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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Fibre Optic Transmission

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Fibre Optic Transmission

FS Official 2018-08-14

According to the report reported by Global Newswire, global fibre optics market was valued at around USD 2.75 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach approximately USD 3.72 billion in 2012. These statistics show fibre optic transmission is experiencing its prime time and will change telecommunications greatly.

Driven by the rising demand for higher bandwidth and faster speed connections for a variety of industrial and residential purposes, fibre optic transmission is becoming more and more common in modern society. In this tutorial, the advantages and disadvantages of fibre optic transmission will be explored in details.

Fibre Optic Transmission Technology

Usually, a fibre optic communication system consists of three main components: optical transmitter, fibre optic cable and an optical receiver. The optical transmitter converts electrical signal to optical signal; the fibre optic cable carries the optical signal from the optical transmitter to the optical receiver; and the optical receiver reconverts the optical signal to electrical signal. The most commonly used optical transmitter is semiconductor devices like LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and laser diodes. Photodetector is the key part of an optical receiver. It converts light into electricity using photodetector effect. As for the fibre optic cable, there is too much to say. As the use and demand for speed and bandwidth, the development of optical cables is amazing. Now in the optical cable market, there are OS2 fibre , OM1 fibre, OM2 fibre, OM3 fibre, OM4 fibre and OM5 fibre cable for different optical applications. Optical fibres are used as a medium for telecommunication and networking because it is flexible and can be bundled as cables. It is especially advantageous for long-distance communications, because light propagates through the fibre with little attenuation compared to electrical copper cables. The figure below shows that all fibre optic transmission systems use modulated light to convey information from a transmitter to a companion receiver.

fibre optic transmission basic Figure 1: Illustration of a basic fibre optic transmission system

Advantages of Fibre Optic Transmission

Optical fibres have largely replaced copper wire communications in core networks in the developed world, because of fibre optic advantages over electrical transmission. Here are the main advantages of fibre optic transmission.

 Extremely High Bandwidth: No other cable-based data transmission medium offers the bandwidth that fibre does. Compared with copper cables, the advantages of fibre optic cable are obvious that the volume of data that fibre optic cables transmit per unit time is far great than copper cables.  Longer Distance: in fibre optic transmission, optical cables are capable of providing low power loss. This is one of the advantages of fibre optic cable, which enables signals can be transmitted to a longer distance than copper cables.  Resistance to Electromagnetic Interference: in practical cable deployment, it’s inevitable to meet environments like power substations, heating, ventilating and other industrial sources of interference. However, fibre has a very low rate of bit error (10 EXP-13), as a result of fibre being so resistant to electromagnetic interference. Fibre optic transmission is virtually noise free.  Low Security Risk: the growth of the fibre optic communication market is mainly driven by increasing awareness about data security concerns and use of the alternative raw material. Data or signals are transmitted via light in fibre optic transmission. Therefore there is no way to detect the data being transmitted by "listening in" to the electromagnetic energy "leaking" through the cable, which ensures the absolute security of information.  Small Size: fibre optic cable has a very small diameter, which is one of the advantages of fibre optic cable as well. For instance, the cable diameter of a single OM3 multimode fibre is about 2mm, which is smaller than that of coaxial copper cable. Small size saves more space in fibre optic transmission.

fibre optic transmission basic Figure 2: core diameter of fibre optic cable

 Light Weight: fibre optic cables are made of glass or plastic, and they are thinner than copper cables. These make them lighter and easy to install.  Easy to Accommodate Increasing Bandwidth: with the use of fibre optic cable, new equipment can be added to existing cable infrastructure. Because the advantages of fibre optic cable that it can provide vastly expanded capacity over the originally laid cable. And WDM (wavelength division multiplexing) technology, including CWDM and DWDM, enables fibre cables the ability to accommodate more bandwidth.

Disadvantages of Fibre Optic Transmission

Though fibre optic transmission brings lots of convenience, its disadvantages also cannot be ignored.

 Fragility: one of the disadvantages of fibre optic cable is that it is usually made of glass, which lends to they are more fragile than electrical wires. In addition, glass can be affected by various chemicals including hydrogen gas (a problem in underwater cables), making them need more cares when deployed under ground.  Difficult to Install: it’s not easy to splice fibre optic cable. And if you bend them too much, they will break. And fibre cable is highly susceptible to becoming cut or damaged during installation or construction activities. All these disadvantages of fibre optic cable make it difficult to install.  Attenuation & Dispersion: as transmission distance getting longer, light will be attenuated and dispersed, which requires extra optical components like EDFA to be added.  Cost Is Higher Than Copper Cable: despite the fact that fibre optic installation costs are dropping by as much as 60% a year, installing fibre optic cabling is still relatively higher than copper cables. Because copper cable installation does not need extra care like fibre cables. However, optical fibre is still moving into the local loop, and through technologies such as FTTx (fibre to the home, premises, etc.) and PONs (passive optical networks), enabling subscriber and end user broadband access.

optical fibre and copper cable in FTTx Figure 3: optical fibre and copper cable in FTTx

Special Equipment Is Often Required: because of the disadvantages of fibre optic cable, some special equipment is needed to ensure the quality of fibre optic transmission. For example, equipment such as OTDR (optical time-domain reflectometry) is required and expensive, specialized optical test equipment such as optical probes and power metre are needed at most fibre endpoints to properly provide testing of optical fibre.


Fibre optic transmission is widely used for data transmission and is increasingly being used in place of metal wires because of its efficiency and high transmission capacity. Since the advantages of fibre optic cable, we have seen the fibre optic cables have replaced traditional copper twisted-pair cable or coaxial cable. As the use and demand for great bandwidth and fast speed, there is no doubt that fibre optic transmission will bring more opportunities and be continuously researched and expanded to cater for future demands.

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