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Set Up a Fiber-Optic Network in Your Home or Office (2021)

Learn about the various fiber-optic components used for running fiber in your house, office, or between buildings. Find out how to use fiber optics for high speed networking, electrical isolation, and extending Ethernet networks.

Fiber-Optic Cable

Last Updated: November 4, 2021

Written by Kevin Jones

This article will give you an overview of the use cases for fiber-optic networking, some of the terms used in fiber networking, and suggestions for setting up a fiber network.

Once you understand the basic concepts, you can check out my Recommended Equipment section toward the bottom of the article.

Use Cases for Fiber Networking

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The following are some common use cases for fiber networks in home or office environments.

Electrical Isolation From Lightning, Surges, and Static

Running copper Ethernet cables and coax cables outdoors can put your entire home or office network at risk for power surges from lightning strikes.

A single strike can trace its way through your home or office's coax and copper Ethernet network cables. In many cases, this can instantly destroy all of your computer and network hardware.

Electricity from lightning, power surges, and static electricity cannot transmit across a fiber-optic line. Because of this, electrical isolation via fiber networking becomes an excellent form of insurance for this risk.

Fiber to Ethernet media converters adapt between a typical RJ-45 copper Ethernet cable and fiber-optic cable. A pair of fiber to Ethernet media converters can create a beneficial electrical barrier when running Ethernet between buildings or to outdoor Power over Ethernet (PoE) devices such as cameras and Wi-Fi access points.

By decoupling the connection between devices with fiber-optic cable, fiber networking can also prevent electrical interference.

As I discuss in the Indoor vs. Outdoor Fiber Cable section, avoid any outdoor fiber-optic cable that uses a metal protective sheath to maintain electrical isolation. Fiber-optic cable with metal materials can negate any benefits of electrical isolation. You can, however, use a combination of indoor and outdoor fiber to maintain the electrical isolation.

Learn more about surge protection in my article Ethernet Surge Protection for Home Networks.

Long Cable Runs

Most copper Ethernet cables (e.g., Cat 6a or Cat 8) have a maximum length of 100 meters (328 feet). One hundred meters is quite long! However, suppose you find yourself in a situation in which you need something longer. In that case, fiber-optic cable offers much longer max lengths. The shortest range transceivers can reach 550 meters at 1 Gbps, while the longest range transceivers can reach 160 km (about 100 miles)!

Without a fiber solution such as a fiber to Ethernet media converter, or a coax solution such as Ethernet Over Coax MoCA Adapters, you would be limited to the range of copper Ethernet cable.

Ethernet Cable Max Speeds and Distances
Cable CategoryMax Speed and Distance
Cat 5e
  • 1 Gbps @ 100 meters
Cat 6a
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters
Cat 8
  • 40 Gbps @ 30 meters
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters
Coax (MoCA 2.5)
  • 2.5 Gbps @ 91 meters
OS2 Single-Mode Fiber
  • 100 Gbps @ 10 km
  • 1.25 Gbps @ 160 km
OM4 Multi-Mode Fiber
  • 100 Gbps @ 10 meters
  • 1.25 Gbps @ 2 km

Custom High-Speed Networks

Switches and network adapters with SFP modules allow you to create custom high-speed Ethernet networks. For example, using QSFP+ fiber transceiver modules, you could achieve 40 Gbps speeds across a building. With traditional copper cabling, these would be limited to shorter distances.

Find QSFP+ Network Adapters on Amazon (affiliate link).

Find QSFP+ Transceivers on Amazon (affiliate link).

Fiber Network Components

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There are endless ways to configure a fiber-optic network, but here are a few simple ways to add fiber to your existing network.

Fiber to Ethernet Media Converter

Pair of 1.25G Media Converters, SFP Slot and SFP Modules, MMF, 850-nm, 550 meters Pair of 1.25G Media Converters, SFP Slot and SFP Modules, MMF, 850-nm, 550 meters Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

A fiber media converter, also known as a fiber to Ethernet converter, allows you to convert typical copper Ethernet cable (e.g., Cat 6a) to fiber and back again. The typical use case for this is to either extend the transmission distance or to segment your network, protecting it from electrical surges.

Check out the Recommended Equipment section below for our recommended fiber-optic cables to pair with the media converter shown above.

10 Gigabit Fiber to 10G Copper UTP Ethernet Media Converter 10 Gigabit Fiber to 10G Copper UTP Ethernet Media Converter Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

10 Gbps fiber to Ethernet media converters aren't as common. If you're interested in achieving this configuration at a lower price point, you can create your own media converter. You can make a media converter by getting two fiber switches, such as the one listed below, along with two 10G RJ45 SFP+ transceivers.

Fiber Switches

A fiber-optic switch allows you to connect two or more fiber-optic cables to form a network. These can behave like a typical Ethernet switch.

With a fiber switch combined with a fiber network adapter, you could connect fiber directly to your desktop computer or server.

MikroTik 5-Port Desktop Switch, 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port, 4 SFP+ 10Gbps Ports MikroTik 5-Port Desktop Switch, 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port, 4 SFP+ 10Gbps Ports Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Note that the switch above is powered via PoE and would also need SFP+ transceivers. However, it has some pretty nifty features!

Fiber Network Adapter

A fiber network adapter allows you to connect fiber directly to your desktop computer or server. In this configuration, you may want to use a fiber switch. A fiber-optic cable between a fiber-optic network adapter and fiber-optic switch would provide the same electrical isolation as a fiber media converter.

Fiber network adapters allow for high-speed fiber connections directly to your computer without converting to copper Ethernet cable. Running a fiber connection to your computer is known as fiber-to-the-desktop (FTTD).

10Gb PCI-E NIC Network Card, Single SFP+ Port 10Gb PCI-E NIC Network Card, Single SFP+ Port Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Fiber to Fiber Media Converters

Fiber to fiber media converters can convert between single-mode fiber (SMF) and multi-mode fiber (MMF) or between single fiber and dual fiber cable. We'll discuss each of these terms in more detail below.

SFP to SFP Fiber Media Converter SFP to SFP Fiber Media Converter Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Fiber-Optic Cable

Fiber-optic cable is a thin transparent tube made of silica that guides light waves and is used to transport data.

Fiber optic cables shouldn't be bent more than recommended by the manufacturer. Bending it more than recommended will increase attenuation as light escapes the core and can result in microfractures.

Fiber-Optic cables come in a variety of grades with varying levels of attenuation and maximum signal reach.

For multi-mode fiber, cable grades include OM1, OM2, OM3, and OM4.

OM3 and OM4 are the ideal choices when budget allows.

For single-mode fiber, cable grades include OS1 and OS2.

OS1 is best for indoor applications, and OS2 is best for outdoor applications.

To compare the max speeds of each cable type, see the Fiber Cable and Transceiver Max Distances section below.

Transceiver

Fiber Transceiver
An optical transceiver is a device that converts electrical signals into optical signals and vice versa. Fiber network devices often have interchangeable transceivers in varying form factors to support a range of speeds and applications.
10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters 10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

SFP Transceiver Form Factors

Fiber-optic network devices often support hot-pluggable network interface modules to create a modular network design that meets specific needs. Hot-pluggable means that you can insert or remove an SFP module without shutting anything down.

Small form-factor pluggable (SFP) transceivers are compact hot-pluggable network interface modules. SFP modules exist for fiber and copper Ethernet cables, allowing conversion between cable types when combined in a switch.

While you can sometimes use SFP modules in SFP+ slots, other form factor combinations will typically need to use transceivers that match the slot's form factor.

The following are common form factors for fiber Ethernet transceivers and their supported max speeds:

Form Factor Supported Speeds Supported Media Type
SFP 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps Fiber or Copper
SFP 2.5 Gbps or 5 Gbps Copper
SFP+ 10 Gbps Fiber or Copper
SFP28 25 Gbps Fiber or DAC
SFP 56 50 Gbps Fiber or DAC
QSFP 4 Gbps Fiber or DAC
QSFP+ 40 Gbps Fiber or DAC
QSFP28 50 or 100 Gbps Fiber or DAC
QSFP56 200 Gbps Fiber or DAC
QSFP-DD 400 Gbps Fiber or DAC
DAC
Direct Attach Copper is a Twinax copper cable that integrates the SFP modules.
Twinax
Twinaxial cabling is similar to coaxial cable, except it uses two inner conductor wires instead of one.

Single-Mode Fiber vs. Multi-Mode Fiber

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Single-mode fiber (SMF) and multi-mode fiber (MMF) cables are used with SMF and MMF-specific optical transceivers.

Single-Mode Fiber (SMF)
Single-mode fiber (SMF) is a fiber-optic cable designed to carry a single "mode" of light. SMF has a narrow 9 µm core. SMF transceivers typically produce light for Single-Mode Fiber at 1310 nm and 1550 nm wavelengths.
  • Suitable for longer distances of up to 160 km, but can also be used for short distances.
  • Lower attenuation, with OS1 grade cables having a max attenuation of 1.0 dB/km and OS2 grade cables having a max attenuation of 0.4 dB/km. These attenuation levels are consistent across the 1310 nm and 1550 nm wavelengths.
  • More expensive transceivers which use lasers and laser diodes.
  • More expensive cable.
  • Harder to terminate cable due to the smaller core (if you're terminating the cable yourself). 55M OS2 LC LC Fiber Patch Cable 55M OS2 LC LC Fiber Patch Cable Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
Multi-Mode Fiber (MMF)
Multi-mode fiber (MMF) is a fiber-optic cable designed to carry multiple "modes" of light simultaneously. MMF has a larger 50 µm core for OM1/OM2/OM3 and a 62.5 µm core for OM4. MMF transceivers can produce light for Multi-Mode Fiber at 850 nm and 1300 nm wavelengths.
  • Suitable for shorter distances of up to 2 km.
  • Lower-cost transceivers which use LED and VCSELs.
  • Lower-cost cable.
  • Higher attenuation, with OM1/OM2/OM3 grade cables having a max attenuation of 3.5 dB/km and 1.0 dB/km for the 850 nm and 1300 nm wavelengths, respectively. OM4 grade cables have a max attenuation of 2.5 dB/km and 0.8 dB/km for the 850 nm and 1300 nm wavelengths, respectively.
  • Less expensive than single-mode fiber.
  • Easier to terminate due to the larger core (if you're terminating the cable yourself). 50M OM3 LC LC Fiber Patch Cable 50M OM3 LC LC Fiber Patch Cable Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Fiber Cable and Transceiver Max Distances

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The max distance of a fiber-optic connection depends on:

  • The types of optical transceivers on each end of the cable
  • The grade of cable
  • The polish angle of the cable end face (PC vs. UPC vs. APC)
  • Whether single-mode fiber (SMF) or multi-mode fiber (MMF) is used

The following table describes the distances which can be reached by each grade of cable and Ethernet transceiver type.

Maximum Distances by Fiber Cable Grade (Top) and Ethernet Transceiver Type / Speed (Left)
OS1 (SMF)OS2 (SMF)OM1 (MMF)OM2 (MMF)OM3 (MMF)OM4 (MMF)
SX - 100 Mbps 0.300 km 0.300 km 0.300 km 0.300 km
FX - 100 Mbps 2 km 2 km 2 km 2 km
SX - 1 Gbps 0.275 km 0.555 km 0.800 km 0.880 km
LX - 1 Gbps 5 km 5 km 0.550 km 0.550 km 0.550 km 0.550 km
L - 10 Gbps 10 km 10 km
LRM - 10 Gbps 0.220 km 0.220 km 0.220 km 0.220 km
LX4 - 10 Gbps 10 km 10 km 0.3 km 0.3 km 0.3 km 0.3 km
E - 10 Gbps 40 km 40 km
S - 10 Gbps 0.033 km 0.082 km 0.300 km 0.450 km
LR4 - 40 Gbps 10 km 10 km
SR4 - 40 Gbps 0.1 km 0.125 km
LR4 - 100 Gbps 10 km 10 km
SR4 - 100 Gbps 0.07 km 0.10 km

There are even more transceiver types, although I don't have the breakdown by cable grade. Here are a few more:

  • (MMF) SX+/MX/LSX - 1.25 Gbps - can reach up to 2 km
  • (SMF) XD - 1–2.5 Gbps - can reach up to 40 km
  • (SMF) ZX - 1–2.5 Gbps - can reach up to 80 km
  • (SMF) ZX - 1–2.5 Gbps - can reach up to 80 km
  • (SMF) BX10 - 1–2.5 Gbps - can reach up to 80 km
  • (SMF) EZX - 1–2.5 Gbps - can reach up to 160 km
  • (SMF) EX - 1–2.5 Gbps - can reach up to 120 km

Ethernet Transceiver vs. Fiber Channel

Ethernet Transceivers
Ethernet transceivers use the Ethernet protocol and are suitable for typical local area network (LAN) purposes. The transceiver distances listed above are for Ethernet transceivers.
Fiber Channel (FC) Transceivers
Fiber Channel (FC) transceivers use a high-speed block-level protocol primarily used for connecting storage to servers in data centers.

Single Fiber (BiDi) vs. Dual Fiber Transceivers

Single Fiber (BiDi/WDM) Transceiver
Single Fiber Transceivers are bidirectional (BiDi) transceivers that send and receive data using the same fiber cable. BiDi transceivers use a technology called Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM).
  • More expensive and less common than dual fiber transceivers
  • Uses one fiber strand
  • Typically used with a single duplex connector
Dual Fiber Transceiver
Dual Fiber Transceivers use two strands for transmitting and receiving data.
  • Less expensive than single fiber BiDi transceivers
  • Uses two fiber strands
  • Works with two simplex connectors or one duplex connector
  • Dual fiber transceivers can also use BiDi/WDM communication to multiply throughput, which is the case for some QSFP+, QSFP28, and QSFP-DD transceivers.

Connector Types

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SC vs. LC

SC vs. LC Connector SC vs. LC Connector Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

SC and LC are two of the most common fiber connectors used for terminating fiber cable.

The LC connector is considered a modern replacement for the SC connector and is growing in popularity.

The LC connector is half the size of an SC connector.

The LC uses a latch, while SC uses a locking tab.

Simplex vs. Duplex Connector

A duplex fiber-optic connector connects to two optical ports, whereas a simplex connector connects to a single optical port. A duplex connector is often used with a dual fiber transceiver.

You can use two simplex fiber-optic patch cables in place of a single duplex cable and vice versa.

A single simplex fiber-optic cable provides a single direction of communication when used with a dual fiber transceiver. However, you can also use a single simplex fiber-optic cable for bi-directional communication via a single fiber (BiDi) transceiver. A duplex fiber-optic cable allows for bi-directional communication by using a pair of fiber strands.

Duplex vs. Simplex Connector Duplex vs. Simplex Connector Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

PC vs. UPC vs. APC

Polishing a cable end face can minimize any air gap between fiber cables and components and improve return loss.

Return loss is a measure of the strength of the signal reflected from the end of the cable. A high return loss is desirable. The return loss can be affected by polishing fiber-optic cable in different ways (e.g., different angles).

PC (physical contact), APC (angled physical contact), and UPC (ultra physical contact) are different ways of polishing the fiber end face.

Both PC and UPC connectors do not use an angle, although UPC connectors use an increased curvature.

UPC and PC are interchangeable; replacing a cable of one type with the other will not damage components. The same is not valid for APC connectors and components.

UPC and APC connectors and transceivers should not be intermixed. Doing so can damage the transceiver.

Multi-Mode Fiber: PC vs. UPC

Most multi-mode fiber uses a PC polish, but a UPC polish can improve return loss further.

Single-Mode Fiber: UPC vs. APC

APC can be useful for sensitive applications where SMF wavelengths over 1500 nm are used. UPC is typically used for SMF wavelengths less than 1500 nm. You can still use UPC for SMF wavelengths above 1500 nm; however, its return loss will not be as good.

APC has a better return loss of -65 dB from back reflection than UPC's return loss of -55 dB.

Most single-mode fiber equipment uses UPC connectors, so I recommend sticking with that unless your equipment indicates that APC connectors should be used.

UPC vs. APC Back Reflection UPC vs. APC Back Reflection Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Indoor vs. Outdoor Fiber Cable

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Outdoor fiber-optic cables include additional insulation and protective layers, making them harder to break or damage.

However, it's important to note that outdoor fiber cables may use metal protective sheaths, making the line susceptible to lightning strikes. For this reason, if electrical isolation is a requirement for your project, you'll want to use a fiber-optic cable without metallic elements. However, keep in mind that you can use a combination of indoor and outdoor fiber to maintain the electrical isolation.

Attenuators

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Light Attenuation
Light attenuation is the reduction in the intensity of a light beam as it propagates through a cable.

Light attenuation can be relevant in two ways. Suppose the signal level (i.e., light intensity) is too high due to the receiver being close to the transmitter. In that case, you may need an attenuator/pad to reduce the signal level.

Optical attenuators reduce the light intensity through a fiber-optic cable.

