Top Fiber Optic Cable Trends

In our series to educate about the power of fiber and the strength of this technology in telecommunications, we have yet another great video on top fiber optic cable trends from the Fiber Broadband Association.

This follows previous posts on how cable providers can potentially unlock fiber benefits via the use of DOCSIS 4.0 technology titled ‘DOCSIS 4.0 – Cable’s Upgrade Path To 10 Gigabits’. And also looking at the ‘4S’ design considerations in the ‘future of fiber networks‘ post.

The below video from the Fiber Broadband Assocation YouTube channel includes a fiber cabling expert from Prysmian, a large scale manufacturer of optical fiber, who shares insights into some major trends in fiber optic cable technology.

Fiber Optic Cable Trends Video


Trends in Fiber Optic Cable Video Transcript:

Gary Bolton: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber Breakfast. We’re now in our 24th episode of 2023. Before we kick off, I’d like to thank Wesco, the platinum sponsor of Fiber for Breakfast, and our gold sponsor, Graybar.

On Monday, USDA awarded $714 million from the RUS ReConnect program for 33 build-outs in 19 states to 90,000 location. These awards represent about two-thirds of the $1.15 billion from ReConnect round four.

I’d also like to say, congratulations to our good friend, Bhanik Ingar as GUMBO 2.0 passed the Louisiana Legislature, and is awaiting the governor’s signature. So I know Bhanik has Louisiana ready to roll. I know that soon as the BEAD money is allocated on June 30, they’re going to be going full force with their BEAD grant. So, congratulations, Bhanik!

Next week, Online For All will be kicking off, and then Affordability Connectivity Program Week of Action, that’s June 14th to 22nd. So to sign up for the Week of Action, you can sign up at That’s week-of-action.

The ACP Week of Action brings together organizations from all sectors to spread awareness about these programs to millions of people to help thousands of new households get enrolled and tell the story of how ACP is helping to close the digital divide for students and their families, and all Americans.

Also, I’m going to be getting on a plane here this weekend and heading out to Lake Tahoe for our next Regional Fiber Connect Workshop for June 21st. It’s not too late to register. I can’t wait to see you guys there, Lake Tahoe could not be better, June 21.

Also, registration has been opened and going for Fiber Connect ’23 in Orlando. This is our big, big, big event. Our registration so far has been faster than all our years, the last five years put together. It is great. So we’re going to have the biggest and best Fiber Broadband event in the world this year with over 4,000 attendees, and amazing programs. The event will definitely sell out as it’s done in the past two years, so please don’t wait to register and get, book your room right away at the Gaylord.

Also, today, at 11:00 AM, please join us for our latest web episode of Where’s The Funding? on how to leverage the Capital projects fund to match resources from private sources for BEAD grant applications with Chris Purlitz, from the Municipal Capital Markets Group. It’s going to be a great session, you’re not going to want to miss it.

That brings us today’s Fiber Session with our great friend, Greg Williams, of Prysmian to share with us trends in Fiber Cable, the top three trends in fiber optic cable. But before I formally introduce today’s guest, I’d like to introduce Trish Ehlers, some things she’s going to walk us through some housekeeping items.

Trish Ehlers: Thanks so much, Gary. Good morning to everyone who’s joined us today. Before I go over a few logistical items, we’d like to once again thank the platinum sponsor of Fiber for Breakfast, Wesco, and our gold sponsor, Graybar.

Now, if everyone would just keep in mind that you are in listen mode only. You can ask a question at any time by typing it into the question box within your control panel on the right side of your computer screen. We’ll host a Q&A session with our panelists at the end of today’s webinar.

This presentation is being recorded and will be available on FBAs website within 24 to 48 hours. You can find the recording in the Events tab, under the Fiber for Breakfasts drop down option. At the conclusion of today’s presentation, you’ll be prompted to complete a brief feedback survey. Please take a minute to do that, we truly appreciate your input. I’ll pass it back to Gary now to introduce our panelist and get us started. Gary.

Gary Bolton: Well, thanks, Trish, and good morning. I’m Gary Bolton, the President, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. Last week on Fiber Breakfast, we heard from David Eckard of Nokia, who discussed No Regrets: How to make the most of a once in a lifetime investment.

David discussed how Fiber PON technology provides a No Regret Network architecture that’s easy to scale for both residential and business use with the inherent ability to sport GPON, XGS-PON, 25 Gig PON, 100 Gig PON, everything that’s going to be happening in the future. So you know, basically, it was a great session, so please watch the replay of that if you haven’t seen it. And Dave it’s always so much fun.

