All About Cisco Active Optical Cables

When you need the fastest possible speeds for a network, fiber optics becomes a necessity. Yet, there is a range of multi-gigabit networking that is supported by both copper and fiber cables. Those speeds usually range between 10 and 100 Gigabits per second, and if that describes your network, then you have several viable options for how you connect your devices.

One option is that of active optical cables. They can provide powerful, cost-effective connectivity for many different network designs.

What Are Cisco Active Optical Cables?

Active optical cables (AOC) are fiber-optic cables that are designed for simplified use cases without sacrificing capability. They use electrical-to-optical conversion so that a traditional copper signal can run through fiber optic lines.

As a result, they enable very fast connections over short and medium ranges, and they utilize standardized connections that make for easier networking management and maintenance.


To better understand AOC, we can look at some of the specifications. They support speeds of 10G, 25G, and 40G, with some extreme cases breaking into the 100G range. Cisco makes pre-terminated AOCs that can achieve these speeds at ranges up to 30 meters. At CablesAndKits, we offer even longer cables that don’t compromise speed.

AOCs typically terminate in various SFP and QSFP connections, making them widely accessible for a wide range of networking devices.

When and Where Do They Thrive?

Learning the design and specifications of AOCs is a good starting point, but to completely understand them, you should also contemplate their value in practice. To do that, we can look at some of the simplicity of deployment that comes with AOCs and compare them to alternative cable choices.

Simplicity of Deployment

AOCs are at their best when it comes to simple deployment. Because they are already terminated in effective transceivers, they are plug-and-play fiber optic cables. That makes them ideal for high-demand network racks and switch-to-switch connections. They especially shine in systems that require frequent remapping or redeployment, as the plug-and-play capability saves dramatically on time and labor.

Active vs Passive

Another way to understand the value of AOCs is to compare them to DACs. Active optical cables are, as the name suggests, active and fiber optic in design. DACs are direct attached copper cables. Even though they are copper, they support multi-gigabit connection speeds, but because they are copper, they cannot maintain those speeds over distances greater than 10 meters.

As a result, DACs provide a cost-effective solution for very short cable runs. Anytime that longer runs come into play, AOCs are the obvious choice.

With DACs, you can also choose between active and passive cabling. AOCs only come in an active variety (again, it’s in the name). The simplified result of this is that AOCs do not require switches that provide signal conditioning. This allows them to connect to less-expensive hardware.

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