Optical fiber supply to fiber optic cable manufacturing companies has been delayed due to the natural disaster that hit Japan. Japan is home to many major optical fiber and preform producers. The earthquake and the tsunami that followed might have done considerable damage to at least some of the manufacturing facilities of the world leading optical fiber suppliers.
The optical fiber is drawn from the preforms, which is a glass rod. The glass rod is made by using different production techniques such as VAD (Vapour Axial Deposition), OVD (Outside Vapour Deposition. MCVD (Modified Chemical Vapour Deposition), PCVD (Plasma Chemical Vapour Deposition etc by the leading preform manufacturers.
Earlier forms of Optical fibers, which are used in the telecommunication industry was invented in Corning laboratories. Since then many developmental modifications have been taken place to the conventional optical fibers. The first commercially produced optical fiber was costing around US$ 100 per meter. Optical fiber price has come down drastically from then and the current market price of optical fibers stands at around US$ 9 per kilometer.
The major cost component of an optical fiber is the glass part which comes from the preform. A single mode fiber preform is made of core doped with Germanium dioxide and the silica cladding. It is said that approximately 28 grams of silica per kilometer including the core and cladding are present in a single mode fiber which weighs around 65 grams per kilometer. The two layers of Ultraviolet cured acrylates contributes to the remaining weight of single mode fiber. The weight combinations of multimode fibers are also similar since the diameter including the core and cladding is 125micrometers nominally for both single-mode and multimode fibers. When we talk about single-mode fibers, it includes the single-mode fibers complying with ITU-T G.652 categories A to D, G.653, G.654 and all categories of G.655 and G.657 (Bend-insensitive optical fibers).
There are not many manufacturers for the preform, which is the major raw material of optical fibers. It is known that around 50 manufacturers are there for optical fibers and a few preform manufacturers. Shin-Etsu is the major preform supplier to many optical fiber drawing companies around the world. World’s leading optical fiber manufacturers make their own preform. There are many fiber optic cable companies that draw optical fibers in their own drawing towers using preform from preform suppliers like Shin-Etsu.
The earthquake and tsunami will affect the Japanese optical fiber manufacturers and the supply will be slow in the coming months. This will create a shortage of optical fibers in the global market. Chinese fibers can come to the rescue to meet the demand, but they may be busy in the domestic market itself. China’s internal consumption was around 100 million fiber kilometers last year. The trend is supposed to continue for this year too. If Chinese optical fiber suppliers cannot support the fiber demand in other parts of the world, it may lead to a price increase.
Optical fiber price is considered to be cheapest in the China and South Asia region. Conventional single-mode optical fibers are available from less than US$ 6.0 in countries in this region, while it is more than US$ 9 per kilometers in Europe and the Americas.
Optical fiber manufacturers like Corning, Prysmian, Draka etc may increase the production of optical fibers to meet the demand created due to the shortage of supply from Japanese manufacturers. At the same time, it may lead to increased pricing for optical fibers in regions where the price was already low. Let us hope that the Japanese manufacturers can come back soon to the market with their traditional spirit of revival.