Fiber optic cable

Fiber optic “cable” refers to the complete assembly of fibers, strength members and jacket. Fiber optic cables come in lots of different types, depending on the number of fibers and how and where it will be installed. Choose cable carefully as the choice will affect how easy it is to install, splice or terminate and, most important, what it will cost!


Simplex and Zip Cord: Simplex cables are one fiber, tight-buffered (coated with a 900 micron buffer over the primary buffer coating) with Kevlar (aramid fiber) strength members and jacketed for indoor use. The jacket is usually 3mm (1/8 in.) diameter. Zipcord is simply two of these joined with a thin web. It’s used mostly for patch cord and backplane applications, but zipcord can also be used for desktop connections.

Distribution Cables: They contain several tight-buffered fibers bundled under the same jacket with Kevlar strength members and sometimes fiberglass rod reinforcement to stiffen the cable and prevent kinking. These cables are small in size, and used for short, dry conduit runs, riser and plenum applications. The fibers are double buffered and can be directly terminated, but because their fibers are not individually reinforced, these cables need to be broken out with a “breakout box” or terminated inside a patch panel or junction box.

Breakout Cables: They are made of several simplex cables bundled together. This is a strong, rugged design, but is larger and more expensive than the distribution cables. It is suitable for conduit runs, riser and plenum applications. Because each fiber is individually reinforced, this design allows for quick termination to connectors and does not require patch panels or boxes. Breakout cable can be more economic where fiber count isn’t too large and distances too long, because is requires so much less labor to terminate.

Loose Tube Cables: These cables are composed of several fibers together inside a small plastic tube, which are in turn wound around a central strength member and jacketed, providing a small, high fiber count cable. This type of cable is ideal for outside plant trunking applications, as it can be made with the loose tubes filled with gel or water absorbent powder to prevent harm to the fibers from water. It can be used in conduits, strung overhead or buried directly into the ground. Since the fibers have only a thin buffer coating, they must be carefully handled and protected to prevent damage.

Ribbon Cable: This cable offers the highest packing density, since all the fibers are laid out in rows, typically of 12 fibers, and laid on top of each other. This way 144 fibers only has a cross section of about 1/4 inch or 6 mm! Some cable designs use a “slotted core” with up to 6 of these 144 fiber ribbon assemblies for 864 fibers in one cable! Since it’s outside plant cable, it’s gel-filled for water blocking.

Armored Cable: Cable installed by direct burial in areas where rodents are a problem usually have metal armoring between two jackets to prevent rodent penetration. This means the cable is conductive, so it must be grounded properly.

Aerial Cable:Aerial cables are for outside installation on poles. They can be lashed to a messenger or another cable (common in CATV) or have metal or aramid strength members to make them self supporting.
Even more types are available: every manufacturer has it’s own favorites, so it’s a good idea to get literature from as many cable makers as possible. And check out the little guys; often they can save you a bundle by making special cable just for you, even in relative small quantities.