Introduction of Ribbon Fiber Optic Cable


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As we see high bandwidth demands double that of fiber optics, ribbon cable becomes the simplest, easiest and fastest way to plan for current and future network needs. It offers higher fiber count, higher fiber density, and high bandwidth than any other cable construction designed for outside plant (OSP), 4 times that of the highest fiber count loose tube cable. Let’s learn more about ribbon cables.

1. What is ribbon fiber optic cable?

Ribbon fiber optic cable is formed by a flat ribbon. This is achieved by making a series of individual fibers and laying them down and gluing them to each other. Using this technology, up to 24 fibers can be combined together. The fibers are usually placed side by side to form a flat ribbon.

It is then held in place using a special waterproof tape material. This process uses only coated fiber, which helps provide extra space when working on the network. Due to the design of the ribbon cable, splicing is made easier, saving time and money.

Ribbon optical fiber cable according to industrial standards, the multi-core optical fibers (4, 6, 8, 12 cores, etc.) are glued and arranged with special materials to form a group (also called a belt), and multiple groups (belts) form a fiber optic cable. The most commonly used ribbon cables are 6-core and 12-core ribbons. Now, there are fewer and fewer ordinary single-core optical cables with a large number of cores, and most of the optical cables with more than 72 cores are ribbon cables.

Optical fiber ribbon is a thin flat ribbon with 4 to 24 optical fibers arranged in parallel and cured.


Optical fiber ribbon cable refers to the optical fiber cable in which the optical fiber in the cable adopts the optical fiber ribbon structure, as shown in the following figure.


2. Main differences between ribbon cable VS bunch cable

The optical fiber in the cable of the non-optical fiber ribbon cable is a discrete optical fiber structure; compared with the optical fiber ribbon cable, the optical fiber cable of the discrete optical fiber structure (hereinafter referred to as “ordinary optical fiber cable”) is called a bundled optical fiber cable. In fact, “bundle” is only called so at the end of the optical cable to distinguish the optical fiber ribbon.

  • The bare optical fibers in the ribbon cable are arranged in a row and fixed in color order, forming a ribbon; the bare optical fibers in the bundled optical cable are not arranged, and each bare optical fiber is independent of the other.
  • The ribbon cable is basically flat, and the bundled cable is basically circular.
  • Ribbon fiber optic cable is suitable for metropolitan area network trunk systems; bundle fiber is suitable for split core to separate nodes.

Fiber optic cables with ribbons are often referred to as “ribbon cables,” however, flat fiber optic cables are veritable ribbon cables that look like strips, as shown below.

Flat-Ribbon cable

3. Structure type of fiber optic ribbon cable

Optical fiber ribbon cable can be divided into stranded loose tube fiber ribbon cable, slotted core fiber ribbon cable and central tube fiber ribbon cable from the structure.

The structure of the stranded loose tube fiber optic ribbon cable is basically the same as that of the ordinary fiber optic cable. The fiber optic ribbons in the cable mainly include 12 cores, 6 cores, and 4 cores, which are the most widely used fiber optic ribbon cables.

The structure of the slotted core fiber optic ribbon cable is as follows. The fiber optic ribbon in the cable is generally 4 cores or 6 cores, which is dry water blocking structure (no filling gel in the cable), which is suitable for digging the fiber core on each floor during vertical wiring in the building. The structural characteristics of this kind of optical cable determine that its rigidity is strong, and it is difficult to bend during construction. In fact, stranded loose tube cable can also be made into a dry or semi-dry water-blocking structure.

slotted core fiber optic ribbon cable

The structure of the central tube fiber optic ribbon cable is as shown in the figure below. The optical fiber ribbon in the cable is generally 12 cores and 24 cores. The central tube type optical cable has the characteristics of lightweight, small diameter and low cost. If the fiber counts of the optical cable are not large, it should be a better choice in the project. Since the excess fiber length of the central tube cable is difficult to control, it may cause fiber failure in the cable under extreme temperatures. But in fact, the temperature adaptability of the central tube optical cable is not so bad, and it can fully meet the usage requirements of most scenarios.

