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Each effect that contributes to attenuation and dispersion depends on the optical wavelength. There are wavelength bands (or windows) where these effects are weakest, and these are the most favorable for transmission. These windows have been standardized, and the currently defined bands are the following
Note that this table shows that current technology has managed to bridge the second and third windows that were originally disjoint.
Historically, there was a window used below the O band, called the first window, at 800–900 nm; however, losses are high in this region so this window is used primarily for short-distance communications. The current lower windows (O and E) around 1300 nm have much lower losses. This region has zero dispersion. The middle windows (S and C) around 1500 nm are the most widely used. This region has the lowest attenuation losses and achieves the longest range. It does have some dispersion, so dispersion compensator devices are used to remove this.
When a communications link must span a larger distance than existing fiber-optic technology is capable of, the signal must be regenerated at intermediate points in the link by optical communications repeaters. Repeaters add substantial cost to a communication system, and so system designers attempt to minimize their use.
Recent advances in fiber and optical communications technology have reduced signal degradation so far that regeneration of the optical signal is only needed over distances of hundreds of kilometers. This has greatly reduced the cost of optical networking, particularly over undersea spans where the cost and reliability of repeaters is one of the key factors determining the performance of the whole cable system. The main advances contributing to these performance improvements are dispersion management, which seeks to balance the effects of dispersion against non-linearity; and solitons, which use nonlinear effects in the fiber to enable dispersion-free propagation over long distances.