A transmission medium can be broadly defined as anything that can carry information from a source   to a destination. For example, the transmission medium for two people having a dinner conversation is the air. The air can   also   be   used   to   convey   the message   in   a   smoke   signal   or   semaphore.   For  a  written message, the transmission medium might be a mail carrier, a truck, or an airplane.

In data communications the definition of the information and the transmission medium is more specific. The transmission medium is usually free space, metallic cable, or fiber-optic cable. The information is usually a signal that is the result of a conversion of data from another form.


Guided Media:

Guided media, which are those that provide a conduit from one device to another, include twisted-pair cable, coaxial cable, and fiber-optic cable. A signal traveling along any of these media is directed and contained by the physical limits of the medium. Twisted-pair and coaxial cable use metallic (copper) conductors that accept and transport signals in the form of electric current. Optical fiber is a cable that accepts and transports signals in the form of light.

Shielded Twisted-Pair (STP) Cable

Another type of cabling used in networking is shielded twisted-pair (STP). As shown in the figure, STP uses two pairs of wires that are wrapped in an overall metallic braid or foil. STP cable shields the entire bundle of wires within the cable as well as the individual wire pairs. STP provides better noise protection than UTP cabling, however at a significantly higher price.

For many years, STP was the cabling structure specified for use in Token Ring network installations. With the use of Token Ring declining, the demand for shielded twisted-pair cabling has also waned. The new 10 GB standard for Ethernet has a provision for the use of STP cabling. This may provide a renewed interest in shielded twisted-pair cabling.


Unshielded twisted-pair (UTP)

Unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cabling, as it is used in Ethernet LANs, consists of four pairs of color-coded wires that have been twisted together and then encased in a flexible plastic sheath. As seen in the figure, the color codes identify the individual pairs and wires in the pairs and aid in cable termination.

The twisting has the effect of canceling unwanted signals. When two wires in an electrical circuit are placed close together, external electromagnetic fields create the same interference in each wire. The pairs are twisted to keep the wires in as close proximity as is physically possible. When this common interference is present on the wires in a twisted pair, the receiver processes it in equal yet opposite ways. As a result, the signals caused by electromagnetic interference from external sources are effectively canceled.

This cancellation effect also helps avoid interference from internal sources called crosstalk. Crosstalk is the interference caused by the magnetic field around the adjacent pairs of wires in the cable. When electrical current flows through a wire, it creates a circular magnetic field around the wire. With the current flowing in opposite directions in the two wires in a pair, the magnetic fields - as equal but opposite forces - have a  cancellation effect on each other. Additionally, the different pairs of wires that are twisted in the cable using a different number of twists per meter to help protect the cable from crosstalk between pairs.


UTP Cabling Standards

The UTP cabling commonly found in workplaces, schools, and homes conforms to the standards established jointly by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the Electronics Industries Alliance (EIA). TIA/EIA-568A stipulates the commercial cabling standards for LAN installations and is the standard most commonly used in LAN cabling environments. Some of the elements defined are:

  • Cable types
  • Cable lengths
  • Connectors
  • Cable termination
  • Methods of testing cable

The electrical characteristics of copper cabling are defined by the   Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). IEEE rates UTP cabling according to its performance. Cables are placed into categories according to their ability to carry higher bandwidth rates. For example, Category 5(Cat5) cable is used commonly in 100BASE-TX FastEthernet installations. Other categories include Enhanced Category 5 (Cat5e) cable and Category 6 (Cat6).

Cables in higher categories are designed and constructed to support higher data rates. As new gigabit-speed Ethernet technologies are being developed and adopted, Cat5e is now the minimally acceptable cable type, with Cat6 being the recommended type for new building installations.

Co-axial Cable:

Coaxial cable (or coax) carries signals of higher frequency ranges than those in twisted-pair cable, in part because the two media are constructed quite differently. Instead of having two wires, coax has a central core conductor of solid or stranded wire (usually copper) enclosed in an insulating sheath, which is, in turn, encased in an outer conductor of metal foil, braid, or a combination of the two. The outer metallic wrapping serves both as a shield against noise and as the second conductor, which completes the circuit. This outer conductor is also enclosed in an insulating sheath, and the whole cable is protected by a plastic cover


All the elements of the coaxial cable encircle the center conductor. Because they all share the same axis, this construction is called coaxial, or coax for short.

Uses of Coaxial Cable

The coaxial cable design has been adapted for different purposes. Coax is an important type of cable that is used in wireless and cable access technologies. Coax cables are used to attach antennas to wireless devices. The coaxial cable carries radio frequency (RF) energy between the antennas and the radio equipment.

Coax is also the most widely used media for transporting high radio frequency signals over the wire, especially cable television signals. Traditional cable television, exclusively transmitting in one direction, was composed completely of coax cable.

Cable service providers are currently converting their one-way systems to two-way systems to provide Internet connectivity to their customers.   To provide these services, portions of the coaxial cable and supporting amplification elements are replaced with multi-fiber-optic cable. However, the final connection to the customer's location and the wiring inside the customer's premises is still coaxed cable. This combined use of fiber and coax is referred to as hybrid fiber coax (HFC).

In the past, coaxial cable was used in Ethernet installations. Today UTP offers lower costs and higher bandwidth than coaxial and has replaced it as the standard for all Ethernet installations.

