Fiber optic cable functions as a "light guide," guiding the light introduced at one end of the cable through to the other end. The light source can either be a light-emitting diode (LED)) or a laser.
The light source is pulsed on and off, and a light-sensitive receiver on the other end of the cable converts the pulses back into the digital ones and zeros of the original signal.
Even laser light shining through a fiber optic cable is subject to loss of strength, primarily through dispersion and scattering of the light, within the cable itself. The faster the laser fluctuates, the greater the risk of dispersion. Light strengtheners, called repeaters, may be necessary to refresh the signal in certain applications.
While fiber optic cable itself has become cheaper over time - a equivalent length of copper cable cost less per foot but not in capacity. Fiber optic cable connectors and the equipment needed to install them are still more expensive than their copper counterparts.
Single Mode cable is a single stand (most applications use 2 fibers) of glass fiber with a diameter of 8.3 to 10 microns that has one mode of transmission. Single Mode Fiber with a relatively narrow diameter, through which only one mode will propagate typically 1310 or 1550nm. Carries higher bandwidth than multimode fiber, but requires a light source with a narrow spectral width. Synonyms mono-mode optical fiber, single-mode fiber, single-mode optical waveguide, uni-mode fiber.
Single Modem fiber is used in many applications where data is sent at multi-frequency (WDM Wave-Division-Multiplexing) so only one cable is needed - (single-mode on one single fiber)
Single-mode fiber gives you a higher transmission rate and up to 50 times more distance than multimode, but it also costs more. Single-mode fiber has a much smaller core than multimode. The small core and single light-wave virtually eliminate any distortion that could result from overlapping light pulses, providing the least signal attenuation and the highest transmission speeds of any fiber cable type.
Single-mode optical fiber is an optical fiber in which only the lowest order bound mode can propagate at the wavelength of interest typically 1300 to 1320nm.
Multi-Mode cable has a little bit bigger diameter, with a common diameters in the 50-to-100 micron range for the light carry component (in the US the most common size is 62.5um). Most applications in which Multi-mode fiber is used, 2 fibers are used (WDM is not normally used on multi-mode fiber). POF is a newer plastic-based cable which promises performance similar to glass cable on very short runs, but at a lower cost.
Multimode fiber gives you high bandwidth at high speeds (10 to 100MBS - Gigabit to 275m to 2km) over medium distances. Light waves are dispersed into numerous paths, or modes, as they travel through the cable's core typically 850 or 1300nm. Typical multimode fiber core diameters are 50, 62.5, and 100 micrometers. However, in long cable runs (greater than 3000 feet [914.4 meters), multiple paths of light can cause signal distortion at the receiving end, resulting in an unclear and incomplete data transmission so designers now call for single mode fiber in new applications using Gigabit and beyond.