Fiber Showdown: Multimode vs. Single mode

February 4, 2016 at 8:00 AM


There are two main types of fiber optic cables, Multimode and Single mode. Depending on your application one might be better than the other to achieve optimal results. So how do you decide between Multimode or Single mode fiber optic cables? Let’s put these two side-by-side and see who comes out on top – a fiber Super Bowl, if you will.




Single mode


  • ·       Large-diameter core which allows multiple modes of light to propagate
  • ·       High capacity and reliability
  • ·       Supports distances of up to 2km
  • ·       Less expensive
  • ·       Good for transmitting voice, video and  data signals over shorter distances 
  • ·       Mostly used for data and audio/visual applications in local-area networks and backbone applications within or between buildings (campus environments)
  • ·       Smaller core diameter which allows only one mode of light to propagate
  • ·       Much higher bandwidth
  • ·       Supports distances of 100km (optics dependant)
  • ·       More expensive
  • ·       Good for transmitting streaming voice, video and data over long distances
  • ·       Typically used in long-haul network links over extended areas by telecommunications companies and cable television networks



The optics used in fiber applications are not compatible and you cannot mix Multimode and Single mode fiber between two endpoints, so you must pick only one. What you choose really boils down to bandwidth, speed and distance.


Multimode will support a maximum bandwidth of 4700 MHz/km (OM4 laser optimized) and will extend to a distance of up to 2km (@100 Mbps). Currently the maximum speed supported on Multimode fiber is 100Gbps.


Single Mode fiber can support virtually unlimited modal bandwidth as well as Terabit data rates, it can also span up to 100km without the use of a repeater. Single mode cabling is being used heavily in large data centers and in long haul broadband carrier applications.


So your choice for fiber MVP will depend on the factors listed above and your specific application.


For a deeper look at the playbooks of these two cable types and to see a handy reference diagram, check out our blog post Fiber Fun Fact: Multimode vs. Single-mode.


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