4. Features of fiber optic ribbon cable
Ribbon cables are designed to provide the highest possible fiber density relative to the size of the cable, and feature a highly flexible cable jacket for easy handling and installation, facilitating faster deployment, durability and increased crush resistance.

  • larger diameter for small fiber count and high density (The most important feature)
    Several optical fiber ribbons are stacked and placed in stranded loose tubes or slotted cores, so as to ensure a high density of optical fibers in the optical cable.
    When the fiber count of the fiber optic cable is less than 144 cores, the outer diameter of the optical fiber ribbon cable is obviously larger than that of the ordinary optical fiber cable. When the fiber count of the fiber optic cable is greater than or equal to 144 cores, the outer diameter of the optical fiber ribbon cable is similar to that of the ordinary optical fiber cable.
  • lightweight, good flexibility and strong lateral pressure resistance, are more convenient for laying and construction.
  • Generally, the multi-core is one belt, which can be connected at one time, with fast speed, less time-consuming and high construction efficiency.
  • It is easy to coil fiber, and the order is not easy to make mistakes.
  • The maintenance of the ribbon cable and the emergency repair of obstacles are also more convenient.

5. Advantages of ribbon fiber optic cable

  • High splicing efficiency
    On average, ribbon fiber splices are six times faster than traditional loose tube fiber splicing. For example, when splicing a 144-core loose tube, the splicing time for each core fiber is about 4 minutes, and it takes about 10 hours to complete. However, using a 144-core ribbon cable reduces the splicing time to 1.5 hours, saving about 85% of the splicing time.
  • Small investment in the project
    The investment difference between using optical fiber ribbon cable and using ordinary optical cable in the project is mainly reflected in two ways:
    the difference in the price of the optical cable: The production process of optical fiber ribbon cable is a little more complicated, and the cost will be higher.
    the difference in the connection price: At present, with the increase in the use of optical fiber ribbon cables, the unit price is getting closer and closer to the unit price of ordinary optical cables.
    Due to the high splicing efficiency of the fiber optic ribbon cable, the splicing cost of each connector is lower; the larger fiber counts,  the more obvious this advantage is.
    On the whole, the cost of using optical fiber ribbon cable in the project is slightly lower than that of using ordinary optical cable.
  • High-bandwidth and low-latency solutions
    With the rapid increase in the demand for high-bandwidth and low-latency applications, the scale and density of data center networks have also increased rapidly. Whether it is the expansion of existing data centers or the new construction of large-scale data centers, limited optical cable routing and pipe resources restrict the rapid deployment and upgrade of data centers. Utilizing the advantages of high optical density of ribbons helps build better optical cable routing and conduits.
  • Greater splice box flexibility
    Data center service providers may use different fiber optic splice enclosures to address a variety of installation environments and densities. Ribbon cables are versatile and can be installed in existing loose tube cable splice closures using a ribbon splice tray.
  • Reduce splicing error rate
    Fiber splicing is a tedious job, so it’s easy to make mistakes. Since fewer fiber splices are required for ribbon wrapping, the error rate is reduced compared to loose tube cables. A 144-core ribbon fiber cable requires only 12 ribbon fiber fusion splices, which significantly reduces the possibility of errors. Reducing time-consuming and costly splicing errors benefits installers, data center service providers, and their customers, enabling faster deployment and operations.
  • Faster recovery time
    A fiber cut and its business disruption to customers can be catastrophic, especially for multi-tenant data center service providers (MTDCs). They need to meet the requirements of their service level agreements, and service interruptions caused by fiber cutting must be avoided as much as possible. With ribbon fiber, MTDC can significantly speed up the time to restore service, reducing lost revenue and improving customer experience.
  • Faster go online and operation
    Time is money, especially in the highly competitive rental data center market. Rapidly deploying the network as much as possible enables MTDC to generate revenue and meet competitive challenges. The time savings of using ribbon cable over loose tube cable is obvious. This time savings directly contributes to a faster turn-up of data center operations, resulting in better achievement of business plans and ROI goals.