Today, on Fiber Breakfast, we had the pleasure hearing from our good friend, Greg Williams of Prysmian, to share with us trends in Fiber Cable, the top three trends in fiber optic cable. And for those of you who know Greg, Greg is the master of Prysmian Fiber Optics. I don’t know anybody who knows the history better than him.

Greg is the Business Unit Director with Prysmian. He’s responsible for the leadership of the Specialty Business Unit. He’s been with Prysmian for 18 years, has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in fiber optic cable. His lengthy career includes Director of Sales and Business Development at Draka Communications, where he spent nearly a decade. Oh, he also spent nearly a decade with Procter and Gamble.

So he earned his engineering degree from NC State Wolfpack. So with that, welcome, Greg. And for our audience, please type in your questions a go, and we’ll get them into Q&A at the end. So with that, I’ll turn things over to Greg.

Greg Williams: OK, very good. Thank you, Gary. And good morning, everyone. I really appreciate the opportunity today to kind of share some views of major trends that are occurring in the world of fiber optic cable. And I also want to say I just appreciate personally, the strong voice that Fiber Broadband Association has brought to our industry, and it’s been a major impact. I’ll tell you that.

Have you ever heard about Prysmian? We’re a large scale manufacturer of optical fiber, as well as fiber optic cable in North America, as well as across the globe. You know, in North America, we have thousands of employees, who I’m very proud of, who, every day are making optical fiber and fiber cable at our factories in North Carolina and South Carolina, and Tennessee, and in Mexico.

You know, we’ve been in this business for about over 30 years. And the Prysmian Group really represents our combined mergers of companies that were Alcatel and Draka, and Pirelli, in general cable. So again, Gary, thank you for the time today. And I hope I’ll provide some interesting facts here. So let’s go to slide two, Trish.

So we’ll touch on three things and kind of one concluding point today. And my focus really is about fiber optic cable. That’s really my area of expertise. So we’ll talk about demand, how much fiber cable is being bulked and deployed across the US and Canada.

Topic number two will be what’s going on with Bend Insensitive Fiber. We’ll talk about that for a little bit. A fairly new trend, I say new, five years or so. Two hundred micron fiber, we’ll talk a little bit about what’s going on there. And we’ll kind of wrap it all up with a gold star today of high density, small diameter cables. So those will be the topics that we touch on today over the next 10 or 12 minutes. Trish, let’s go to Slide three.

OK, this slide represents the actual demand of fiber optic cable for the past 10 years, plus, the demand that we expect this coming for the coming seven years. Now, you say, OK, you know, what are we talking about here? So we’re talking about the total demand in the US and Canada. So this is, this does not have Mexico or Central America.

So the blue bars to the left represent that past 10 years of actual demand. And the red bars to the right are representing our prediction of the coming seven years. Now, this data that I’m showing here represents the production output of all North American manufacturers. This is not just Prysmian data. This is all North American manufacturers.

You say, “Well, Greg, what are the, what’s the unit of measure here? What are we looking at?” So the unit of measure for this slide is kilometers of fiber. It’s not feet or miles of cable, but it’s a measure of total kilometers of the fiber strands that are inside of the cable. So this is millions of fiber kilometers. And as an industry, that’s kind of how we, one of the key metrics, we count miles and feet of sheath cable. But we also count the total quantity of fiber strands that are inside. It’s a key metric of our industry.

If you look at the blue bars, which is the past 10 years from 2013 to 2022, it’s a great trend. We’re seeing steady growth year over year, and an annual compound growth rate of 14%. Would you like to make that in the stock market today?

But steady growth 10 years at a compound annual growth rate of 14%, if you break it down, you’ll see that fiber demand has tripled since 2015, and it’s doubled since 2018. And that’s just fantastic. It just shows you know the value that we’re bringing to our country.

Now, the red bars to the right are our projections of the coming seven years. Now, we’re trying to factor in our estimations of BEAD, Capital funds, as well as other private state federal funding programs.

I mean, we use our best analytical methods and modeling to kind of come up with, you know, what we think the future is going to look like. But honestly, there are times I should just get the old magic eight ball and shake that a little bit and see what that tells me about the future. So we try our best, but golly, sometimes the old magic eight ball would be would be good.

