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Fiber’s Thin and Flexible Plan

As production of fiber continues to increase, so do improvements to its physical properties. Service providers are buying more quantities of bendable fiber and looking towards the next generation of 200-micron fiber which will provide increased density and likely reduce material usage.  

“If you break it down, you’ll see that [North America] fiber demand has tripled since 2015,” said Greg Williams, Business Unit Director, Fiber Cable Systems, Prysmian Group. “And it’s doubled since 2018. We’re seeing steady growth year-over-year at an annual compound growth rate of 14% from 2013 to 2022.”  

Over the next seven years, Prysmian Group projects growth to continue at a rate of 7-10%. Projections include a slight dip in 2023 due to ISPs working down their inventory from “panic-buying” in 2022 as a response to supply chain shortages. Last year, 129 million kilometers of fiber were purchased while 2023 is expected to close out at 125 million kilometers. Prysmian expects fiber demand to jump up to 167 million kilometers in 2024 and demand to continue to grow throughout the decade. 

Over 50% of the fiber being purchased today is Bend Insensitive Fiber (BIF), as defined under ITU G.657 standards, and Williams expects that amount to increase over time. “Fiber is not a technology where you just lay the cable straight and it’s always straight,” Williams said. “It bends during deployment. It bends through the lifetime of installation. Whether its indoors or outdoors, you’re going up and down poles, you’re making right and left turns, you’re avoiding grandma’s flower beds, fire hydrants, you name it.”  

Over the past ten years, 200-micron fiber has emerged to complement the existing 250-micron standard, with off-the-shelf technologies now available to splice the two types together across their various forms. Williams noted that the main difference between the two forms is the coatings, with the core glass and cladding the same diameter. Maintaining the same diameters for the core and cladding allows 200-micron fiber to be spliced with 250-micron fiber.   

“The first reaction was big deal; that’s just peanuts,” Williams said. “This change can lead to a 20 to 30% reduction in the size of the cable, particularly when you’re talking 298 fibers all the way up to 6912 fibers.” Combining high-density small diameter cables with BIF is a “game changer,” enabling easier deployments and the ability to use microducts for lower-cost deployments. 

To learn more about the new possibilities with BIF and 200-micron fiber, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast.