Fiber Optic Pigtails vs Fiber Patch Cords

You’ve heard both terms – fiber optic pigtails and fiber patch cords – but you’re not really sure how they’re different or which one would suit your needs best. Well, in that case, we can help! Let’s explore the differences between them. 

To put it simply, pigtails have one side terminated with a connector, while the other side ends with bare fibers. In contrast, a patch cord has both sides terminated with connectors. 

Fiber Pigtails

A pigtail has a factory-installed optical connector at one end. The other end has bare fibers that can be used for splicing (mechanical or fusion) to another fiber (or linked to various pieces of equipment). Fiber optic pigtails can have either male or female connectors. They’re usually unjacketed so they can be spliced and then protected in a fiber splice tray (using a mechanical or thermal splice joint protector). Pigtails can be found in various fiber optics management equipment, like distribution boxes, ODF or fiber terminal boxes. Fiber optic pigtails are considered better quality when compared to field-terminated cables. 

Fiber Patch Cords

A patch cord is also known as a patch cable or a patch lead. It’s an electrical or optical fiber cable that connects two electronic or optical devices with one another. Connectors of a patch cord can have the same or different connectors at the ends. What do we mean? For example, you can have a cord with an LC connector on one end and an SC connector on the other.  Fiber patch cords are jacketed. They’re available in various fiber counts: from simplex (1 fiber), through duplex (2 fibers) to multiple fibers, or MPO’s (12 fibers). It should be noted that patch cords can be cut into two pieces to make two fiber pigtails.  

Testing connectors

Both pigtails and patch cord can be easily tested for continuity using a light source. Simply put: if the light goes in and comes out at the other end- the pigtail or patch cord is working fine. However, if the light doesn’t pass through, there might be some blockage or a break.

When it comes to fiber optic cable installation, the success of the network largely depends on how the cables are attached to the system. Optical signals should easily move through the cables, which reduces the risk of power loss.  The preferred way to join optical fibers is by fiber optic pigtails. They’re used in 99% of single-mode applications. 

Various Fiber Optic Pigtail Types

Fiber optic pigtails can be split into various groups depending on their connector types, fiber types, fiber count and application environment. 

Fiber Types

There are two main fiber types: single-mode or multimode. Multimode is usually orange, while the single-mode is yellow. At one end, multimode fiber optic pigtails are terminated with multimode fiber optic connectors. They use 62.5/125-micron or 50/125-micron bulk multimode cables.

Fiber Count

There are several fiber counts that fiber optic pigtails come in. There are 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 24, and 48 fiber strand counts available. A simplex pigtail has one fiber and a connector on one end. A duplex fiber has two fibers and two connectors on one end. Each fiber is either marked with A or B, or different colors for connectors are used to denote polarity.

Application Environment 

There are fiber optic pigtails that are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions or harsh environments. They can be either waterproof or armored.

  • Waterproof fiber optic pigtail: Designed with a stainless-steel, waterproof unit, and a jacket made from armored outdoor polyethylene. It is most commonly used in harsh outdoor environments such as military bases or communication towers. It is reliable and durable, offering good performance. 
  • Armored fiber optic pigtail: It’s enclosed with a strong steel tube (like stainless steel) inside the outer jacket to provide more protection for the fiber inside while improving the reliability of the network. Armored cables are the best choice in environments with a high risk of damage from construction work or rodents. They are also used in areas of high cable density to protect against the weight of other cables.

Fiber optic pigtails can be spliced and connected to different types of equipment or patch panels. They come in a wide range of styles and are often key in saving labor time for installers and lowering operating costs. 

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