Multi-mode optical fiber is a type of optical fiber mostly used for communication over short distances, such as within a building or on a campus. Typical multi-mode links have data rates of 10 Mbit/s to 10 Gbit/s over link lengths of up to 600 meters (2000 feet). Multi-mode fiber has a fairly large core diameter that enables multiple light modes to be propagated and limits the maximum length of a transmission link because of modal dispersion.
Comparison to Single-Mode Fiber
The main difference between multi-mode and single-mode optical fiber is that the former has much larger core diameter, typically 50–100 micrometers; much larger than the wavelength of the light carried in it. Because of the large core and also the possibility of large numerical aperture, multi-mode fiber has higher “light-gathering” capacity than single-mode fiber.
In practical terms, the larger core size simplifies connections and also allows the use of lower-cost electronics such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) which operate at the 850 nm and 1300 nm wavelength (single-mode fibers used in telecommunications typically operate at 1310 or 1550 nm).
However, compared to single-mode fibers, the multi-mode fiber bandwidth–distance product limit is lower. Because multi-mode fiber has a larger core-size than single-mode fiber, it supports more than one propagation mode; hence it is limited by modal dispersion, while single mode is not.
The LED light sources sometimes used with multi-mode fiber produce a range of wavelengths and these each propagate at different speeds. This chromatic dispersion is another limit to the useful length for multi-mode fiber optic cable.
In contrast, the lasers used to drive single-mode fibers produce coherent light of a single wavelength. Because of the modal dispersion, multi-mode fiber has higher pulse spreading rates than single mode fiber, limiting multi-mode fiber’s information transmission capacity.
Single-mode fibers are often used in high-precision scientific research because restricting the light to only one propagation mode allows it to be focused to an intense, diffraction-limited spot.
Jacket color is sometimes used to distinguish multi-mode cables from single-mode ones. The standard TIA-598C recommends, for non-military applications, the use of a yellow jacket for single-mode fiber, and orange or aqua for multi-mode fiber, depending on type. Some vendors use violet to distinguish higher performance OM4 communications fiber from other types.