Fiber Optic Cable Types Comparison: Single Mode vs Multimode Fiber Cable

Fiber optic cables, also known as optical cables, are at the forefront of the telecommunications industry, providing unparalleled speed and transmission distance compared to traditional copper cables. Their widespread application in diverse fields, from internet service providers to medical scanning devices, has amplified the significance of understanding the difference between single mode fiber (SMF) and multimode fiber (MMF) optic cable types. This article will delve into the construction, distance capabilities, cost, color, and bandwidth of both cable types to elucidate the differences and provide a comprehensive comparison.

 Overview of Single Mode Fiber Cable and Multimode Fiber Optic Cable

The basic distinction between SMF and MMF arises from their core diameter and mode of propagation. The SMF, with a smaller core diameter, allows the propagation of a single light mode, while MMF, having a larger core, supports the transmission of multiple light modes simultaneously.

fiber optic cable

Core Diameter

The core diameter is integral to the performance of fiber optic cables. The SMF has a smaller core diameter, typically 9 micrometers, ensuring that only a single light mode can travel through it. This results in lower data loss and greater transmission distance. In contrast, MMF has a larger core diameter, usually 50 or 62.5 micrometers, allowing multiple light modes to propagate. This causes more dispersion and limits the transmission distance.

The size of the fiber core impacts the attenuation or signal loss in fiber optic cables. Larger core diameters, as seen in MMF, often result in higher attenuation due to numerous light reflections, whereas the narrower core of SMF enables minimal reflections, leading to lower attenuation. Let’s look at a comparison table that provides clarity on this aspect:

Fiber TypeCore Diameter (microns)Attenuation at 1310nm (dB/km)Attenuation at 1550nm (dB/km)Attenuation at 850nm (dB/km)Attenuation at 1300nm (dB/km)
9/125 Single Mode Fiber90.40.25N/AN/A
50/125 OM3 Multimode Fiber50N/AN/A3.01.0

Please note, the higher attenuation in MMF at both 850nm and 1300nm wavelengths is due to its larger core diameter, which allows multiple light paths, thus causing more signal loss due to scattering and dispersion. On the other hand, the SMF’s narrow core allows a single light path, resulting in significantly less signal loss at its operating wavelengths (1310nm and 1550nm).

Wavelength & Transceiver

The operating wavelength and associated transceivers for SMF and MMF also differ significantly. SMF operates typically at 1310 nm and 1550 nm wavelengths, paired with longer-range transceivers. MMF operates at shorter wavelengths like 850 nm and 1300 nm, using shorter distance transceivers.

Cable Bandwidth

Bandwidth, a measure of data transfer capacity, also sets SMF and MMF apart. Due to its single-mode propagation, SMF has a virtually unlimited bandwidth, subject to equipment limitations. MMF, owing to its multi-mode propagation and dispersion, has a limited bandwidth, restricting its data transfer rate over long distances.

Single Mode vs Multimode Fiber Distance

The transmission distance of fiber optic cables is a critical consideration. OM1, OM2, OM3, OM4, and OM5 are different types of MMF with varying core diameters and bandwidths, offering different maximum transmission distances. Conversely, OS2 is a type of SMF with superior distance capabilities, making it ideal for long-range applications.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the transmission distances associated with the various types of fiber optic cables, we’ll present a comparative table that includes OM1, OM2, OM3, OM4, OM5 (all types of MMF), and OS2 (SMF).

Fiber TypeMaximum Transmission Distance (at specific speed)
OM1 (MMF)Up to 275m at 1Gb, Up to 33m at 10Gb
OM2 (MMF)Up to 550m at 1Gb, Up to 82m at 10Gb
OM3 (MMF)Up to 300m at 10Gb, Up to 100m at 40/100Gb SR4
OM4 (MMF)Up to 550m at 10Gb, Up to 150m at 40/100Gb SR4
OM5 (MMF)Up to 550m at 10Gb, Up to 400m at 40/100Gb SR4
OS2 (SMF)Based on the transceiver, more than 1000+ km

Fiber Cost

The cost of using fiber optic cables varies significantly, especially when comparing different transceivers. The cost of QSFPTEK SFP-1G-SX, SFP-1G-LX, SFP-10G-SR, SFP-10G-LR, QSFP-40G-SR4, QSFP-40G-LR4, QSFP-100G-SR4, and QSFP-100G-LR4 can be quite different when used with SMF and MMF. Generally, MMF cables and associated equipment are cheaper than SMF due to their simpler manufacturing process and shorter transmission distance requirements.


In conclusion, the selection between single-mode and multimode fiber optic cables depends on the specific requirements of the application, considering factors such as transmission distance, cost, and bandwidth. For short-range, high-bandwidth applications, MMF may be a more cost-effective solution. Conversely, for long-distance transmission, where high data rates and minimal loss are crucial, SMF would be the preferred choice. Hence, an understanding of the differences between these types of fiber optic cables is indispensable for making an informed decision.


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