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A Beginners Guide to Fiber Optic Network Cables

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A Beginners Guide to Fiber Optic Network Cables

Today’s digital world relies on the rapid transfer of massive amounts of information. Network cables transfer data from a network device, such as a computer, smart television, or telephone, to a home or work network, the Internet, or another device. While many networks use wireless technology, wired connections are faster and more reliable, and are preferred by many business and home users. Wired connections also transfer data out of a device, into network backbones and infrastructure, and across the world.

Decades ago, these data connections were made with copper wiring, which transferred data through electricity. More recently, much of the telecommunications infrastructure has switched to fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cables use light instead of electricity, and transmit more data with less loss than metal wires, especially over long distances. Recently, fiber optic technology has expanded from infrastructure to home and business use, and is increasingly becoming an option for consumers. While barriers such as developing standards and high prices still exist, homes and businesses that require large amounts of bandwidth, operate in difficult environments, or need to communicate over long distances can benefit greatly from using fiber optic network cables.

Fiber Optic Technology

A fiber optic cable consists of a flexible fiber of glass or plastic, slightly wider than a human hair. This fiber is surrounded by cladding and protected by a tough, opaque material. Light sent through this fiber forms an electromagnetic carrier wave, which is used to transmit data much like a copper wire. Compared to copper wires, however, fiber optic cables offer a number of advantages. Fiber optic cables transmit data over much longer distances than electrical wires with almost no loss, reducing or eliminating the need for complicated repeaters common in electrical systems. They are also immune to the distorting effects of electrical noise, ground currents, and other common problems in electrical transmission. Finally, they have an inherently high bandwidth, which means they are able to carry much more data over the same diameter wires. First developed in the 1970s, fiber optic communications technology revolutionized the telecommunications industry and allowed for high-bandwidth transmission of data around the world. It is only recently, however, that fiber optic cables have become an option for home and business use. Their major advantages over electrical wires make fiber optic cables perfect for high-bandwidth, electrically sensitive, or long-distance use.

Types of Network Cables

Network cables come in three major types: twisted-pair, coaxial, and fiber optic. CAT-5e twisted-pair cables, commonly known as Ethernet cables, are the industry standard for networking equipment and are familiar to most home users. Coaxial cables, with a central wire in a round, insulated shell, are commonly used for televisions and cable Internet transmission. All three can be used for networking, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.


CAT-5e (Ethernet)


Fiber Optic


Up to 1 Gbit/s

Up to 10 Gbit/s

Up to 40 Gbit/s

Major Advantages

Industry standard; widely available and inexpensive. Used on most consumer networking equipment.

Shielded from electrical interference, allowing longer-range transmission.

High bandwidth, immune to noise and interference. Smaller cable diameter. Less signal loss.

Major Disadvantages

Susceptible to noise and interference. High data loss over relatively short distances.

Less common for networking equipment. More expensive to install and operate than Ethernet.

Cabling and electronics are much more expensive. Confusing standards, less consumer adoption.

Twisted-Pair Cables

CAT-5e, or Ethernet, is the most common cable technology used for home and small business networks. These cables look like telephone cables with wider connectors. The main advantage of Ethernet cables is their ubiquity; almost all new computers, modems, and routers have Ethernet ports, making setup and connection easy. Electronics for Ethernet connections are also inexpensive and familiar to many users. Commonly, Ethernet speeds are either 10 megabits per second (10 Mbit/s) or 100 Mbit/s, although faster 1 Gbit/s connections are also available. These speeds, which far exceed the bandwidth of common home broadband connections, are more than sufficient for most users. However, the unshielded nature of Ethernet wires makes them highly susceptible to electrical noise and interference, rendering them unsuitable for many environments, and the distance Ethernet cables can be run without losing signal is relatively short. Running Ethernet cables over longer distances requires complicated repeaters, necessitating additional electronics to reduce system noise. Fiber optic and Ethernet technologies are complementary; many business and telecoms use fiber optic cables as backbone connections and to connect hubs and routers, and then run cheaper Ethernet lines to individual computers.

Coaxial Cables

Coaxial cables, commonly called "coax," are shielded copper cables that alleviate some of the disadvantages of twisted-pair cabling. Coax cables are sturdier and thicker than CAT-5e cables, and are able to withstand harsher environments and installation techniques. Many homes are already wired with coax, which is commonly used to bring television, data, or telephone connections into a central hub. Generally, Ethernet cables are run from this hub to routers, computers, and other devices, while coax is run directly to televisions, cable boxes, and cable modems. Although the theoretical speed of coax connections is quite high, loss due to cable length and interference usually reduces speeds considerably. Coax connections were once common on networking equipment, but have largely been replaced with Ethernet due to lower installation equipment and operating costs.

Fiber Optic Cables

While Ethernet and coaxial cables are commonly used within homes and businesses, the backbone connections that carry these signals underground, between towns, and across oceans are almost all fiber optic. Unfortunately, the cost of bringing these connections to the home, a process known as Fiber to the Home or FTTH, is often quite expensive. That being said, fiber optic connections have a much higher data capacity; the theoretical bandwidth of long-range single-mode fibers is considered functionally unlimited, with transatlantic cables serving multiple terabytes per second.

On premise, multimode fibers can carry up to 40 Gbit/s, a much higher transfer speed than is offered by the fastest Ethernet or coaxial connections. This speed is often useful for business or academic backbones, even when individual connections are made through Ethernet or Wi-Fi. While gigabits per second is overkill for most users, as it far exceeds the speed of Internet connections, hard drives, and other bottlenecks, some may find it useful or even necessary. Users or businesses that back up or transfer large amounts of data commonly use 4, 8, or 16 Gbit/s Fiber Channel technology, and other high-volume tasks, such as video production, 3D modeling, network servers, and supercomputers, may also require this sort of bandwidth. Fiber optic cables are also impervious to electrical noise and interference, making them suitable for highly variable environments, such as airplanes or data-critical applications. Many home users could also benefit from this attribute of fiber optic cables, as it improves signal quality and the reception quality of phone and television signals. However, the cost of electronics that handle fiber optic networks is generally high, and the industry has not settled on PHY technologies. Many different standards of wiring, connections, transceivers, and network technologies coexist, and this can be confusing for home users. Professional wiring and setup is required for most fiber optic installations.

Fiber Optic Network Cables

Fiber optic network cables come in a variety of types, with two major technologies and a host of different connectors and transceivers. Generally, single - mode fibers are used for long-distance transmission, and multi - mode fibers are used for shorter ranges. The most common connectors are ST, SC, and LC, although many other connection types exist.

Fiber Type

Fiber optic cables use light as an electromagnetic carrier wave, sending huge amounts of data as flashes of visible light. This light is generated from lasers, and shines through the cables with very little loss. Data is transmitted through quick manipulation of the modulation of the generated light. The two main types of fiber optic fibers used in optic communication are single-mode and multi-mode.


Single - mode cables have a narrow diameter, which contains the beam of light in a much tighter space. This allows for longer-distance communication, sometimes as far as between continents. However, single-mode fiber is not generally used in premise installations, as it is expensive and unsuitable for short-range communication.


Multi - mode fiber optic cables have a wider central diameter, allowing more space to generate and collect light. This allows for cheaper, less precise electronics, making the cost of multi-mode cables and equipment much lower. Typical speeds for multi-mode fiber are up to 10 Gbit/s, although higher speed equipment does exist. At this speed, cables can be run up to 550 meters, making multi-mode fiber ideal for backbone applications in homes and businesses. Multi-mode fiber can be brought all the way to the end-user; though uncommon, such connections offer the highest available bandwidth and are useful for high-throughput applications.


Fiber optic cables are available as either raw fiber or as a fiber with a number of different connectors. The most common connectors are SC, ST, and LC, although many other connectors exist. These connectors vary in shape and size, but all are designed to allow easy interconnection between cables and other devices. Many cables are also available with one connector on one end and another on the other end, for interconnection between devices that use different connectors. The connectors needed will vary by application; buyers should make sure to choose the connection type that works with their racks, switches, adapters, and other devices.


The ST, or straight type connector, developed by AT&T, was one of the first standardized connectors for fiber optic cables. The ST is a bayonet-style connector that attaches with a twist-on/twist-off mechanism. Although popular for many years, ST connectors are generally being replaced by smaller and more versatile connectors.


The SC, or standard connector, is a square connector developed by NTT in Japan. The SC uses an easy-to-use push-on/pull-off connection mechanism, and is available in single or duplex configurations. This connector has been widely adopted and is used by many different manufacturers.


The LC, or Lucent connector, was developed by Lucent Technologies. The LC connector has a small form factor and a retaining tab similar to that of an Ethernet or phone connector. The LC connector is widely used, and has been adapted for SFP and XFP transceivers.

Buying Fiber Optic Network Cables

Fiber optic network cables are available from various different manufacturers, telecommunication supply stores, and some specialty networking and electronics stores. Due to the emerging and rapidly changing nature of fiber optic technology, selection, price, and quality can all vary greatly from store to store. Fiber optic network cables are also available from online retailers, as well as online marketplaces, such as eBay.

Buying Fiber Optic Cables on eBay

On eBay, the best place to find fiber optic network cables is in the Optical Fiber Cables category. Here, thousands of different fiber optic cable items are sold by merchants from all around the world. The category can be sorted by fiber type, cable type, and connection, although many cables are listed as "unspecified," with the connector type in the title or item description. You can also find a specific item by entering a few keywords into the search bar. As with all eBay categories, items in the Optical Fiber Cables category can also be sorted by condition, seller, or location.

New users can get started on eBay by registering for a free account. Then, simply browse or search for the items you are looking for. Once you have found the right cables, it is easy to make a purchase with PayPal or another accepted payment option. If you have questions about accounts, payment, buying and selling, or another issue, check out eBay’s guide for new users, Getting Started on eBay. Find additional help and guides at the eBay Learning Center.


Fiber optic networking is an exciting technology that promises unparalleled speed and a number of other advantages. Since fiber optic cables are impervious to electrical noise and interference, they do not suffer from reduced speed or signal loss caused by power lines, competing signals, or other electronics. Furthermore, because fiber optic cables can transmit data much farther distances without power loss, they are much better suited to long-distance applications than traditional electronic wiring. While the cost and complexity of fiber optic network wiring can turn off some consumers, most businesses see fiber optic and traditional wiring as complementary technologies. Often, fiber optics makes sense for backbone and hub applications, with traditional Ethernet cables running to individual devices. However, some applications, such as high-volume data transmission used in backups, 3D modeling, and video production, will benefit from running fiber optic directly to each user. Buyers should carefully consider which technologies they need before purchasing single-mode or multi - mode cables, fiber optic connectors, and other components. With a little research, even beginners can benefit from the amazing technology of fiber optic communications.

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