The past decade has seen the phenomenal usage of orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) in the wired as well as wireless communication domains, and it is also proposed in the literature as a future proof technique for the implementation of flexible resource allocation in cognitive optical networks. Fiber impairment assessment and adaptive compensation becomes critical in such implementations. A comprehensive analytical model for impairments in OFDM-based fiber links is developed. The proposed model includes the combined impact of laser phase fluctuations, fiber dispersion, self phase modulation, cross phase modulation, four-wave mixing, the nonlinear phase noise due to the interaction of amplified spontaneous emission with fiber nonlinearities, and the photodetector noises. The bit error rate expression for the proposed model is derived based on error vector magnitude estimation. The performance analysis of the proposed model is presented and compared for dispersion compensated and uncompensated backbone/backhaul links. The results suggest that OFDM would perform better for uncompensated links than the compensated links due to the negligible FWM effects and there is a need for flexible compensation. The proposed model can be employed in cognitive optical networks for accurate assessment of fiber-related impairments. © 2016 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE).