Passive DWDM vs. Active DWDM

Updated on Jan 12, 2024 by

Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing(DWDM) technology revolutionizes optical networking by enabling the transmission of multiple signals over a single optical fiber. This technology is categorized into passive DWDM and active DWDM systems, each designed to cater to different network requirements. This article will delve into the key characteristics, advantages, and limitations of both passive and active DWDM systems, guiding you toward making an informed choice for your specific networking needs.

Passive DWDM vs. Active DWDM, What's the Difference?

Passive DWDM

Passive DWDM systems, as the name suggests, operate without any active elements. Unlike active DWDM systems that rely on components like Erbium-Doped Fiber Amplifiers (EDFAs) for signal amplification, passive DWDM systems rely solely on the fiber optic budget of optical transceivers. This means there are no Dispersion Compensation Modules (DCMs) or fiber optic signal amplifiers in passive DWDM setups. While this configuration allows for maximum channel capability and facilitates expansion, the communication distance is constrained by the transmit power of the optical modules used. Consequently, passive DWDM systems are generally more suitable for data transmission within 40 kilometers. Despite this limitation, passive DWDM systems offer high channel capacity, making them particularly suitable for high-speed transmission lines and metropolitan area networks where extensive channel capacity is a priority. This is a key characteristic of passive WDM technology.

Passive DWDM equipment, such as multiplexers and demultiplexers, are employed to combine and separate signals of different wavelengths transmitted along the same optical fiber. Clearly, active components like fiber amplifiers are not used; instead, a pair of DWDM Mux Demux is employed. This design supports large-capacity transmission and allows for capacity expansion, making passive DWDM systems ideal for metropolitan area networks and high-speed communication lines with higher channel capacity requirements.

Passive DWDM Working Principle

Figure 1 :Working Principle of Passive DWDM


Active DWDM

"Active" implies that the system uses active components to sustain and manage signals transmitted through the optical fiber. In addition to the DWDM Mux Demux, active DWDM systems typically include key components such as EDFA and DCM. These components play vital roles in amplifying or compensating for signal attenuation and distortion during transmission, thereby enabling active DWDM systems to support longer transmission distances (≥40 km). EDFA amplifiers are strategically installed along the line in long-haul DWDM networks, with the quantity determined by factors like channel count and acceptable OSNR. Their presence ensures signal integrity over extended distances, enhancing the network's overall performance.

Moreover, DCMs are incorporated into active DWDM systems to mitigate the effects of chromatic dispersion, a critical consideration in network design. However, it's essential to recognize that DCMs may introduce additional insertion loss, influencing the transmission distance of the active DWDM system. Despite these complexities, the active nature of DWDM networks simplifies the management and control of optical signals, making them well-suited for various applications, including data center interconnect settings where efficient data transfer is paramount. The diagram below provides a visual representation of an active DWDM system, illustrating the integration of these key components for optimal network performance.

Active DWDM Working Principle

Figure 2:Working Principle of Active DWDM


Passive DWDM vs. Active DWDM, How to Choose?

The benefits and limitations of passive DWDM and active DWDM are obvious to tell based on the abovementioned inherent natures, which has influences on the selection between passive DWDM and active DWDM. Additionally, understanding the difference between DWDM and CWDM can also help in making an informed choice, as CWDM is typically used for shorter distance transmissions with fewer channels compared to DWDM.

Pros and Cons of Passive DWDM

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Ease of setup
    Plug and play. No need to adjust wavelengths, making it simple and convenient to use.

  • Cost-effective Solution
    Fewer components & less engineering time. The high-channel capacity feature will save the expenses substantially.

  • Limited Scalability
    The DWDM network is restricted to colored optics and fewer wavelengths on the transport fiber. Thus, more passive components will be adopted when expanding as the network grows. However, the more passive dwmd equipment, the more difficult to manage.

  • Inconvenient Control
    If you need to change a wavelength or connection, you must halt usage and disconnect physical cables.

Pros and Cons of Active DWDM

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Increased in Capacity
    A single optical fiber can accommodate more wavelengths, allowing it to carry more bandwidth compared to passive signals of the same size, thus increasing fiber utilization.

  • Ease of management
    Users can dynamically adjust wavelengths without shutting down the system, enabling better control of the optical fiber network.

  • Easier for Scalability
    Normally, active DWDM can be easier to scale as the network grows.

  • Expensive in Costs
    The overall active DWDM setup fees are much more expensive compared to passive DWDM solutions.

  • Complex in Configuration
    There are many more components involved in active builds. Thus, the configuration will be a serious undertaking and require a solid understanding of optical networks.

When choosing between passive DWDM and active DWDM, several factors typically come into play: transmission distance, network scalability, link planning, and costs. If there are no explicit requirements for transmission distance and network upgrades, a passive DWDM solution that is easy to configure and cost-effective may be considered. On the other hand, if long-distance transmission and ease of future network upgrades are essential, an active DWDM solution can be chosen. If difficulties arise during the selection and deployment process, seeking assistance from a professional solution team is advisable.

FS Passive & Active DWDM Solutions

FS offers a comprehensive range of optical communication products, encompassing both passive DWDM solutions and active DWDM solutions tailored to meet diverse networking requirements. Our portfolio includes high-performance passive DWDM mux/demux units as well as essential components for active DWDM systems, such as EDFA and DCM. Additionally, we provide customized network design and engineering services aimed at optimizing network performance and cost-effectiveness for our customers. For further information, please visit the FS.com.


In summary, passive DWDM systems are well-suited for short-distance transmissions (up to 40 km), where simplicity and cost-effectiveness are important considerations. On the other hand, active DWDM systems are advantageous for long-haul transmissions (beyond 40 km), offering greater capacity, control, and signal integrity. When deciding between passive and active DWDM systems, consider your transmission distance requirements, network scalability goals, and budget limitations. Making an informed choice that aligns with your specific networking needs will ensure robust performance and adaptability for the future.

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