The signal level may not be high enough if a fiber cable is too long due to too much attenuation. In this case, you would need a higher-powered transceiver or shorter fiber cable.

3dB LC Attenuator 3dB-2pack LC/UPC SM Single Mode 3dB LC Attenuator 3dB-2pack LC/UPC SM Single Mode Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Direct Attach / Active Optical Cables

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Direct-attach cables combine the transceiver and cable into a single package. Direct-attach cables can simplify the wiring of short connections.

For optical cables, these are referred to as Active Optical Cables.

10GBASE SFP+ AOC 15-Meter Active Optical Cable Direct Attach SFP+ Cable 10GBASE SFP+ AOC 15-Meter Active Optical Cable Direct Attach SFP+ Cable Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Be aware that if you use a Direct Attach Copper (DAC) cable, you won't have any of the electrical isolation benefits of using an optical cable. The reason for this is because DAC cables are not optical cables; they are copper Ethernet cables.

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I've created a few recommended equipment lists based on different use cases:

Extending or Isolating a Network With Fiber to Ethernet Converters

10 Gbps Ethernet Extension via Fiber

  • Two 10 Gbps media converters 10 Gigabit Fiber to 10G Copper UTP Ethernet Media Converter 10 Gigabit Fiber to 10G Copper UTP Ethernet Media Converter Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Two 10GBASE SFP+ MMF transceivers 10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters 10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • LC to LC OM3 MMF duplex fiber patch cable Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

1 Gbps Ethernet Extension via Fiber

  • Two 1 Gbps media converters Pair of 1.25G Media Converters, SFP Slot and SFP Modules, MMF, 850-nm, 550 meters Pair of 1.25G Media Converters, SFP Slot and SFP Modules, MMF, 850-nm, 550 meters Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • LC to LC OM3 MMF duplex fiber patch cable Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Running 10 Gbps Fiber to Multiple PCs

  • 10GBASE fiber switch MikroTik 5-Port Desktop Switch, 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port, 4 SFP+ 10Gbps Ports MikroTik 5-Port Desktop Switch, 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port, 4 SFP+ 10Gbps Ports Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • PoE injector to power the PoE switch TP-LINK 802.3af Gigabit PoE Injector TP-LINK 802.3af Gigabit PoE Injector Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • 10GBASE SFP+ MMF transceivers 10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters 10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • 10 Gbps PCIe network adapters 10Gb PCI-E NIC Network Card, Single SFP+ Port 10Gb PCI-E NIC Network Card, Single SFP+ Port Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • LC to LC OM3 MMF duplex fiber patch cables Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Creating a Custom 10 Gbps Fiber Network

  • 10GBASE fiber switch MikroTik 5-Port Desktop Switch, 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port, 4 SFP+ 10Gbps Ports MikroTik 5-Port Desktop Switch, 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port, 4 SFP+ 10Gbps Ports Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • PoE injector to power the PoE switch TP-LINK 802.3af Gigabit PoE Injector TP-LINK 802.3af Gigabit PoE Injector Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • 10GBASE SFP+ MMF fiber transceivers 10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters 10GBase-SR SFP+ Transceiver, 10G 850nm MMF, up to 300 Meters Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • 10GBase-T SFP+ CAT.6a transceivers, if you want to attach to additional standard copper Ethernet devices 10GBase-T SFP+ Transceiver, 10G T, 10G Copper, RJ-45 SFP+ CAT.6a, up to 30 meters 10GBase-T SFP+ Transceiver, 10G T, 10G Copper, RJ-45 SFP+ CAT.6a, up to 30 meters Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • 10 Gbps PCIe network adapters 10Gb PCI-E NIC Network Card, Single SFP+ Port 10Gb PCI-E NIC Network Card, Single SFP+ Port Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • LC to LC OM3 MMF duplex fiber patch cables Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Fiber Patch Cable - LC to LC OM3 10Gb/Gigabit Multi-Mode Duplex 50/125 Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Frequently Asked Questions

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What Is Single-Mode vs. Multi-Mode SFP?

A single-mode SFP is a small form-factor pluggable (SFP) optical transceiver for single-mode fiber (SMF), which converts electrical signals into optical signals using a single mode of light. SMF SFPs are used for fiber-optic networking. A multi-mode SFP is also an SFP transceiver, but it is designed for multi-mode fiber (MMF), which uses multiple modes of light. SMF is ideal for longer distances, whereas MMF components can be lower cost and are ideal for shorter distances.