What is the Difference Between Ribbon and Non–Ribbon Fiber Cable?
Ribbon cables have an array of color coded fibers configured as fiber ribbons housed in loose tubes or
in larger central tubes. Non–ribbon fiber cables have individual, color coded fibers in either loose tubes
or larger central tubes. More than one ribbon often is housed in each loose tubes or the central tube of
an 1 optical cable. Each ribbon can have between 4 and 24 fibers1
. Fiber ribbons can be separated into
subribbons of 2, 4, or 6 fibers using a ribbon splitting tool
What cable designs are available with Ribbon Cable?
Ribbon cables are available in both uni-tube and multi-tube designs and are available with a dry core,
wet core, or all dry cross-section. These cables are available in both armored and unarmored dielectric
Ribbon cables offer at least a four-point advantage over non-ribbon designs:
- Ribbon cable can be prepped and spliced much more rapidly than similar sized non-ribbon cables.
This advantage translates into less installation time, less installation labor cost, and significantly less
emergency restoration time.
- Ribbon cables result in a smaller footprint for splice closures and in telecommunications rooms.
- Ribbon cables have a greater fiber packing density than cables with individual fibers. In higher fiber
count cables this provides a more effcient use of limited duct space.
- Ribbon cables are typically cost competitive in fiber counts above 72 to 96
The first two advantages are the result of mass fusion splicing of individual fiber ribbons. A mass fusion
splicer can splice all of the fibers in a ribbon simultaneously. Therefore, if a 12 fiber ribbon is being
spliced; all 12 fibers can be quickly spliced in less than a minute and yield an average splice loss of
0.10dB. In contrast, splicing individual fibers in a non-ribbon cable requires each fiber to be spliced
individually. In summary, a 144 fiber ribbon cable requires 12 splices to be fully spliced while a 144 fiber
non-ribbon cable requires 144 splices to be made. In addition to the time saved during splicing, fewer
splices reduce the amount of space required to store and organize these splices within their closure or
cabinet. Less splice time reduces the amount of construction disruption at splice locations such as in
manholes, cabinets, central offices, and telecommunications rooms.
The cost of mass fusion splicing equipment may have been a concern a few years ago, but the cost
diffierence between single-fiber and mass fusion splicing equipment has decreased dramatically. In the
past, ribbon cables were also difficult to clean and therefore a problem to prepare for splicing. Current
designs using dry core, all dry construction, and even when their ribbons are encased in a gel filling are
very easy to clean up, usually requiring less time than their non-ribbon counter-part with individual
fibers. The design of ribbon cables is well suited to use the advantages of all-dry fiber cable technology
that will yield substantial reductions in cable prep time. Manufacturers of splicing equipment have
developed high quality robust equipment and materials to make mass fusion splicing dependable, easy
to accomplish, and more economically attractive.
Even for low fiber count applications, ribbon cables carry a significant advantage in splicing costs. The
commonly used critical point to convert to ribbon cables typically occurs at 72 to 96 fibers depending
on the labor rates used for economic modeling. In that range of fiber counts, any incremental cost
diffierence between ribbon and loose fiber cable costs will be offiset by savings in splicing costs and
installation time For fiber counts equal to and greater than 96, the carrier generally would need a
compelling reason to not deploy ribbon cables given the reduced cost of splicing and comparable
The economics of fiber counts notwithstanding, there are still a few areas where either ribbon or
loose-fiber cables are the preferred option. For example, it takes four splices to repair a 48 fiber count
ribbon cable compared to 48 splices for the non-fiber equivalent. On certain critical fiber links, it might
be desirable to have a lower fiber-count ribbon product just because of the advantages in emergency
restoration. Also, ribbon cable products are more compact in size for a given fiber count, which creates
some space-saving advantages in conduit. On the other hand, some applications (fiber-to-the-home, for
instance) require multiple cable access locations where only a few fibers are “pulled out” from a cable
for splicing using midsheath access techniques. In those instances, ribbon can be accessed with new
“splittable” ribbon technologies, which might be less practical for some carriers than conventional loose
tube cable construction.
Feeder cables in FTTX networks usually have a considerably smaller fiber count than their distribution
cables. Feeder cables are point-to-point from the CO to the fiber distribution hub (FDH) and may be
best served in many cases with ribbon type central tube cables. Since distribution cables connect the
FDH to the customer, they may have considerable points where several fibers are dropped off to a
cluster of customers using mid-span access techniques. Individual fiber cables may provide the best
service for this type of an application. It is important to examine each application with respect to its
service distribution demands and geography to determine the most cost effiective cable cross-section
The gel-free, all-dry, technology found in both ribbon and loose-tube cables is a huge labor savings
feature. The all-dry cross-section is generally available for all OSP applications, including ADSS cable.
Sterlite's all-dry cables should provide a lifetime of trouble-free service. Conventional flooding gel is no
longer a product that must be included in the design of an optical cable.
