Laser-Optimized Multimode Fiber—The Next of CommScope’s Top Innovations

Today, we continue to introduced you to CommScope’s top innovations—the top 20. This blog introduces you to the Laser-Optimized Multimode Fiber, an innovation from our list of the Top 40 Innovations from CommScope and its acquired companies over the past 40 years.


Note: As part of its 40thanniversary observance, the CommScope team set out to identify the top 40 innovations that have come from CommScope (or one of its acquired companies) over the past 40 years. We are unveiling the innovations chosen for the Top 40 on CommScope Blogs through early January. Read more about the overall program and selection process in this November 4 post.

We continue today with our unveiling of innovations—in alphabetical order—that are ranked 11-20. You can see a list of the Top 40 innovations already revealed on our 40thanniversary page. As our 40th anniversary year draws to a close, we hope you enjoy looking back at what we think are our top innovations—ones that have helped build the world’s infrastructure of today and tomorrow.

Have an opinion about or connection to any of the innovations? Leave a comment below.

CommScope’s Top 40 Innovations—Grouping 11-20

Laser-Optimized Multimode Fiber

Definition: Multimode optical fiber is a type of optical fiber mostly used for communication over short distances, such as within an office building or data center. Compared to single-mode fiber, which is used mostly for long distances, multimode fiber enables lower cost systems because of the relative ease of physically aligning light sources and detectors to its larger core.

Year of the Innovation: 1996

What is the innovation that CommScope or one of its acquired companies was first in creating?

In 1996, a team at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories developed a new measurement technique called high-resolution Differential Mode Delay (DMD) that launches laser light across individual sections of a fiber’s core to determine its behavior. This new measurement technique was translated into fiber selection criteria, and enabled production of the first laser-optimized multimode fiber in 1999 which AT&T promoted under the SYSTIMAX and LazrSPEED brands. The International Standards Organization (ISO/IEC JTC 1) incorporated this fiber into what became known as OM3 cabling because this fiber was the first multimode fiber that could reliably support high-speed applications using lasers. OM1 and OM2 supported LED-based applications but were not reliable for the higher rate laser-based applications that ran at 1 Gb/s and higher. OM3 became the multimode cabling of choice for 10 Gb/s Ethernet applications published by IEEE in 2002.

This innovation arose from AT&T’s Connectivity Solutions division, which was part of what was divested by AT&T into Lucent Technologies, then divested further into Avaya and finally acquired by CommScope in 2004. We have subsequently driven development and production of fibers for OM4 cabling introduced in 2004 and standardized in 2009, and most recently fiber for OM5 cabling introduced in 2014 and standardized in 2016. The fiber in OM5 cabling is the first multimode fiber specifically designed to assure high bandwidth across an extended 100 nm range of wavelengths thereby enabling support of at least four separate lanes on one multimode fiber using a technique called short wavelength division multiplexing (SWDM). By transmitting data rates of 10 Gb/s or 25 Gb/s on each of the four wavelengths, application rates of 40 Gb/s and 100 Gb/s can be supported. This significantly reduces the amount of fiber needed and enhances the value of each strand of fiber.

What was happening in the market that this innovation was needed?

Data center and enterprise local area networks were evolving beyond 1 Gb/s Ethernet in the late 1990s. Doing so required the transition from slower LEDs to faster but still low-cost Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting (VCSEL) lasers. While LEDs will fill up the entire fiber core with light, VCSEL lasers would focus the light onto a smaller portion of the core exposing the more granular variation within fibers. It became evident in the market that new measurement techniques and more advanced process control would be necessary to reliably support ever higher data rates on multimode fiber. Our OM3 cabling provides about four times the bandwidth as prior OM2 cabling. Our OM4 cabling provides another 2.35 times the bandwidth of OM3 cabling. Our OM5 cabling optimally enables SWDM to deliver at least four separate lanes thereby further quadrupling capacity of each strand of fiber.

How did this innovation benefit customers and the industry?

OM3 made 10 Gb/s Ethernet transport practical. Subsequent OM4 fibers provide support for 25 Gb/s at useful lengths, which enables 100 Gb/s Ethernet over four parallel fibers. OM5 fibers enable the use of 100 Gb/s on each fiber as well as a roadmap towards 400 Gb/s over four parallel fibers. The combination of multimode and its compatibility with VCSEL lasers have ensured the lowest system cost for short distances.

Did this innovation act as the springboard for other innovations, and if so, how do they all tie together?

Laser-optimization of the fiber is the fundamental technology that enabled development of OM3, OM4, and OM5 cabling. Following the introduction of OM3 cabling in the late 1990s, CommScope delivered OM4 cabling in 2004 (standardized in 2009). OM5 cabling was demonstrated in 2014 and was standardized by the TIA in 2016. Each newer version is completely compliant to the previous version’s specifications and adds higher capability that has tracked data rate evolution from 100 Mb/s to 100 Gb/s. Taken together, these innovations have enabled an unbroken chain of fiber performance evolution for the past two decades.

What is the significance of the innovation for CommScope?

By becoming one of the top suppliers of laser-optimized fiber cabling for enterprises and data centers, CommScope has developed a worldwide reputation as an innovator in fiber technology.

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