHz-kmN/A
1300-nm1.5 dB/km500 MHz-kmN/A
OM2 50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber850-nm3.5 dB/km500 MHz-kmN/A
1300-nm1.5 dB/km500 MHz-kmN/A
OM3 50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber850-nm3.0 dB/km1500 MHz-km2000 MHz-km
1300-nm1.5 dB/km500 MHz-kmN/A
OM4 50-/125-Micron Multimode Fiber850-nm3.0 dB/km3500 MHz-km4700 MHz-km
1300-nm1.5 dB/km

500 MHz-km

OM5 50-/125- Micron Multimode Fiber850-nm3.0 dB/km
3500 MHz-km4700 MHz-km
2.3 dB/km1850 MHz-km2470 MHz-km
1.5 dB/km500 MHz-kmNot required
Single-Mode Indoor-Outdoor1310-nm
0.5 dB/km
1383-nm0.5 dB/kmN/AN/A
1550-nm0.5 dB/kmN/AN/A
Single-Mode Indoor Plant1310-nm1.0 dB/kmN/AN/A
1383-nm1.0 dB/kmN/AN/A
1550-nm1.0 dB/kmN/AN/A
Single-Mode Outside Plant1310-nm0.4 dB/kmN/AN/A
1383-nm0.4 dB/kmN/AN/A
1550-nm0.4 dB/kmN/AN/A


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