Wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) is a technology or technique modulating numerous data streams, i.e. optical carrier signals of varying wavelengths (colors) of laser light, onto a single optical fiber. The goal of WDM is to have a signal not to interfere with each other. It is usually used to make data transmission more efficiently. It has also been proven more cost effective in many applications, such as WDM network applications, broadband network application and fiber to the home (FTTH) applications and so on. According to channel spacing between neighbored wavelengths, there are two main types of WDM: Coarse WDM (CWDM) and Dense WDM (DWDM). Though both of them belong to WDM technology, they are quite different. We can differentiate them from the definition, data capacity, cable cost and transmission distance.
CWDM is defined by wavelengths and has wide-range channel spacing. DWDM is defined by frequencies and has narrow channel spacing.
- CWDM is a method of combining multiple signals on laser beams at various wavelengths for transmission along fiber optic cables, such that the number of channels is fewer than in DWDM but more than in standard WDM. “Course” means the channel spacing is 20 nm with a working channel passband of +/-6.5 nm from the wavelengths center. From 1270 nm to 1610 nm, there are 18 individual wavelengths separated by 20nm spacing.
- DWDM is a technology that puts data from different sources together on an optical fiber, with each signal carried at the same time on its own separate light wavelength. “Dense” refers to the very narrow channel spacing measured in Gigahertz (GHz) as opposed to nanometer (nm). DWDM typically uses channel spacing of 100 GHz with a working channel passband of +/-12.5 GHz from the wavelengths center. It uses 200GHz spacing essentially skipping every other channel in the DWDM grid. And it has also gone one step further using an Optical Interleaver to get down to 50GHz spacing doubling the channels’ capacity from 100GHz spacing.
In fiber optic network system, DWDM system could fit more than 40 different data streams in the same amount of fiber used for two data streams in a CWDM system. In some cases, CWDM system can perform many of the same tasks compared to DWDM. Despite the lower transmission of data through a CWDM system, these are still viable options for fiber optic data transmission.
CWDM system carries less data, but the cabling used to run them is less expensive and less complex. A DWDM system has much denser cabling and can carry a significantly larger amount of data, but it can be cost prohibitive, especially where there is necessary to have a large amount of cabling in an application.
DWDM system is used for a longer-haul transmission through keeping the wavelengths tightly packed. It can transmit more data over a significantly larger run of cable with less interference. However, CWDM system cannot travel long distances because the wavelengths are not amplified, and therefore CWDM is limited in its functionality over longer distances. If we need to transmit the data over a very long range, DWDM system solution may be the best choice in terms of functionality of the data transmission as well as the lessened interference over the longer distances that the wavelengths must travel. As far as cost is concerned, when required to provide signal amplification about 100 miles (160 km), CWDM system is the best solution for short runs.