Coaxial Cable Connectors

To connect coaxial cables to devices, we need coaxial connectors. The most common type of connector used today is the Bayone-Neill-Concelman (BNC), connector. Three types of connectors: the BNC connector, the BNC T connector, and the BNC terminator. The BNC connector is used to connect the end of the cable to a device, such as a TV set. The BNC T connector is used in Ethernet networks o branch out to a connection to a computer or other device. The BNC terminator is used at the end of the cable to prevent the reflection of the signal.


Fiber-optic cabling uses either glass or plastic fibers to guide light impulses from source to destination. The bits are encoded on the fiber as light impulses. Optical fiber cabling is capable of very large raw data bandwidth rates. Most current transmission standards have yet to approach the potential bandwidth of this media.

Principle of Fiber-optics:

It is based on the principle of Total Internal Reflection.



                                                      Figure: Bending of Light Ray

Optical fibers use reflection to guide light through a channel. A glass or plastic core is surrounded by a cladding of less dense glass or plastic. The difference in density of the two materials must be such that a beam of light moving through the core is reflected off the cladding instead of being refracted into it as shown in fig below.


Fiber Compared to Copper Cabling:

Given that the fibers used in fiber-optic media are not electrical conductors, the media is immune to electromagnetic interference and will not conduct unwanted electrical currents due to grounding issues. Because optical fibers are thin and have a relatively low signal loss, they can be operated at much greater lengths than copper media, without the need for signal regeneration. Some optical fiber Physical layer specifications allow lengths that can reach multiple kilometers.

Optical fiber media implementation issues include:

  • More expensive (usually) than copper media over the same distance (but for a higher capacity)
  • Different skills and equipment are required to terminate and splice the cable infrastructure
  • More careful handling than copper media.

At present, in most enterprise environments, optical fiber is primarily used as backbone cabling for high-traffic point-to-point connections between data distribution facilities and for the interconnection of buildings in multi-building campuses. Because optical fiber does not conduct electricity and has a low signal loss, it is well-suited for these uses.

Propagation modes:

Current technology supports two modes   (multimode   and   single   mode)   for propagating light along optical channels, each requiring fiber with different physical characteristics. Multi-mode can be implemented in two forms: step-index or graded-index.

Single-mode optical fiber carries a single ray of light, usually emitted from a laser. Because the laser light is uni-directional and travels down the center of the fiber, this type of fiber can transmit optical pulses for very long distances.



Single-mode uses step-index fiber and a highly focused source of light that limits beams to a small range of angles, all close to the horizontal. The single-mode fiber itself is manufactured with a much smaller diameter than that of multimode fiber, and with substantially lower density (index of refraction). The decrease in density results in a critical angle that is close enough to 90° to make the propagation of beams almost horizontal. In this case, the propagation of different beams is almost identical, and delays are negligible. All the beams arrive at the destination "together" and can be recombined with little distortion to the signal

Multimode fiber typically uses LED emitters that do not create a single coherent light wave. Instead, light from an LED enters the multimode fiber at different angles. Because light entering the fiber at different angles takes different amounts of time to travel down the fiber, long fiber runs may result in the pulses becoming blurred on reception at the receiving end. This effect, known as modal dispersion, limits the length of multimode fiber segments.

Multimode Step-index:

In multimode step-index fiber, the density of the core remains constant from the center to the edges. A beam of light moves through this constant density in a straight line until it reaches the interface of the core and the cladding. At the interface, there is an abrupt change due to a lower density; this alters the angle of the beam's motion. The term step index refers to the suddenness of this change, which contributes to the distortion of the signal as it passes through the fiber.


Multimode Graded-Index

Multimode graded-index fiber, decreases this distortion of the signal through the cable. The word index here refers to the index of refraction. As we saw above, the index of refraction is related to density. A graded-index fiber, therefore, is one with varying densities. Density is highest at the center of the core and decreases gradually to its lowest at the edge


Advantages and Disadvantages of Optical Fiber


Fiber-optic cable has several advantages over metallic cable (twisted-pair or coaxial).

  • Higher bandwidth: Fiber-optic cable can support dramatically higher bandwidths (and hence data rates) than either twisted-pair or coaxial cable. Currently, data rates and bandwidth utilization over fiber-optic cable are limited not by the medium but by the signal generation and reception technology available.
  • Less signal attenuation: Fiber-optic transmission distance is significantly greater than that of other guided A signal can run for 50 km without requiring regeneration. We need repeaters every 5 km for coaxial or twisted-pair cable.
  • Immunity to electromagnetic interference: Electromagnetic noise cannot affect fiber-optic cables.
  • Resistance to corrosive materials: Glass is more resistant to corrosive materials than copper.
  • Lightweight: Fiber-optic cables are much lighter than copper cables.
  • Greater immunity to tapping: Fiber-optic cables are more immune to tapping than copper Copper cables create antenna effects that can easily be tapped.


There are some disadvantages in the use of optical fiber.

  • Installation and maintenance: Fiber-optic cable is relatively new Its installation and maintenance require expertise that is not yet available everywhere.
  • Unidirectional light propagation: Propagation of light is        If we need bidirectional communication, two fibers are needed.