Comparison Guide: Difference Between Single and Multimode Fiber Optic Cable

When installing fiber optic cable for your business or property, it can be difficult to understand the best solution for your specific needs.

The fiber optic cable system that is required will depend on a number of factors like the bandwidth you need, the distance the signal is required to travel, the size of the project, and your budget.

These factors will determine the type of cable used for the installation.

There are two primary types of fiber optic cable: single mode and multimode. Before you get started and call for an install, it is important to understand the difference between single and multimode fiber optic cable.

With this understanding, you can make an informed decision and find the solution, and the installer, that is right for you.

To help you gain this important information, we’ve put together this comparison of single mode and multimode fiber cable.

This comparison guide will walk you through each fiber optic cable type, their applications, the distances they cover, and the costs associated with each.

Here’s a look at everything you need to know about single mode vs multimode fiber cable:

Single Mode vs Multimode Fiber Cable

At the most basic level, a single mode fiber cable is designed to carry a single light mode while multimode, as the name suggests, carries multiple light modes.

These variations impact bandwidth and signal transmission distance as well as signal stability.

But, as you start to look beyond the basics, there are significant differences in how these cables are structured.

What is Single Mode Fiber Optic Cable?

The single mode fiber optic cable diameter is small, allowing only a single mode to transmit. Typically, the core diameter is less than 10 µm (125 µm with the exterior cladding).

This means that there are fewer light reflections created, lowering attenuation and allowing the signal to travel greater distances without disruption.

Not only can single mode fiber cable travel farther, but it can also allow for greater bandwidth. These factors make this type of fiber optic cable ideal for telecommunications, CATV companies, and large institutions like colleges and universities.

However, as we will discuss in greater detail below, single mode fiber cable systems are generally more expensive than multimode fiber optic cables, meaning they may not be right for everyone.

What is Multimode Fiber Optic Cable?

The core diameter of multimode fiber cable is typically 50 µm (125 µm with the exterior cladding).

With multimode fiber cables, the multiple light modes travel the core and bounce off the cladding as it goes. This means that each mode takes a slightly different path to the destination and may arrive at different times.

These differences create limitations in terms of bandwidth and distance when using multimode fiber systems.

Multimode fiber optic cables are recommended for use over short distances or for data and audio/video applications in local area networks (LANs).

Multimode fiber cables have different grades that can accommodate different bandwidths and distances. The distance capabilities break down as follows:

OM1 Fiber 33 m / 100 ft N/A
OM2 Fiber 82 m / 260 ft N/A
OM3 Fiber 300 m / 1000 ft 100 m / 330 ft
OM4 Fiber 400 m / 1300 ft 150 m / 500 ft
OM5 Fiber 400 m / 1300 ft 150 m / 500 ft

When it comes to costs, multimode fiber cable systems are typically cheaper than single mode fiber cable systems.

Single Mode and Multimode Fiber Distance

One of the biggest differences between single mode and multimode fiber cables is the distances they can effectively carry a transmission signal.

While we did say that single mode is best used for longer distances and multimode for shorter ones, it is a good idea to take a closer look at what is meant by ‘longer’ and ‘shorter’ distances.

The single mode fiber optic cable transmission distance can reach up to 40 km without a negative impact on the transmission signal. Because these cables are only sending a single light mode, there is no opportunity for interference that can jumble the signal the farther it travels.

Multimode fiber optic cable transmissions, however, can reach maximum distances of only 400 m.

This means that generally speaking, an installation that requires a signal to be sent more than that distance should use single mode fiber cables.

Multimode fiber cables are best used for on-premise installations like horizontal or intra-building linking. This cable type can support most enterprise and data-center applications. If you want to link a single office space, multimode cable would be an effective solution.

For larger installations, like a university campus or business campus, single mode fiber optic cables are the smartest choice.

Cost Comparison of Single Mode vs Multimode Fibers

Single mode fiber optic cable may be looking like an advantageous solution at the moment. It can accommodate greater distances and greater bandwidth, but for many, the costs can level the field a little.

The cost of fiber optic cable per meter varies between the two cable types.

Single mode fiber optic cables are typically more expensive than multimode ones. But there is a reason for this.

In terms of manufacturing, single mode fiber is smaller and cheaper to produce, but it requires more complex technologies and alignments which drives up the price.

Single mode fiber cables require single mode transceivers that are more expensive than multimode ones. In fact, multimode transceivers and connectors can be up to 3 times cheaper.

On top of this, single mode connections require more skill to terminate so the components are usually pre-terminated at the factory. Multimode terminations, however, can be performed in the field, adding a layer of flexibility, and reducing installation costs.

Single Mode or Multimode Fiber Optic Cable? Find Your Solution with All-Tech Communications

Fiber optic cable installations are an important decision and you want to make sure that you are finding the solution that is right for you.

If you require a stable transmission over a long distance, experience high bandwidth needs, and have the budget, a single mode fiber optic cable may be the wisest choice. If you do not need to cover long distances, a multimode fiber optic cable is likely to satisfy your stability and bandwidth needs.

In some instances, the decision is cut and dry. In others, it is hard to tell where you land, or, there may be circumstances surrounding your business or installation that requires you to find an unexpected solution.

Fortunately, the knowledgeable professionals at All-Tech Communications can help you navigate your unique situation and identify the best and most cost-effective Fiber Optic Solutions for your specific needs and requirements.

To get started, or to find out more, contact us today!