But if you step back and just look at the slide, it’s just fantastic 10 years of solid growth behind us at a 14% annual growth rate, seven good years ahead of us at probably a growth rate of seven to 10%. So, you know, kind of concluding this slide about, you know, this is the trend of fiber demand.

Most of the major manufacturers have been heavily investing in keeping up with this growth. So if you look at the major manufacturers, we spent the past five years doing plant capacity expansion. So you have to expand cable plants, you have to expand plants that make fiber. So you’ve got to keep up with the current demand as well as get ready for the future demand.

And I’ll tell you, being in the business, 23 years, expansions of fiber plants and cable plants, it’s not cheap, and it’s not quick. But I compliment all of the major manufacturers in our industry for responding really well to, you know, the progress and the demand for broadband in our industry. Trish, let’s go to Slide four.

OK, the next trend we’ll talk about is Bend Insensitive Fiber, which falls under the ITU category G.657. So you’ll hear we talk about G.657 fiber, which is Bend Insensitive Fiber. And so, Greg, what’s Bend Insensitive Fiber? Well, it’s a single mode fiber that has great performance in the field, in real world conditions, where the fibers are constantly going through bends. You know, bends during your deployment, bends during the lifetime of installation.

So if you think of, you know, installing fiber cable, whether it’s outdoor or indoor, you’re going up and down poles, you make in right and left turns, you’re avoiding grandma’s flowerbed, fire hydrants, you name it. And so fiber is not, you know, a technology where you just lay the cable straight and it’s always straight. So Bend Insensitive Fiber has become a very important part of our industry and helping with deployments.

Now, the focus of the slide here is the gray line or the little orange bars. So that gray line represents the growth of Bend Insensitive Fiber over the past 10 years. And it’s quite a growth trend. Today, Bend Insensitive Fiber represents at least 50% of all single mode fiber deployed across the USA and Canada. So we’re at least using 50% Bend Insensitive G.657 fiber, and the traditional single mode, which is called G.652.D is declining. It’s on its way to declining down, while G.657 increases.

Now, when we talk about Bend Insensitive Fiber, there’s three levels of Bend Insensitive Fiber that’s available. So G.657.A1, so there’s an A1 category and A2 category, and a B3 category. So G.657.A1 is by far, the most widely used Bend Insensitive Fiber, and it’s over 90% of all Bend Insensitive Fiber used.

A1 fiber has a 10 millimeter bend radius, and it’s really becoming the dominant single mode fiber used in both outdoor cables, as well as indoor cables. And your major manufacturers are producing G.657.A1 fiber

A2 fiber, G.657.A2 is about 6% of all Bend Insensitive Fiber used, and A2 fiber has a 7.5 millimeter bend radius, whereas the A1 had a 10 millimeter. But I will tell you, this is where we’re seeing tremendous growth in the G.657. Say that 100 times, A2 category, particularly in small diameter, high density cables.

Now, you can use A2 fiber in many applications, indoor and outdoor. But we’re really seeing this trend help us, as an industry produce smaller diameter, high density cables. And in a minute, I’ll close up with how we see that playing out.

So the last category is G.657B3 Bend Insensitive Fiber. Now, that’s probably less than 3%. We estimated about 3% of all Bend Insensitive Fiber that’s used. But it is ideal if you’re in an environment, which is usually indoors, where you got many tight bends or stapling of the cable. I would say 100% of G.657B3 fiber is used for indoor applications. And this fiber has a five millimeter bend radius.

So think of taking a fiber and wrapping it around a pencil or a pen multiple times. And the fiber barely recognizes that as being bent. You lose very little attenuation or power loss. And if you really want to kind of get the idea of where B3 fiber would be used, imagine you’re in New York City, in a high rise building, that’s 15 storeys high, and you’re starting in the basement. And you’ve got to go 15 storeys and down to the night department within the hallway. I mean, you could easily have 50 to 190 degree bends as you go through the closets and elevator shafts, and things like that. And this is the ideal situation where a B3 fiber would be used.

So in summary, Bend Insensitive Fiber is here, it’s already 50% of the market demand, and we expect to see steady continued growth of this type of fiber throughout our industry. All right, Trish, let’s go to Slide five.

OK, next topic. Next trend is 200 micron fiber. So for most of my 23 years in the industry, single mode fiber was 250 microns in size. So this is the size, the diameter of an individual fiber. But we’re seeing an increasing trend in our industry towards the use of 200 micron fiber.

Now, today, I would still say that 90% of our industry is using 250 micron, but 10% has now transitioned over to 200 micron fiber. And I think that trend is going to continue on a growth curve. Now, there are some things I want to talk about in this trend that’ll settle your nerves when it comes to talking about 200 micron fiber.

Point number one, the core glass and the cladding glass inside the fiber are identical, whether it’s a 200 micron or 250. So, you know, when you splice fiber together, you’re splicing the non-micron core and 125 micron glass. And whether it’s a 200, 250, they’re identical. So you’re in good shape there.

The diameter change comes by reducing the thickness of the two coatings that are around the inner glass. And that’s where it changes from 250 micron down to 200. Well, your first reaction might be big deal, you know, what difference is this going to make, between 250 micron and 200 micron?

Well, I will tell you that this change can lead to a 20% to 30% reduction in the size of the cable, particularly, when you’re talking 288 fibers all the way up to 6,912 fibers. That’s not going to make a tremendous difference in your low fiber count cables. But, you know, when you talk about changing the diameter, or reducing the diameter of a 288, 432, 864 cable by 20% or 30%, I mean, you’re talking some significant positive effect here. And I’ll show more of that in just a minute.

My fourth point about 200 micron fiber is, you know, this isn’t an experimental thing. You know, it’s been deployed in our industry for over 10 years. It’s tried and true, it’s tested, it’s working great, and it’s proving to be very reliable. So you don’t have to worry about the long term reliability of 200 micron fiber.

And my last point is 200 micron fiber is used in both ribbon style cables as well as loose tube style cables. So I know someone’s going to ask, “Well, what about splicing this stuff?” So, you know, “Is it possible to splice a 250 micron fiber to a 200 micron fiber?” “Or, is it possible to splice a 200 micron fiber to another 200 micron fiber?” And the answer is yes to both.

Remember, the core and the cladding are identical. So, you know, we’re splicing same diameter cores and same diameter cladding glass to each other. So inside a single fiber fuse and splicer, it’s not going to recognize any difference at all.

Then you say, “Wait a minute, what about ribbon cables?” Well, mass fusion ribbon splicing can be done 200 micron to 200 micron, or 200 micron to 250 micron. So you can buy a splice machine or do 200 to 200, or you can get adapter kits that will take existing splicers and allow a 200 micron ribbon on one side and a 250 micron ribbon on the other.

And I give compliments to our splicing manufacturers here in the country that have done a great job over the last five years helping us advance in making the splicing aspect, the irrelevant in today’s world, with these two. So it’s pretty common to use 200 micron fiber, and I think it’ll continue to grow.

All right, let’s get to the star of the show. Trish, let’s go to Slide six. And I’ll wrap up here, just a minute on this one.

So the star of the show today is when you combine the Bend Insensitive Fiber with a 200 micron fiber. And that’s really the star of the show where we’re going today. To me, it’s a game changer. You put the Bend Insensitive Fiber with a 200 micron fiber, you reduce the size of the cable by 20%. So, OK, how does the end user win? Well, here’s how they win. You get more fibers in a duct. You can almost get two to three number, two to three times the number of fibers in a duct that you could before. That’s real savings.

Number two, you can get longer links on a reel. So you buy a big reel of cable, and before it only had 20,000 feet. Well now, that same reel comes with 30,000 feet. You have less splice points, easier to deploy. So that’s real savings.

The third one is the ability to use micro ducts, which is a great growing trend in our industry. So you know, small diameter ducts, 10-millimeter and 14-millimeter ducts. The combination of 200 micron fiber with Bend Insensitive Fiber now lets you put a 432 fiber cable in a 10-millimeter duct and an 864 fiber cable in a 14-millimeter duct.

It seems crazy, but it’s true. And before, if I just go back five years ago, without G.657 fiber and without 200 micron fiber, somebody would have thought I had three heads if I said you could get 432 fibers in a 10-millimeter duct, or 864 in 14-millimeter.

So, you know, just closing, I know we’re running out of time, and I hope these trends are helpful to use to provide you some good information. I mean, it’s a great time to be in the fiber industry. We’re making great progress for our country. And again, I give great credit to the Fiber Broadband Association for helping us unify, influence government, and really serve the people of our country better. So there we go, Gary and Trish. Back to you.

Gary Bolton: All right, Greg, always such an amazing amount of information. Hey Trish, reel back to Slide nine. I want to start with the demand slide. So we had a number of questions down here. But what, I think is really instructive here. I love this chart, because right now, we have a lot of people who are confused, you know every CEO is trying to explain what happened, right? Because, you know, we went to these 52-week lead times, and now all sudden production has kind of stopped. We’re in this pause.

So I look at your chart, what it really shows is that we had, basically, when people were trying to hoard fiber, so they built up this huge supply. And then now, we’re seeing is this little anomaly where in 2023, where people are working down their inventories by this. But this, so this is a fiber demand. But when you look at the actual deployment, deployment doesn’t have this little anomaly. People are deploying like crazy. So it’s just… Is that what you’re seeing is it just a working down some inventory what we’re seeing this year?

Greg Williams: It is, Gary. I mean, there was a little panic buying going on last year. And we see a fair amount of inventory at, you know, contractor yards and distributors, and at the end users. But that’s working itself down pretty quickly. We think it’s a short term kind of impact. But I think it was mostly driven by the panic buying last year, and a lot of that has now settled down.

But you know, after all these years of growth to have a year that’s the same or slightly down feels almost terrible to us. But it’s really not terrible. It’s still pretty good, and things are going to grow very quickly within the next 12, 18 months again.

Gary Bolton: All right. Thanks, Trish, on that slide. So I got a lot of questions about, you know, what’s the trade-off going with thinner coating rather than thicker coating? So it’s amazing. I mean, I got my little glob from visiting your plant. And it’s amazing that you can take your preform, and just have it drip into perfect dimensions to have, get to your 250 micron or 200 micron and still have a nine millimeter or micron, what is it? Nine micron core, right?

Greg Williams: Core. Mm-hmm.

Gary Bolton: So it’s absolutely, you know, magical.

Greg Williams: Yeah. I mean, Gary, the beauty of whether it be 200 or 250 is the glass inside is identical. Right? We’re just standing down the coatings on the outside. Let’s say data today says you don’t have to worry about reliability. There’s been years of research and work done by all the manufacturers that make 200 micron fiber. Because no one’s going to put a bad product out there, so I’m very pleased with the performance we see of all manufacturers making 200 microns.

Gary Bolton: It’s a lot of questions around, so like larger require – larger cables require larger FOSCs. And what kind of FOSC would we support large lost fiber cables, six, plus 6,000 strands, non-ribbon based? Is that…

Greg Williams: Well, so let me tell you my interpretation to that question is. If the cable gets smaller, then all the components in the network can also get smaller. So a splice case, a fiber optic splice case, splice closure could get smaller. Hand holes could get smaller, volts could get smaller. So one change in the cable could have positive impact on many other components, and again, continue to produce more savings for the end user.

Gary Bolton: So I was really surprised to see that Bend Insensitive Fiber is over 50% now. Because I was, I always thought a Bend Insensitive is more indoor, you know, like you see the Google, you know, pasted in corners and departments and things like that, which I think would be B3. But what is… I mean, is everything going to be going to Bend Insensitive? Would that be 100% one time? And is there any reason not to have everything Bend? I mean, what’s the cost differential, and what’s the cost differential between A1, A2, and B3?

Greg Williams: Well, Gary, here’s, I would say this. I think Bend Insensitive A1 will continue to grow. And this already is the predominant leader in the market, and it’ll keep growing. It’s kind of like pulling up to the gas pump, you can get three grades of gas, and most, everybody buys the low version, right? So that’s kind of what we’re seeing here.

There is a premium as you go. I mean, there’s a premium as you go to the A2, and B3 gets really expensive. But I don’t know, Gary, maybe in 10 years, A1 G.657.A1 is the standard of the United – in North America. It very well could be within 10 years or maybe even before then.

Gary Bolton: So, I mean, when you’re buying a fiber, when you look at the overall cost of any project, the physical fiber is just a few percent of the total cost. What’s the number on that?

Greg Williams: Yeah, I think the cost of the fiber cable is typically 6% to 7% of the total cost to build a network.

Gary Bolton: So the difference between going with Bend Insensitive, going A1 is probably pretty minimal. Compared to the cost of the project?

Greg Williams: Exactly.

Gary Bolton: And that’s also the rule of thumb is put in as twice as much fiber that you think you need. Because you don’t have to come back?

Greg Williams: Yeah. And you know, the three major manufacturers of optical fiber here in North America, all have a G.657 offering. Some are stronger in A1, some are stronger in A2. B3 is pretty small in the big picture, but it’s available, it’s proven. It’s been in the industry, 10 years. And the A1 version is going to, over time, become the new standard for all of this.

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