ribbon cable

6. Disadvantages of ribbon fiber optic cable

  • Low efficiency when splicing with ordinary optical cables or optical fiber ribbons with different core counts
    When the optical fiber ribbon is spliced with discrete optical fibers, or optical fiber ribbons with different numbers of cores, the optical fiber ribbon needs to be torn into separate optical fibers for splicing, which is more troublesome than the splicing of ordinary optical cables.
  • Large splice loss
    Conventional fiber optic cables can bend smoothly in all directions within the proper bend radius specification, the ribbon fiber has a limited plane of motion, but can only bend along its longitudinal axis. The orientation of the ribbon structure inside the cable cannot be controlled, so any bending of the ribbon fiber may be perpendicular to its longitudinal ribbon axis, which may induce stress on the fiber. This can damage the fiber optic cable and cause insertion loss (loss of signal power).
    Since the optical fiber ribbon cannot be guaranteed to be accurately aligned with all the fibers in the ribbon during splicing, the splicing loss is greater than that of a single core. The attenuation of single core and fiber optic ribbon splice is shown below.

    Fiber Category Single core Fiber optic ribbon
    Average value Maximum value Average value Maximum value
    G.652/G.657 ≤0.06 ≤0.12 ≤0.12 ≤0.38
    G.655 ≤0.08 ≤0.14 ≤0.16 ≤0.55

7. Application of ribbon fiber optic cables

  • Ribbon cables can be used for indoor FTTH networks and indoor/outdoor point-to-point applications, as well as for interconnection and crossover applications in MTP fiber optic junction boxes;
  • 12-core flat fiber optic cable is one of the most widely used ribbon cables, and 12-core ribbon fiber patch cords can be terminated with LC connectors or SC connectors, such as simplex, duplex, or MTP connectors can easily be used for termination;
  • Ribbon fiber patch cords can also be connected with loose-tube fiber optic cables.

Currently, ribbon cables are commonly used in indoor applications such as telecommunications rooms, data centers, buildings and servers, etc. Indoor applications have a lower risk of damage compared to outdoor applications, so dry ribbon fiber optic cables are in high demand as they do not require gel filling for additional protection against water and moisture. However, ribbon fiber is not always the best choice indoors: When indoor ribbon fiber is delivered to the cabinet, handling the fiber optic cable for termination becomes challenging. Ribbon optical cable is difficult to process and difficult to install.

The optical fiber ribbon cable is recommended to be used in large and medium-sized metropolitan area networks with a large number of optical cable cores (not less than 72 cores), such as the core layer of the metropolitan area optical cable and the backbone section of the access layer.

Trunk optical cables, other optical cable sections with a relay distance of more than 70km, the lead-in section of the access layer optical cable (distribution optical crossover to fiber distribution box section) and other sections with a small number of optical cable cores are not suitable for optical fiber ribbon cables.

8. Summary

The demand for telecommuting, remote learning, and telemedicine services are all increasing rapidly.  These application scenarios consume a lot of network bandwidth and further drive the need for high-speed network construction. Fortunately, the past few years have ushered in significant advances in ribbon cable design. Prices for ribbon cables and large-scale fusion splicers have also dropped significantly. Most splice installers who have experience with ribbon and loose tube cables quickly develop a preference for ribbon cables. For these reasons and more, fiber optic ribbon is on the rise in data center construction, especially in large-scale data centers and multi-tenant data centers (MTDCs) with high installation volumes and short lead times.

It has become an irresistible trend to rapidly build a data center fiber network to meet current and future capacity expansion needs. Any data center needs to deploy enough fiber if it wants to seize the dominant position in the fierce market competition. Adding ribbon fiber optic cable to an overall data center networking strategy is an effective way to enable data centers to meet all these requirements of their customers.

data center

Bonelinks is a professional ribbon fiber optic cable manufacturer, if you have any needs, please contact us. We would provide you with a one-stop optical cable solution.

Echo Huang

Echo Huang is an expert wordsmith and marketing professional at Bonelinks with more than 8 years of experience in high technology businesses – fiber optics, IoT, and telecommunication. She is very glad to share industry knowledge and communicate with others.

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