In summary, there is not a single network design that fits all applications, and not a single cable that fits
all network designs. However, knowing the options and knowing where they fit can significantly impact
installation time, labor costs, and emergency restoration time.The performances of Sterlite's ribbon
cables are field proven and have been successfully used for years.Service providers can leverage the
advantages of these cables just by considering the options available, and applying a little basic math to
compare cable costs, splicing costs, and labor hours.
Since both ribbon and individual fiber optical cables are quite similar in outward appearance and both
exhibit similar handling characteristics and have the same type mechanical and optical limitations, both
types of cables are placed using very similar procedures. Both Sterlite cable types are entirely suitable
for use in the outside plant in underground (ducts), buried (trenched or plowed) or aerial applications.
Indoor versions of each cable type are also available.
Substituting ribbons for individual fibers within an optical cable allows the fiber to be packed more
compactly within the cable whether it is a multi-tube or central tube cable. Ribbon cables are smaller in
size and weight and generally easier to handle than comparable individual fiber based cables. The net
result is ribbon cables are easier for the installation crew to handle and place. Three possible conclusions result ribbon cables can be placed in slightly longer lengths, they occupy available duct space
more efficiently, and they can be designed to accommodate higher fiber counts.
Both ribbon and individual fiber cables are available in armored and all dielectric cables. As described in
the economics of fiber splicing, ribbon cable is easier to prepare for splicing.
Fusion splicing has become the defacto standard for quality splicing for permanent fiber connections
on all types of fiber applications from long haul point to point networks to FTTX networks. The history
of fusion splicing has been influenced by the development of high tech, reliable tools that are now
available to produce high quality splices (single fiber and ribbon splices). As fusion splicing has
matured, the cost of this equipment has become more affordable, splice quality has reached its highest
levels (less than 0.05 to 0.10 dB per fiber), and splicing production has improved. In the last decade,
fusion splicing ribbon cable has become a standard operating procedure for most telecommunications
Mass fusion splicing ribbon cable has caused the redevelopment of all the materials used to splice
individual fibers. The following new equipment was developed: Ribbon matrix strippers, ribbon positioning blocks for the fusion splices, mass fusion splices, ribbon splice protectors, splice protector heaters,
splice organizers, and splice closures. This equipment has been available for the last decade and has
evolved into nearly trouble free operation at a cost quite competitive with single fiber splicing systems.
The development of support materials has enabled the preparation of ribbon cables to be competitive
with non-ribbon cables. In fact in most cases, ribbon cables can be prepared with less effort and cost
than similar non-ribbon cables. New, safer, more effective cleaning materials have been developed, as
have more effective preparation and stripping tools. Both ribbon and non-ribbon type cables manufactured by Sterlite can support end-to-end splicing and mid-span access.
Cost of Splicing
STL has conducted a study that compares the cost of splicing two ribbon cables end-to-end versus the
cost to splice two similar sized non-ribbon cables. The study included the time required to prepare the
two mated cables and the time required to perform the fusion splice. Because labor rates are quite
variable, time was chosen as the measured dependent variable. If time found in the study is multiplied
by the local labor rate, the labor costs for the cable splicing can be determined. If the time required to
splice similar ribbon and non-ribbon cables is compared, the ratio is similar to the ratio of cost to make
each splice independent of labor costs. For example, if the ribbon cable is two times less labor intensive,
that ratio holds for both time and costs, and the cost to make a ribbon splice is two times less than a
similar size non-ribbon splice
Ribbon Cable and Ribbon Splice Reliability
Physical plant performance
Ribbonized fibers and individual fibers within non-ribbon type cables are expected to perform similarly.
The two types of cables are designed to withstand the same mechanical, environmental, reliability, and
optical requirements. Most splicers find organizing ribbons in splice closures simpler than individual
fibers. If individual fiber connectors are required, a ribbon can be spliced to a fiber “fan out,” such as
might be used at a FTTX FDH connection to the back plane of the fiber distribution panel.
To conclude, the use of ribbon cable is more cost-effective for higher fiber count cables and longer
cable link lengths as compared to the use of non-ribbon cables on similar applications. Ribbon cable is
lighter, more compact and easier to handle and splice. For example, 8 ribbons are less expensive to
prepare and splice than 96 fibers.
Summary of benefits of ribbon cable compared to non–ribbon cables
- Can be prepared and spliced much more rapidly than individual fiber cables.
- Less installation time and significantly less emergency restoration time result in lower labor content and o place cable, make splices, and maintain the network
- Requires a smaller footprint in splice closures and telecommunications rooms.
- Mid-span assessable , similar to conventional to non-ribbon cables.
- Individual fibers within a ribbon can be accessed using “ribbon splitting” tools and technologies for
applications like FTTX, etc
- 2 Individual fibers within a ribbon can be accessed using “ribbon splitting” tools and technologies for
applications like FTTX, etc
- Provides for better cable management and handling capabilities.
- Yields better network uptime, more revenue, and better customer satisfaction.
- Typically material cost of ribbon cable is competitive with non-ribbon cable for fiber counts of 96 and