What Is a Plastic Optical Fiber?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 February 2018
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Plastic optical fiber carries optical signals along a core made from plastic, instead of the more traditional silica. It is possible to use several different kinds of plastics in the construction of this telecommunications product. Early generation products were not of very high quality, and were primarily useful for transmissions over short distances. Improvements in technology have changed this, although some companies have been reluctant to adopt plastic optical fiber due to outdated information about its performance and reliability.

This product has a large diameter, covered with a thin layer of protection. It is capable of carrying very high bandwidth, and is extremely lightweight and flexible. This can be useful for a variety of applications where more traditional optical fiber or other types of cables might not be as suitable. It also resists interference and noise to allow for an extremely high quality signal.

The primary advantage to plastic optical fiber over competing silica products is its inexpensive nature. It can cost approximately one fifth as much as comparable glass fiber, which puts it within reach of more consumers. Customers who want to connect to the silica fiber network maintained by a telecommunications company usually cannot afford traditional optical fiber for internal wiring, but they can install plastic products to make the connection. This enables high speed fiber optic communication all the way to a wall jack, which can improve a network's speed and performance.


Optical fiber manufacturers and telecommunications companies tend to recommend plastic optical fiber for short runs, rather than the long distance wiring needed to meet telecommunications needs. It is very easy to install, and doesn't require special technician training. Buildings can be wired with plastic optical fiber when they are constructed, or during retrofitting procedures to meet growing telecommunications needs. The product is readily available through a number of manufacturers, who grade their products to provide information about their performance.

For longer runs of wire, like those maintained by telephone and Internet services companies to be the backbone of their network, silica fiber tends to be preferred. While this product is more expensive, it is also known to be highly durable and reliable, with a good performance record. As plastic optical fiber technology improves and phone companies expand networks and replace degraded wiring, this preference may change. Telecommunications companies seek cost effective solutions to networking needs, and this product can provide a much less expensive way of expanding broadband access as well as repairing and maintaining existing systems.


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